« AnteriorContinuar »
this court for a judicial enquiry ; but rather that, for convenience sake, and for the better assembling of the most eminent persons of the city, in order to a public examination of his teaching, he was led to the Areopagus as the most eligible situation. Here they asked him to give a full explanation of his peculiar philosophy, as they must have supposed it to be; he had put forth what they considered very strange notions, and now they called upon him to state his doctrine and his proofs. This was well suited to the habits of the people ; for the great occupation of the citizens of Athens, as well as of the crowds of strangers that resorted thither, was the discussion of anything that was unusual and new.
Paul stood up, and addressed the great assembly of people who were gathered round him in the Areopagus. He began his address by telling the Athenians, that he saw they were very religiously disposed by their worship of the various demon gods. For in walking up and down the various streets of Athens, he had been struck with the number of their temples, and he had seen one, in the front of which was engraved these words, “To the unknown God.” Thus they were worshipping One whom by their own acknowledgment they did not know, and Paul was come to bring them the knowledge of Him. God was the creator of the whole world, and everything in it ; and as such He is the Lord and Governor of heaven and earth. Such a God could not possibly require for his dwelling-place the buildings formed by the hands of
It could not be that He should require the service of men, as though he stood in need of anything they could furnish him with ; for it was He who, on the contrary, supplied men with the life of the spirit and the life of the body, and everything which they can want. He has made all men of one race and stock, however separated they may be as nations all over the earth, and not leaving them to chance (as the Epicureans imagined). He has arranged the order of their times by his previous appointment, and has fixed the limits of their boundaries. Every thing is planned in such order as might lead men to inquire after the author and director of the world, who has so constituted the visible creation, that His eternal power and Godhead may be clearly understood from the things that are seen (Rom. i. 20): so that, if men would but give way to right feeling and sound sense, they would find that the true God is within the reach of every one : for it is in Him that men have life, and motion, and existence. This truth was found even in a Grecian poem; and Paul quoted a passage from the poet Aratus, whose works were known at Athens, “For we are also his offspring.” Since then all men were created by God, they ought not to imagine that the Godhead could be copied in images of gold, or silver, or stone, made by the art of man. The imaginations of idolatry, according to the ignorance of men, had gone on for ages, during which God had not interfered to notice its rebellion and folly : he might be said to have overlooked it, but he would do this no longer; and now He had issued his commands that all mankind in every part of the world should turn to a better mind, seeing that He has appointed a time in which he intends to judge the whole earth in righteousness, by a Man ordained for the purpose, of which the strongest proof has been given by the fact that God has raised him from amongst the dead.
When the Athenians found that Paul began to speak of a resurrection of the dead, some (who were probably the Epicurean party) interrupted him with mockery; while others (who most likely belonged to the Stoics) said they would seek another opportunity of hearing what he had to say. The apostle went away from them; yet not without some tokens of the power of the truth, though they appear to have been but few. Some of the Athenians joined him, and believed his word; one of these was an eminent citizen of Athens, named Dionysius, a member of the council who formed the court of Areopagus. There was also a woman called Damaris, and several others.
Paul continued at Athens till Timothy came to him, according to the message which had been sent by the persons who had conducted the apostle from Berea. Upon his arrival however, Paul felt great anxiety, lest the manner in which he had been treated should have the effect of unsettling the minds of the recently converted christians at Thessalonica. He feared lest they should have been tempted to imagine, that the gospel could not have come from God, when the preacher of it was so left to the cruel persecutions of those who opposed it; and that thus his hopeful labours at Thessalonica might fail of producing the happy results he had anticipated. Paul therefore determined to send Timothy to confirm the faith of the Thessalonian christians, and to remind them how he had warned them that the preachers of the gospel were appointed to suffer afflictions in thatgreat cause.
We may conclude from several trifling circumstances, that Silas returned to Athens together with Timothy, and that Paul sent him away also upon a similar errand, perhaps to Philippi ; for the apostle tells the Thessalonians that he was even willing to be left alone at Athens, when he sent Timothy to them, rather than remain in uncertainty respecting their spiritual state; and both Silas and Timothy joined Paul afterwards at Corinth, where he had no doubt appointed them to meet him. (Acts xviii. 5.)
