Click here to join the effort!
THE SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY (PAUL AND SILAS)—CONTINUED
1. Paul and Silas in Thessalonica; or, Mingled Experiences of Success and Persecution (Acts 17:1-9).
2. Paul and Silas at Berœa; or, another Good Work interrupted (Acts 17:10-14).
3. Paul at Athens; or, Alone in a Heathen City (Acts 17:15-21).
4. Paul on Areopagus; or, Preaching to Philosophers (Acts 17:22-34).
Acts 17:1. They.—Paul, Silas, and Timothy, Luke having remained behind at Philippi. (See on Acts 16:40.) Passed through.—The road traversed was the Via Egnatia, a great military road, the Macedonian continuation of the Appian Way. Amphipolis.—Thirty miles southwest of Philippi, on the eastern bank of the Strymon, “which flowed almost round it and gave to it its name” (Hackett). Apollonia.—To be distinguished from a town of the same name in Galatia (Ramsay). Thirty miles south-west of Amphipolis. At each of these towns the travellers most likely passed a night, but not more, “as it appears the Jews were not at either town in sufficient numbers to maintain a synagogue, or perhaps even an oratory” (Lewin). Thessalonica.—Now Saloniki. The capital of the second division of Macedonia; a rich commercial city near the mouth of the Ecedorus, on the Thermaic Gulf, about twenty-eight miles west of Apollonia. Weizsäcker, badly off for an objection to the historic credibility of the Thessalonian visit, finds it strange that Paul “went, of all places, to the capital of the province which had just given him such a bad reception”; from which it may presumably be inferred that the German critic would not have proved so courageous as the Christian apostle. A (according to the best MSS. the definite article is wanting, though Hackett and Alford favour its retention) synagogue of the Jews.—Doubtless the only one in town.
Acts 17:2. As his manner was.—Compare Acts 13:5-14, Acts 14:1. Out of, or from the Scriptures.—The source whence Paul drew his teaching (compare Acts 28:23).
Acts 17:3. Opening.—I.e., giving the sense of Scripture, and alleging—i.e., propounding, maintaining, or setting forth as the sum of their teaching. Christ should be the Christ. That this Jesus, etc, should be, that this is the Christ—viz., the Jesus whom I preach or proclaim unto you.
Acts 17:4. Believed.—Rather, were persuaded. Consorted with.—Attached themselves to (Olshausen, Hackett), though the more correct interpretation is were added by lot to (Winer, De Wette, Meyer, Alford, Holtzmann, Zöckler)—viz., by God (compare Acts 13:48; John 6:44; John 17:6). Of the devout Greeks reads in the Alexandrine Codex of the devout and of Greeks, which, however, is not to be preferred (see Acts 13:43). Of the chief, or first women.—See on Acts 13:50.
Acts 17:5. The Jews who believed not.—The best MSS. omit the relative clause, as an insertion from Acts 14:2. Lewd fellows of the baser sort.—Lit., certain disreputable men of the market idlers—such as Cicero calls subrostrani, Plautus sub-basilicani, Xenophon the market-place mob, τὸν , and Demosthenes the knaves of the market, περίτριμμα . Jason was Paul’s host (Acts 17:7), as Lydia had been his hostess at Philippi. Whether this Jason was Paul’s kinsman (Romans 16:21) cannot be determined.
Acts 17:6. When they found them not.—Probably because Paul and Silas were then absent from their lodging. The rulers of the city, politarchs = the ἅρχοντες of Acts 16:19.—Not in this case, as in that of Philippi, prœtors, because Thessalonica was not a colony, but a free city, possessing the right of self-government in all its internal affairs, within the territory that might be assigned to it, and having magistrates with whose jurisdiction the provincial governor had no right to intermeddle. An inscription found on an arch at Thessalonica mentions that the city magistrates were called politarchs, and gives as three of these individuals bearing the names of three of Paul’s friends—Sosipater (Acts 20:4), Gaius (Acts 19:29), and Secundus (Acts 20:4).
Acts 17:7. Another King, one Jesus.—Virtually a charge of high treason, a more alarming charge than that preferred against them at Philippi (Acts 16:21), and recalling the accusation of the Jerusalem Jews against Christ (John 19:15).
Acts 17:9. When they had taken security.—Lit., having taken the sufficient (sum or pledge) = satisdatione accepta, either by sureties or money. They let them go ἀπέλυσαν (compare Acts 13:3).—Paul’s language in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 appears to contain a reminiscence of his experience in Thessalonica.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 17:1-9
Paul and Silas at Thessalonica; or, Mixed Experiences
I. Their arrival in the city.—
1. How they reached it. By passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, towards which they directed their steps on departing from the house of Lydia (Acts 16:40). The first of these towns lay thirty-three miles from Philippi in a south-westerly direction, the second thirty from Amphipolis and thirty-seven from Thessalonica. In all a journey of a hundred miles was undertaken, which might easily have been performed in three or four days. The first town, anciently called the “Nine Ways,” from the number of Thracian and Macedonian roads which converged at it, stood back three miles from the sea, on the east bank of the Strymon, which, flowing round it, gave it its name. The exact site of the second town has not been ascertained, although the road to it must have lain through scenes of surpassing loveliness.
