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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Acts 17

Verses 1-34

Acts 17:6-7

Trust is the postulate of the capacity to help ourselves in any great or noble work. It becomes impossible to do our part bravely without this perfect reliance on the co-operation of God.... No man will dare to follow a gleam of conviction which tends to overturn a world, unless he is sure that he is the interpreter of a Power who gave him that conviction, and who can guard it after his interpreter is gone.

R. H. Hutton, Theological Essays, p. 13.

References. XVII. 9. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 115. XVII. 10. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 328. XVII. 10, 11. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 29. XVII. 10-12. Penny Pulpit, No. 1620, p. 9.

Neglect of Reading the Bible

Acts 17:11

If we are Christians, we believe that God spoke to the writers of the Old and New Testaments in a way by which He has spoken to no other minds however exalted. There is another light in which I think we are bound to regard the Old and New Testaments; and that is given us in a word used by the Hebrew historian Josephus, and constantly since his time. The word is 'Theocracy,' the special government by God Himself. God governs the whole earth, the whole universe; but in a special way, through inspired prophets, priests, and kings, He governed His people Israel, and prepared them for the full and complete knowledge of His truth. If we do not study such a unique collection of writings with the utmost reverence and attention, where is our Christianity? 'They searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so'.

I. That was the mind of the Apostles. Every doctrine, every teaching of the New Testament is founded on the Old, and depends on it. 'I came not to destroy the Law,' said our Lord, 'but to fulfil.' To all the Apostles, to all the Christians throughout the New Testament, the written word of the old Sacred Oracles is the very breath of the spiritual life, the ground and confirmation of all their hopes, the sanction and authority of all their beliefs.

II. That is entirely and absolutely the mind of the true Catholic Church. That is the mind and habit of all the Fathers. If you ask what about the early Church after the time of the Apostles? Did they treat the writings of Christ's companions and Evangelists with the same awe and reverence with which Christ and His disciples had treated the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament? Nothing can be more absolutely certain than that they did.

III. That was the mind of all the great Councils of the Church. Scripture was the standard of orthodoxy; Scripture the test of heresy. Every one of the Fathers who has left writings behind him proves every one of his opinions by appeal to the revealed word. When we come to our own Church, its view of Scripture is equally clear. If you ask in what spirit we are to apply the great and varied lessons of Holy Scripture, no two answers are possible to a Christian. From the time of the Fathers downwards it has been recognised that on the one hand there should be humble prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and great deference to the interpretations of the greatest theologians; on the other side a right and proper use of Reason.

W. M. Sinclair, Difficulties of Our Day, p. 62.

References. XVII. 11. H. H. Henson, The Value of the Bible, p. 83. Archbishop Benson, Living Theology, p. 19. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iii. p. 128. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. p. 289. XVII. 15. B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 164. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 470. XVII. 16. W. H. Lyttelton, Missionary Sermons at Hagley, p. 41. D. Macrae, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 326. XVII. 17. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 269.

The Implications of the Resurrection

Acts 17:18

The fact of Christ's Resurrection being understood as actual and literal, let us ask, then, what are the great truths it implies and symbolises?

The Resurrection of our Lord, recognised as historic fact, has demonstrated its power in some other resurrections. These other resurrections are mighty witnesses to the fact and glory of the primal historic Resurrection.

I. First, then, mark the power of Christ's Resurrection in the Sphere of Truth.

(1) Mark its revivifying action upon Judaism. Compared with the religions of the surrounding nations, the faith of the Jew was pre-eminent; its revelation of the righteous God, its insistence on the principle of holiness, its foreshadowing of immortality, invested it with unique authority and glory. Yet in course of time it 'waxed old,' it became ineffective and obstructive, it cumbered the ground, and the torch of Titus cremated it. But in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Judaism arose from its ashes in transfiguration splendour. Its sacred literature palpitated with a strange power; from being a petrifaction, its temple became a living Church; its laws were vivified by the law of the spirit of life; from the insignificance of a provincial cult, it passed into supreme and universal authority and influence. 'The first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.'