1. This description of the people of Athens is one, which suits exactly with the general character of worldly society, in those countries where a cultivation of mind and manners, irrespective of the power of true christianity, is to be found. The self-sufficiency of philosophic minds shews itself at all times in the opinions which are entertained concerning the unseen things which men feel to exist, though they do not believe the revelation of the character of God. The speculative opinions of many learned men, which give a tone to the society formed around them, amount in fact to positive infidelity; and are always combined with that idolatry of the world which is to be seen in numberless forms, even amidst a people who are nominally christian. For under the name of Christ, many persons worship they know not what; while in devoting themselves to pleasure, to gaining money, to obtaining fame, and various other things, they in fact make an idol of their object, though they worship it as an “unknown God.” Vaque notions of the Divine Being, which are powerless to draw the mind from the indulgence of worldly pleasures,
must be remedied, and the thought of God must be defined, in order to make us indeed partakers of the Divine nature; and this can be effected only by the gospel, by which we learn that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself;" and from an known God” we are brought to worship “God manifest in the flesh."
QUESTION. Am I satisfied with undefined notions concerning God? Do I adopt my own reasonings in thinking what God is? or do I follow God's revelation of Himself? Have I any object of idolatry which may be to me an unknown God?
2. The feelings and conduct of Paul amongst the Athenians is a beautiful example to those who may be placed in circumstances, which the last application may enable us to consider as similar to his. Paul's spirit was stirred
within him. Alas! how little of that earnest movement is experienced by christians, who find themselves amongst the society of the idolatrous world. Paul sought opportunity for discussion daily, and in every situation in which he could find men. Alas! how often does the shrinking from discussion induce christians to discover an excuse in every variety of position, which seems to prevent the introduction of religious subjects. Paul was marked out by contemptuous epithets; they excited no anger, and did not draw him into self-defence. But how often will a contemptuous word or look excite the infirmity of a christian, so as to make him mar the cause he would be most anxious to promote. Yet with all this, the apostle was enabled to deliver an address, which is a perfect specimen of christian judgment and wisdom in adapting the truth of the gospel to the prejudices and feelings of his hearers. He exposed to thein their own condition, by grounding his charge upon a fact; and he began his declaration of the gospel by the statement of the simplest truths which the mind can reach. He put aside all the peculiar claims of birth, upon which so much stress was laid by the Athenians, as well as the Jews, in order that he might bring the Lord as it were within the reach of all; and in his statement of truth, he accommodated himself to the feelings of his audience, by giving that truth in the words of a Greek poet. But with all this careful adaptation to the feelings of the Athenians, he in no wise compromised the essential doctrines of the gospel; but on contrary, he made use of all this preparatory care, in order the better to bring forward the special points of truth most distinctly opposed to the various systems of philosophy approved of' by his hearers. Such wisdom with such faithfulness, it should be the aim of every christian to exercise.
What effect is produced in my mind by observing the irreligious and idolatrous spirit of the world? Does it make me shrink from attempting to speak of Christ, or bold in proclaiming His name? With what care do I endeavour to adapt the declaration of essential truth to the feelings of the persons whom I desire to win from error?
3. There is an awful importance to be attached to the declaration of the apostle, that whatever may have been the view in which it pleased God to regard the ignorance of man in the times before the coming of Christ upon earth, yet that now, in these times of the publication of the gospel to all nations, God commands all men every where to repent. This includes the nominal christian living in a country where the name of Christ is known and established, as well as the darkest savage of the heathen world—all men everywhere are commanded to repent; and the exciting motive which the apostle places before us is the certainty that a day is appointed, in which He who has died and risen again will judge the world in righteousness. To those who are living that spiritual life which manifests that by the Holy Ghost they are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, (which is true repentance :) it is an unspeakable comfort to know that he who died and was raised from the dead, died for our sins, and rose again for our justification.
QUESTION. Am I living the life of a repentant christian? What are my anticipations with respect to the day appointed by God, in which the risen Jesus will judge the world in righteousness?