2. How they found it. In those days Thessalonica—the modern Saloniki, with a population of 70,000, of whom a third are Jews—was a rich commercial city, near the mouth of the Echedorus. Originally called Therma, its name was changed by Cassander, the son of Antipater, and one of Alexander’s generals, who rebuilt it, into Thessalonica, after his wife, who was a daughter of Philip. For the historic associations connected with Thessalonica see Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul, i. 298. When Paul and Silas for the first time entered this town “it was the most populous of all the cities of Macedonia, and the capital of the whole province,” where “the Roman Proconsul, attended by six lictors and their fasces, held his court, attended by his privy council, or Board of Advice, composed of select illustrious Romans, with whom he conferred on all matters of state” (Lewin). Its dense heathenism, moreover, was relieved by the presence of only one Jewish synagogue, while its streets were crowded by “lewd fellows of the baser sort,” “vile fellows of the rabble,” or market-place tramps.
3. How long they remained in it. At least three Sabbaths (Acts 17:2), and possibly three full weeks, during which, it may be safely assumed, the four missionaries were not idle, and Paul specially kept working night and day (1 Thessalonians 2:9). There is even ground for thinking Paul must have stayed several months in Thessalonica, as during that period he twice received pecuniary assistance from Philippi (Philippians 4:15-16).
II. Their procedure in the city.—
1. Their lodging. This, the procuring of which naturally formed their first concern, they found in the house of one Jason, a Græcised form of Jesus, a Jew, to whom “they may have brought letters of introduction from the disciples at Philippi” (Lewin), or who may have been a kinsman of Paul’s (Romans 16:21), though too much significance may be attached to similarity of name. If the individual here mentioned was a relative of Paul’s he must have been with the apostle at Corinth when he wrote the epistle to the Romans 2:0. Their living. This may have been provided gratuitously by Jason, though that is unlikely. The epistle to the Thessalonians (1 Acts 2:9) rather shows that Paul and his companions laboured night and day, if not at their ordinary trades, at some form of manual labour, to furnish for themselves such scanty supplies as their modest wants demanded. The Philippians, indeed, once and again forwarded money contributions (Philippians 4:15-16) to the apostle while in Thessalonica; but if, as he himself states, he had suffered the loss of his whole worldly property in Philippi (Philippians 3:8), and if, as there is reason to believe, while he was there, wheat stood at famine prices in Thessalonica, a peck of wheat being sold, according to Eusebius, for six drachmæ, or four shillings and sixpence, being six times the usual price (see Lewin, vol. i., p. 258), the amounts received from his grateful converts would hardly dispense him or his companions—Silas, Timothy, and Luke—from the necessity of supporting themselves by their own hands.
3. Their preaching. Here the narrative loses sight of Silas and speaks exclusively of Paul, concerning whose ministrations it furnishes the amplest details.
(1) The place in which they were held was the synagogue, the only one then, though now Saloniki can boast of nearly forty Jewish churches.
(2) The time was the Sabbath, the ordinary season for worship, in selecting which Paul followed his usual custom of seeking the earliest hearing for his gospel from his countrymen (compareActs 13:5; Acts 13:5; Acts 13:14; Acts 14:1).
(3) The text book from which his expositions and exhortations were drawn was the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which he regarded as the word of God and the New Testament Church’s manual of salvation.
(4) The thesis in support of which he reasoned said that Jesus of Nazareth was the Hebrew Messiah who had been promised to the fathers, obviously a suitable starting-point from which to address a Jewish audience. A preacher’s success with his hearers depends, to no small extent, on the way in which he opens his discourse.
(5) The method in which he sought to establish this proposition was not by noisy declamation or dogmatic assertion, least of all by vulgar sensationalism, but by calm reasoning, appealing to the Scriptures for the evidence on which he based his proposition, expounding the meaning of the prophecies that spoke of the Messiah, and showing how they all had received their fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth.
(6) The proof which he deduced from Scripture consisted in this, that according to these prophecies “Christ must needs have suffered and risen again from the dead” (compare Acts 2:24-31; Acts 3:18; Acts 13:27-37; Luke 24:44), and that, according to actual fact, Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the grave.