(2) Once more. Only as the gospel of the Resurrection is preached in heathen lands will the various faiths of the pagan pass into fulfilment. It was by this thought that St. Paul was guided in dealing with the Athenians. He recognised the merit and failure of their natural theology, and 'preached Jesus and the Resurrection' as the fulness of the truth after which they were striving. So will it be with the present moribund faiths of the Oriental nations: they will find their consummation in becoming related to the gospel of the Resurrection.

(3) Again, many truths held by our scientists, statesmen, philosophers, and social reformers assert themselves feebly, if they assert themselves at all. They are called by Lord Bacon 'bedridden truths'; but they are even worse than that: they lie frigid and passive in shrouds, coffins, and catacombs; if not forgotten as dead men, they move society no more than do the dead. What will give them life? The enforcement and reception of the doctrines symbolised by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. So much truth is paralysed and powerless because it has been divorced from the love, righteousness, and promise of the living God; and it is only as the risen Christ relates it once more to God and eternity, and baptises it with fire, that it lives, flashes, kindles, coerces, consumes, and transfigures.

II. Consider the power of Christ's Resurrection as demonstrated in the Sphere of Righteousness. The great design of the Advent was to establish among us a Divine righteousness; and the distinct teaching of the New Testament is, that in Christ's death lies the destruction of sin, and in His Resurrection the power of holiness. Everywhere in the New Testament the Resurrection enforces the claims of righteousness. It does not address our curiosity as clearing up certain intellectual problems which perplex us; nor does it excite the imagination with dramatic splendours, as it might so easily have done; but it appeals directly and exclusively to the conscience. It calls for righteousness sincere, essential, living righteousness in spirit and conduct. 'We were buried therefore with Him through baptism unto death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.' Purity of the body, of the life, of the mind, such purity as will bear the Divine eye, is the obvious implication of the Resurrection.

III. The power of Christ's Resurrection as demonstrated in the Sphere of Civilization. According to Carlyle, 'A nation of degraded men cannot be raised up except by what we rightly name a miracle'. This is the doctrine of Scripture. A nation of degraded men can be raised only by a miracle, and that miracle is the Resurrection of our Lord, which gives to the people a new conception of themselves, awakes in them lofty hopes, and opens to them new fountains of moral strength. The nations will not be saved by any number of little political tricks; nothing short of a resurrection suffices for their regeneration and glorification, and their resurrection becomes an accomplished fact in the power of Christ's Resurrection.

The trumpet of the Gospel proclaiming the truth of Easter Sunday is the trumpet of national resurrection.

W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, p. 144.

References. XVII. 18. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 36. F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 282. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 238; ibid. vol. ii. p. 222; ibid. vol. ix. p. 373. XVII. 18-23. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 263. XVII. 18-33. Ibid. p. 209. XVII. 20. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 233. XVII. 21. F. Hastings, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 58. XVII. 22. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 294. H. H. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 372. XVII. 22, 23. J. Wordsworth, The One Religion, Bampton Lectures, 1881, p. 153. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 113. XVII. 22, 31. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 259; ibid. vol. x. p. 110. XVII. 23. F. W. Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 374. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, p. 27. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 397; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 280. XVII. 24, 26, 27 J. Wordsworth, The One Religion, Bampton Lectures, 1881, p. 75. XVII. 24-28. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 238. G. A. Smith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. p. 321.

Groping After God

Acts 17:26-27

Here we have the exquisite thought that God is brooding over the great races of men, that there never was a great nation no kindred, no people, no tongue, no tribe which was not dear to the Father's heart quite as much as the Jewish people. Paul, in his great sweep of inspiration and Christian statesmanship, was able to think of every nation and race as having been located upon the earth's surface, and as having been subjected to every blessed influence, that successively every race and every nation might grope after and find God. You must see how great and comprehensive God's purpose was as conceived by the Apostle that every race was located and circumstanced that it might best find Him. So that brings us naturally to see: I. The Divine incentive to the human soul. That is, God has been moving over men and attracting them to Himself. (1) By His work and creation. (2) There are the daily mercies of Providence. (3) There has been the instinctive craving of the heart, for just as when you bring a shell from the ocean shore and place it in some room of yours in your home in a Midland county, it does not forget the ocean depth from which it came, but as you place it to your ear you are able to detect the roaring and sighing of the great sea, so the heart of man, torn from God, sighs for Him incessantly. (4) God sent great prophets. (5) I come back to Paul's original conception, history, the stress of war, the incidence of famine, or pestilence, the struggle for supremacy, the failure of a nation to realise its desires, its patience under crushing defeat, its extension, the diminution of its territory, its collision with adjacent tribes, the struggle for survival all this was of God, all this was intended, all this was part of a Divine purpose, by the discipline the awful discipline of history, to drive men to seek Him.