(7) The effect produced by his disputations was such that a considerable number of his hearers were converted. First, some of the Jewish worshippers came over to his side, among them Secundus (Acts 20:4), Aristarchus (Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24), and perhaps Gaius (Acts 19:29). Next, a great multitude of the Greek proselytes (according to another reading “of the devout and of Greeks”) attached themselves to the new faith. Lastly, not a few of the chief (or first) women—i.e., occupying a leading position in the town (compareActs 13:50; Acts 13:50), espoused the new cause. N.B.—As all the above, unless the other reading be adopted, were practically gathered from Judaism, while Paul speaks of the Thessalonian Christians as having been drawn from those who worshipped idols (1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:14), it has been surmised that Acts preserves the result only of Paul’s three Sabbaths’ reasonings in the synagogue, and that either he preached to the Gentiles during the week (Neander) or spent a longer time in Thessalonica preaching to the Gentiles after he had been excluded from the synagogue, and before the incidents next recorded (Paley). See above, Acts 1:3.
III. Their treatment in the city.—
1. Their work hindered. Perceiving the success which had attended the apostle’s preaching in drawing away from the synagogue so large a body of converts, “a greater multitude of adherents than they had won during many years to the doctrines of Moses” (Farrar), indignant at seeing the strange missionaries teaching the Gentiles (1 Thessalonians 2:16), and perhaps furious at their losing the resources, reverence, and adhesion of the leading women of the city (Farrar), the unbelieving Jews followed the example of their co-religionists at Antioch (Acts 13:50), Iconium (Acts 14:2), and Lystra (Acts 14:19), and excited against the evangelists a fresh persecution, calling to their aid “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort,” the roughs and scoundrels, loafers and loiterers of the city, the men of the market-place, the street-walkers, and raising a hue and cry against the objects of their rage (see “Critical Remarks”).
2. Their lodging assaulted. Jason’s house, surrounded by the mob, was broken into in hope of finding his hated guests (compareGenesis 19:4-11; Genesis 19:4-11). The ostensible ground of attack was that Jason had granted these wandering preachers a lodging; the real purpose was to fetch these out before the people, demos, or popular assembly, in which their condemnation would at once have been secured. Had the apostles, at the moment, been within Jason’s house, they would certainly have been arrested. As, however, they were absent, Jason and certain brethren—i.e., Thessalonian converts with him at the time—were apprehended and forcibly dragged before the city-rulers, or politarchs (see “Critical Remarks”).
3. Their names traduced. The absent missionaries were charged—not with being Christians, which had not yet become a crime in the Roman empire—but with being
(1) revolutionaries, men who were aiming at turning, and who in some measure actually had, “turned the world upside down”; and
(2) rebels—persons who acted contrary to the decrees of Cæsar, saying, “There is another king, one Jesus,” and who therefore were, to all intents and purposes, guilty of high treason. The decrees of Cæsar were the Julian Laws, which enacted that whosoever violated the majesty of the State, or insulted the emperor by casting a stone at his image, would be counted as a traitor. As intended by its promoters, the accusation was, of course, false (compareLuke 23:2; Luke 23:2; John 19:12; John 19:15), though it found a seeming warrant in the character of Paul’s preaching at Thessalonica, which talked about Christ’s kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:0; 1 Thessalonians 2:0; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12); in another sense than theirs it was perfectly true (see below, “Hints,” etc.).
4. Their departure rendered necessary. The magistrates, alarmed for the peace of the city, demanded security—perhaps by sureties or by a sum of money—from Jason and his brethren, not that Paul and Silas would appear for trial, since these were forthwith sent away from the town, but that no attempt would be made against the supremacy of Rome, and that the quiet of the town would not be disturbed. As this could hardly be secured while Paul continued preaching within its precincts, it was necessary for him to depart. This, accordingly, he did, taking with him Silas and Timothy, the brethren in Thessalonica sending them off secretly, under cover of the darkness, and, no doubt, with affectionate farewells, to the out-of-the-way town of Berœa.
1. The unwearied diligence which Christ’s ambassadors should exhibit.
2. The value of the Old Testament as a storehouse of proofs of Christ’s Messiahship and divinity.
3. The proper subject of Christian preaching—that Jesus is the Christ.
4. The most effective style of preaching—that which is based on Scripture and aims at the heart, through the understanding.
5. The success which commonly results from faithful preaching.
6. The inveterate hostility of the evil heart towards the gospel.
7. The slanders which are often hurled against the followers of Christ.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 17:3. The Death and Resurrection of Christ a Necessity.
I. His death necessary.—
1. To fulfil Scripture—which as God’s word could not be broken (John 10:35).
2. To accomplish God’s counsel—which had foreordained that Christ should die (Acts 4:28; 1 Peter 1:19-20; Galatians 4:4).
3. To atone for the sins of men—by the shedding of His blood (2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12).
4. To perfect His example of holiness—since in thus taking the sinner’s place He gave to mankind the highest demonstration of self-sacrificing love (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 3:16).
II. His resurrection necessary.—
1. To fulfil Scripture, which had foretold His rising from the dead.
2. To demonstrate His Divine sonship, without which He could not have been a Saviour for man.
3. To attest the acceptance of His atoning work, evidence of which would have been awanting had He not risen.
4. To perfect Him as a Saviour, by showing Him to have life in Himself and all power in heaven and on earth, and therefore to be able to save to the uttermost, etc.
Acts 17:6. Turning the World upside down.
I. A malicious calumny.—As used by the Thessalonian Jews about Paul and Silas, and as still directed by the unbelieving world against ministers, missionaries, and Christian people generally, who are not either—
1. political revolutionaries, in their tenets or their actions, Christianity enjoining submission for conscience’ sake and Christ’s sake to the powers that be (Romans 13:1); or
2. social agitators, their religion teaching them to follow peace with all men (Hebrews 12:14), to lead a quiet and peaceable life (1 Timothy 2:2), and to study the things that make for peace (Romans 14:19).
II. A glorious truth.—In a sense not intended this indictment expressed the truth concerning Paul and Silas, as it still does about Christian preachers and professors. It is the aim of these, as it was of Paul and Silas, to turn the world upside down.
1. In its beliefs, leading it from trust in idols to faith in God and Jesus Christ.
2. In its actions, turning them from sin to holiness, and from the bondage of Satan to serve the living God.
3. In its hopes, directing it to seek its chief good above and not below, in heaven rather than on earth.
Acts 17:7. Another King, one Jesus.
I. His sovereignty.—Rests on
1. The appointment of Heaven. Christ is a king by Divine right (Psalms 2:6; Acts 5:31; Philippians 2:9-11).
2. The affections of His subjects. His enemies do not wish Him to reign over them, but His friends do (Luke 19:27).
II. His empire.
1. Its extent. The universe (Matthew 28:18), including the nations (Daniel 7:14), and the Church (John 1:49; John 18:36; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Colossians 1:18), as well as angels, principalities, and powers (1 Peter 3:22).
2. Its character. Spiritual, not of this world, a kingdom of truth and righteousness (John 18:36).
3. Its duration. Eternal. It shall never pass away (Revelation 11:15) till the end of this mediatorial dispensation (1 Corinthians 15:28).
III. His rule. A rule
1. Of righteousness (Psalms 45:6; Isaiah 32:1).
2. Of love (Psalms 110:3).
3. Of salvation (Zechariah 9:9).
Illustration.—“After an absence of twenty months Andrew Melville returned to Scotland and resumed his office at St. Andrew’s. He was repeatedly elected Moderator of the General Assembly and Rector of the University. A remarkable instance of his plain speaking took place at Cupar, in 1596. Melville was heading a deputation to remonstrate with the king. James reminded the zealous remonstrant that he was his vassal. ‘Sirrah!’ retorted Melville, ‘ye are God’s silly vassal; there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland; there is King James, the head of this Commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus, the King of the Church, whose subject James 6 is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member.’ ” (Chambers’ Encyclopœdia, art. Melville, Andrew).
Acts 17:1-9. Paul’s Visit to Thessalonica.
I. A time of uninterrupted labour.
1. Providing for his own maintenance
2. Publishing the gospel.
3. Arranging for the welfare of his converts.
II. A period of growing influence. Extending
1. Among his own countrymen.
2. Next among the Gentiles.
3. Finally among the leading citizens.
III. A season of spiritual joy. Because of—
1. The hearty reception which his message received;
2. The numerous converts it gained; and
3. The practical influence these exerted in the community.
Acts 17:10. Bœrea.—Presently Pheria, south-west of Thessalonica, and fifty-one miles distant.
Acts 17:12. Many of them believed.—Codex Bezœ adds, “And some disbelieved.” The adjective Greek qualifies men as well as women.
Acts 17:13. They came thither also and stirred up the people should be they came, stirring up and troubling (“and troubling” being inserted in accordance with the best authorities) the people there also.
Acts 17:14. As it were to the sea.—ὡς with ἐπί may signify intention, actual or pretended (Winer’s Grammar of the New Testament Diction, p. 640), and some (Grotius, Bongel, Olshausen) suppose, in accordance with this reading, that Paul’s companions only made a feint of sending him off by sea, while in reality they conducted him off by the overland route to Athens—a distance of 251 Roman miles; but the oldest codices (א A B E) read ἕως as far as to the sea, and this avoids even the suggestion of pretending to go one way and taking another.