II. Look for a moment at the limitations of natural religion. (1) You will notice that the heathen has a very inadequate idea of God; he is not sure of Him. (2) Natural religion has its limitations here; that men never know when God is satisfied with their offerings; always giving but never satisfied, never sure that their offerings are accepted or their souls forgiven. (3) The heathen mind is not sure about the future. (4) And, chiefly, never forget this, the state of the world is what it, is because natural religion has no dynamic. It is ethic, but not dynamic.

III. The Apostle came upon a familiar theme when he talked about the Man. How can I talk about that Man whom God has ordained? Because there is the evidence that all through the centuries Jesus Christ has influenced and saved men and loosed them from their sin.

F. B. Meyer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. p. 209.

Reference. XVII. 26-31. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v. p. 111.

The Nearness of God

Acts 17:27

I. He is near to us in His essential Presence. As the Eternal Spirit, we believe His presence pervades all space. You remember the inscription on Ruskin's monument near Derwentwater: 'The Spirit of God is around us in the air we breathe; His glory in the light we see, and in the fruitfulness of the earth and the joy of His creatures'. This essential presence of God is recognised by every true believer, and is a sustaining power in his life as a Christian man. But it must be recognised as a precious fact of experience; it must be realised to be enjoyed.

II. He is near to us in the workings of His Providence.

III. He is near to us in the manifestation of His Divine Pity.

IV. He is near to us in His spiritual Provision.

T. J. Madden, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 32.

References. XVII. 27. Basil Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 376. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1973. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 224. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 101.

Acts 17:28

This text occurs very often in the private letters of Melanchthon. Along with two others, 'The hairs of your head are all numbered,' and 'None shall pluck My sheep out of My hand,' it may be called the favourite text of his later years. We take a characteristic example of its use from a letter of 1554 to his son-in-law, Dr. Caspar Peucer, who was absent from Wittenberg at the time: 'Dearest Son, By God's favour, your daughter, your son, and their mother are all alive and very well. When I look at them and think of the weakness of humanity, I feel indeed how true it is that God is the guardian of our race, for so great is our weakness that we could not be preserved by our own natural strength. Let us, therefore, pray for protection and help from God, remembering that the Son of God said, "The hairs of your head are all numbered," and it is written, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee". I have written this beside the cradles and amid the crying of the babies. May God keep them, for in Him we live, and move, and have our being.'

Corpus Reformatorum, vol. viii. No. 5581, col. 266.

References. XVII. 28. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 65. T. Sadler, Sunday Thoughts, p. 114. J. S. Boone, Sermons, pp. 90 and 107. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 383; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 393; vol. ix. p. 39. XVII. 28, 29. Ibid. vol. vii. p. 58. XVII. 29. R. F. Horton, This Do, p. 89. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 271; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 38. XVII. 30. Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 143. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 29. Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 62. XVII. 30, 31. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. L p. 96. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 406. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (3rd Series), p. 17. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 14. XVII. 31. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 275; ibid. vol. vi. p. 10; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 128. XVII. 32. Ibid. vol. vii. p, 296. XVII. 34. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 172. XVIII. 1. B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 164. F. D. Maurice, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 293. XVIII. 2. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 418. XVIII. 1-4. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons, p. 113. XVIII. 4-7. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 238. XVIII. 5. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 9. XVIII. 8. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 346. XVIII. 9, 10. H. Bailey, The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 116. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1666. XVIII. 10. W. Baird, The Hallowing of our Common Life, p. 62.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Acts 17". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/acts-17.html. 1910.