Acts 17:15. A commandment unto Silas and Timothy that they should come to him with all speed.—According to Acts 18:5 they came from Macedonia to him in Corinth; according to 1 Thessalonians 3:1 Timothy was sent back from Athens to Macedonia. The statements are not inconsistent. Silas and Timothy may have followed Paul at once to Athens, (so Ramsay) from which Timothy may have been recommissioned to the Thessalonians, and Silas to some other church in Macedonia, both again returning to him in Corinth.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 17:10-15
Paul and Silas among the Berœans; or, Another Good Work interrupted
I. The Berœan Jews commended.—
1. Their noble disposition. Though Berœa, now Karra-Verria, to which secluded town the three missionaries repaired on quitting the Macedonian capital, lay only forty-five miles towards the south, yet the character of its Jewish colony compared favourably with that of the larger city. Indeed, the members of its synagogue were “less obstinate, less sophisticated,” than any Paul had elsewhere found. Their minds were less contracted by prejudice, and their hearts less inspired by malice. Ready to receive the word the moment it was proved to be true, they likewise showed themselves to be profoundly interested in what the apostle preached. “The nobler conduct of the Berœan Jews consisted in their freedom from that jealousy, which made the Jews in Thessalonica and many other places, enraged when the offer of salvation was made as freely to others as to themselves” (Ramsay, St. Paul, etc., p. 232).
2. Their ingenuous conduct. Instead of angrily rejecting what was submitted to their judgment, they dealt with it as upright and honest men.
(1) They accorded it a candid hearing, which is more than many nominal Christians do; they shut it not out from their understandings by preliminary prejudice against or indifference towards it, as is the habit of many moderns, but frankly and openly allowed it to fill their minds in such a way that at least they accurately comprehended its import.
(2) They searched the Scriptures daily whether the doctrines propounded by Paul could be found therein, or were by fair and legitimate argument deducible therefrom. Instead of sitting in judgment on Paul’s preaching, and determining incredibility by à priori considerations suggested by the natural reason, they humbly and respectfully accepted the Old Testament Scriptures as the ultimate court of appeal. If Paul’s ideas concerning Jesus Christ could be sustained before this tribunal then all controversy concerning them was at an end; if they could not, just as decidedly and promptly must they be rejected. It was a clear and a fair issue which was thus raised. Probably Paul had the Berœans in his mind when he afterwards exhorted the Thessalonians to “prove all things and hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
(3) They in large numbers believed, their example being followed by not a few Greek women and men, both of honourable estate—i.e., belonging to the first families in the town. Sopater of Berœa (Acts 20:4), it may be presumed, was at this time won for Christianity. In all respects the Berœans afforded a worthy pattern for gospel hearers.
II. The Thessalonian Jews discommended.—
1. Their persons distinguished. The parties referred to are expressly stated to have been the unbelieving Jews, who had stirred up the Thessalonian populace against Paul and Silas (Acts 17:5), and to whom, through some secret channel, intelligence had been conveyed of the extraordinary success of these evangelists at Berœa.
2. Their motive specified. This was, on the one hand, to hinder the progress of the gospel which they had learnt was being preached with acceptance among the Berœans, and on the other hand to “overwhelm the apostate from the law of Moses” (Lewin). Their proper ancestors were the Pharisees of Christ’s day, who would neither enter into the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffer those who were entering to go in (Matthew 23:13), and who ultimately crucified the Prince of Life and Lord of Glory.
3. Their behaviour described. Having come to Berœa they stirred up and troubled the people there as at Thessalonica (Acts 17:8), by circulating the same calumnies and organising the same lewd fellows of the baser sort against the missionaries. Their hatred of both Paul and his gospel unsleepingly pursued him henceforth from city to city.
4. Their success recorded. Not directly, but indirectly, by the circumstance narrated that Paul’s friends deemed it prudent to hasten his departure from the city, as the brethren in Thessalonica had counselled his withdrawal from that city (Acts 17:10), and as formerly other friends had hurried him from Jerusalem (Acts 9:30). He had been anxious to return to his converts in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:18), but Satan in the person of these persecuting Jews from Thessalonica had hindered. The path of providence for him lay southwards to Athens. Immediately therefore the brethren conveyed him as far as the seaport of Dium, sixteen miles from Berœa, and shipped him for the Greek metropolis. Some of them even accompanied him all the way to the Achaian capital, because Silas and Timotheus were left behind in Berœa to continue the work which he had so auspiciously begun, to preach the gospel and to organise the Church, while he, the apostle, owing either to his weak eyesight or to some other bodily infirmity, was not fit to travel alone.
1. The duty of hearing the gospel with an open mind.
2. The propriety of proving all things and holding fast that which is good.
3. The suitability of the gospel for persons of the highest estate.
4. The inveterate hostility of the carnal heart against what is good.
5. The fickleness of crowds.
6. The wisdom of attempting to preserve useful lives.
7. The dependence of most men upon the services of others.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 17:11. True Nobility of Mind. Evinced in three things.
I. Readiness to receive the word.
II. Diligence in searching the Scriptures.
III. Faith in the person of Jesus of whom the word speaks.
Acts 17:11. The Elements of a Truly Noble Spirit.—
1. Attention to religion. It is the highest kind of truth and the grandest object of pursuit.
2. Candour in religious inquiry. Prejudices are bars to fair dealing. Idols. Cobwebs.
3. The exercise of the right of private judgment. It is mean to surrender this right to a Pope or a priest. It is not less mean to surrender it to great thinkers and great dreamers.
4. Deference to the authority of Scripture. Man never occupies a more noble position than when, like a little child, he submits his own feeble faculties to the guidance of the oracles of Him that cannot lie. It is not worship of the Book, but of the infallible Author of the Book.—G. Brooks.
Searching the Scriptures.
I. A blessed right.—
1. Conferred by God.
2. Due to man.
3. Not to be withheld by either State or Church.
II. A holy duty.—
1. Commanded by God.
2. To be faithfully performed.
3. Not to be neglected without sin.
III. An inestimable privilege.—Considering,
1. Whose word the scriptures is.
2. The benefit resulting therefrom.
3. The unworthiness of its recipients.
IV. A rare art.—To be practised—
2. With intelligence.
3. In faith.
5. With prayer.
Acts 17:11-12. The Noble Berœans.
I. Heard the gospel.—
1. With devout attention.
2. With impartial candour.
3. With careful investigation.
II. Experienced its effects.—
1. They believed its statements.
2. They enjoyed its privileges.
3. They obeyed its precepts.
III. Exhibited their own nobility.—
1. Adopted a noble conduct.
2. Displayed a noble spirit.
3. Presented a noble example.
Docility of Temper in Relation to the Truth.
I. The teaching, the recognition of which the writer commends.—
1. The “word,” more fully expounded in the opening verses of the chapter, contained two propositions—viz.,
(1) that the Messiah, when He appeared in accordance with the Scriptures, was to appear as a suffering Messiah; and
(2) that the Jesus whose history and crucifixion Paul was then recounting, was, in fact, that Messiah. This a position which he only would take, who was sure of his ground, and who felt that he could make it good by the most indubitable proofs.
2. The truth of this word the apostle established by an appeal to the highest authority—viz., the Scriptures, “the Old Testament documents in whose inspiration he and his Jewish hearers equally believed.” “By a careful comparison of your inspired Scriptures with the veritable facts of which our whole nation is cognisant,” he practically said, “we have found, beyond all doubtful disputation, that all that was foreshown, typified, and promised, concerning the Messiah of our ancient hope, has met its fulfilment in the person and history of this Jesus whom I preach unto you.”
II. The spirit in which this teaching was received.—“With all readiness of mind.” Here is—
1. The docility of temper which belongs to the right reception of truth. “The Berœans were in that balanced equipoise of mind which, equally removed from a listless indifference on the one hand and a self-complete and haughty presumption on the other, left them at liberty to listen with attention to the apostle’s reasoning, to think dispassionately on it, and, finally, to draw logically their own conclusions from it.
2. The fearless honesty and manly independence of spirit which ought to mark inquirers after the truth. “The great question with which the Berœans charged themselves was, whether those things were true as the apostle put them, whether they were founded on fact, and were therefore accessible to the ordinary methods of moral conviction. It was not whether they were agreeable or in harmony with their preconceptions, or with their beliefs and customs; whether they were ably reasoned by the apostle or ill; but whether they were true.”
III. The result which followed on this procedure—“Therefore many of them believed.” This result was—
1. The logical consequence of the antecedent procedure. “Faith, waiting on the light of evidence, is met by the evidence of light, and following that, is led into the liberty of truth; as it always will be in the things of God. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.” Will to do first; know afterwards. Obedience is the spirit in which to seek. Knowledge its after product.
2. The outcome of a mental process in which several things were combined. “There was, in the case of these Berœans, first of all a clear presentation of the truth to the mind; there was then the actual personal contact of the mind, of the individual thought of the hearer, with the truth, and a process of reflection upon it. There was a readiness to surrender all old convictions to the authority of evidence, at whatever cost of personal state or attainment, and following directly in the course of this ingenuousness of intent and act, the light came, and they believed.”
1. The fitness of the gospel to deal with dissimilar classes of men.
2. The great impediment in the way of a man’s salvation—which is not in the gospel or in the ministration of the gospel, but in the indifference of the human heart to religion.—John Burton.
Acts 17:13. Stirring up the Multitudes.
I. Of a true sort.—
1. By the gospel.
2. Of noble minds.
3. To the exercise of faith.
4. For the warfare of the Spirit.
II. Of a false sort.—
1. By wicked men.
2. Of lewd fellows.
3. To resist the truth.
4. For the persecution of the saints.
Acts 17:14. Silas and Timothy in Berœa.—“The question naturally occurs, Why did Paul go on from Berœa alone, leaving Silas and Timothy behind, and yet send orders immediately on reaching Athens that they were to join him with all speed? There seems at first sight some inconsistency here. But again comparison between Acts and Thessalonians solves the difficulty: Paul was eager ‘once and again’ to return to Thessalonica, and was waiting for news that the impediment placed in his way was removed. Silas and Timothy remained to receive the news (perhaps about the attitude of the new magistrates) and to bring it on to Paul. But they could not bring it on to him until they received his message from Athens.”—Ramsay, St. Paul, etc., p. 234.
Acts 17:16. Athens.—Described by Milton (Paradise Regained, Acts 4:20) as “the eye of Greece,” and “the mother of arts and eloquence.” The capital of Attica was situated about five miles from the harbour of Piræus, partly on a group of rocky hills, and partly upon the low land surrounding these, and separating them one from the other. Of these rocky eminences the loftiest was the Acropolis, which stood almost in the middle of the town, and to which a magnificent marble staircase led up through the Propylæum, built by Pericles. Here were, besides other works of art, the colossal statue of Athene Promachus, the glorious Parthenon, or Virgins’ house, replete with the masterpieces of Phidias, and “the colossal statue (of Athens) of ivory and gold, the work of Phidias, unrivalled in the world, save only by the Jupiter Olympius of the same artist” (Conybeare and Howson, 1:330).
Acts 17:17. In the market.—The Agora, richly decorated with statues, lying between the two hills, Pnyx on the west and Museum on the south-west of the Acropolis, was “the centre of a glorious public life, when the orators and statesmen, the poets and artists, of Greece found there all the incentives of their noblest enthusiasm” (Ibid., i. 326).
Acts 17:18. This babbler.—ὁ σπερμολδγος. Lit., sted-picker, properly a bird, in which sense it is used by Aristophanes (Birds, 232); hence one who prowls about the market-place picking up and retailing gossip, or one who lives by his wits; hence, again, “a contemptible and worthless person.” Or the allusion may be to the chattering of such birds, whence the word may denote “a babbler.” Zeno called by this name one of his disciples, who had more words than wisdom (Diog. Laert., Zeno, c. 19); and Demosthenes used this expression of ready-tongued opponents. “Many an Athenian is likely to have babbled all the week through about this babbler at the Areopagus” (Stier). “Probably the nearest and most instructive parallel in modern English life to Spermologos is ‘Bounder’ allowing for the difference between England and Athens. In both there lies the idea of one who is ‘out of the swim,’ out of the inner circle, one who lacks that thorough knowledge and practice in the rules of the game, that mould the whole character and make it one’s nature to act in the proper way and play the game fair” (Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 243).
Acts 17:19. Areopagus.—This ancient college of justice in Athens, whose province it was to pronounce judgment on the worst criminal cases, had its name from the elevation, Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:22), upon the east end of which it had its sittings. It was approached from the market-place by a flight of steps cut in the rock, and on its summit had, also cut in the rock, a row of seats, in which the judges sat, and room for a considerable number of spectators and listeners. Ramsay (St. Paul, etc., pp. 241 ff.), thinks Paul was brought before the Council of Areopagus, neither to be tried by the city judges, nor to address the Athenian people, nor to discuss with the philosophers, but to explain to the university court the nature of his doctrines. (See Hints on Acts 17:19.)
Acts 17:21. Either to tell or to hear some new thing.—Compare Demosthenes: “Is it your sole ambition to wander through the public places, each inquiring of the other, what new advices?” (Philippic, Acts 1:11); and Thucydides (3:38): “And so you are the best men to be imposed upon with novelty of argument,” etc. “It is just the same to-day with the upper and lower classes in our great cities. It is ever καινὁτερόν τι; or, as they are wont to say, One new thing supplants another” (Stier).
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 17:16-21
Paul at Athens; or, Alone in a Heathen City
I. Waiting for Silas and Timothy.—
1. Alone. These two friends having been left behind in Macedonia, Silas in Berœa, and perhaps Timothy in Thessalonica, to carry forward the spiritual movement which had there been initiated when those who had brought the apostle as far as to Athens had departed, he naturally began to realise the isolation of his position as a stranger in a large heathen city. Nor is it likely that the brilliant scenes on which he gazed in that fair metropolis of the ancient world did much to relieve his depression. Besides, largely on account of bodily weakness, the apostle may have felt himself in need of friendly sympathy and assistance in order to effective working in Athens. Hence, on sending back his conductors to Barœa, he deemed it prudent to entrust them with instructions for both Silas and Timothy to rejoin him with all speed. Doubtless he expected to await their arrival at Athens; but as the turn of events once more constrained him to leave the Achaian capital sooner than he had anticipated, it was not till he had reached Corinth that his esteemed colleagues overtook him (Acts 18:5).—Silas coming from Berœa, and Timothy from Thessalonica, to which city (as above conjectured, though see “Critical Remarks,” and “Hints” on Acts 17:14) he had been despatched from Berœa, instead of Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Meanwhile the apostle found himself in Athens alone (1 Thessalonians 3:1). Yet,
2. Not alone. Like his glorified Master, who, in the days of His flesh, when forsaken by His disciples, affirmed that though alone He was yet not alone, because the Father was with Him (John 16:32), the apostle in his solitude enjoyed first the companionship of that gracious Lord on whose business he had come to Athens, who had said, “Lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), and whose “comforts,” it need not be doubted, in that season of “thoughtfulness” delighted his soul (Psalms 94:19). Then, like him who said he was “never less alone than when alone,” the apostle had the fellowship of his own thoughts, which, if they had much to depress, were fitted also in no small measure to cheer. The recollection of the toils and sufferings he had passed through since entering on his lifework of preaching the gospel to the heathen could hardly fail at times to cast “the pale hue of sickly thought” upon his spirit, though even that could not daunt his heroic soul. But, on the other hand, the remembrance of how he had been sustained throughout his arduous warfare, and of how astonishingly the work of the Lord had prospered in his hand, would more than counterbalance his depressing reminiscences. Lastly, he might have found, though it is doubtful if he did, in the fresh scenes upon which he gazed in that brilliant capital, the means of relieving the tedium of his lonely hours. “It was at Athens,” writes Farrar, “that the human form, sedulously trained, attained its most exquisite and winning beauty; there that human freedom put forth its most splendid power; there that human eloquence displayed its utmost subtlety and grace; there that art reached to its most consummate perfection; there that poetry uttered alike its sweetest and its sublimest strains; there that philosophy attained to the most perfect music of human expression, its loftiest and deepest thoughts”; but it may be questioned if these considerations affected Paul with the like enthusiasm they inspire in the breast of modern travellers.
II. Surveying the Athenian city.—
1. The spectacle he beheld. That which arrested Paul’s attention, presumably from the moment of his landing at the harbour of Piræus, as he walked up slowly between the ruins of the Long Walls towards the shining city, and while he, later on, sauntered through its streets and lingered in its market-place, was not its geographical situation, or its architectural beauty, or its air of culture and refinement, but its religious condition. Like Babylon of old, which was “a land of graven images,” and whose people were “mad upon idols” (Jeremiah 50:38), the Athens of Paul’s day was “wholly given over to idolatry,” literally stuffed full of idols. “A person could hardly take his position at any point in ancient Athens where the eye did not range over temples and statues of the gods almost without number” (Hackett). Petronius (Satires, 17) was wont to say that it was easier to find a god at Athens than a man; while, according to Pausanias, Athens had more images than all the rest of Greece put together. Some of the streets were so crowded with those who sold idols that it was almost impossible to make one’s way through them. “Every god in Olympus found a place in the Agora; and as if the imagination of the Attic mind knew no bounds in this direction, abstractions were deified and publicly honoured. Altars were erected to fame, to modesty, to energy, to persuasion, to pity” (Conybeare and Howson, i. 328, 329). Finally, lest any divinity should be overlooked, the inhabitants had erected an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown God.” It is of course objected that ancient writers, such as Pausanias and Philostratus, only knew of altars “to unknown gods” not “to an, or the, unknown god”; but neither can their ignorance be allowed to invalidate the testimony of Paul, nor can it be incontrovertibly demonstrated that the “altars of unknown gods mentioned by the above writers referred to a plurality of deities, and not to a plurality of altars; while, even if the former supposition be accepted as correct, it does not follow that Paul may not have observed one inscribed as Luke reports. There is even a “great probability that by ‘the unknown God’ was actually meant Jehovah” (Lewin).
2. The feeling it aroused. “His spirit was stirred within him,” provoked or filled with indignation;
(1) at the profanation of the holy name of God implied, in the very existence of an idol;
(2) at the prostitution of manhood exhibited in the worship of a graven image;
(3) at the unspeakable source of moral corruption opened in the degrading rites by which such divinities were honoured; and
(4) at the terrible display of Satanic power given in the subjection of a whole city to such a caricature of religion as idolatry really was. Nor would the apostle’s indignation be lessened, but immensely heightened, by the fact that in Jerusalem he had never witnessed an idol.
III. Disputing with its inhabitants.—
1. Where, and when?
(1) In the synagogue on the Sabbath. Although “no trace of any building which could have been a synagogue has been found at Athens” (Farrar), there is no ground for calling in question the accuracy of Luke’s statement that one existed there in Paul’s day, and that Paul, according to his wont (Acts 17:2), entered it on the Sabbath.
(2) In the market-place on the other days of the week. Located at the foot of the Acropolis and the Areopagus, the market-place of Athens was a busy scene. “Around were porticoes fitted up as bazaars for the sale of a thousand articles of commerce; here and there were circular sheds, one for the sale of slaves, another of provisions. In one place was the flesh market, in another the horse market; here the mart of books, there the stalls of fruit and flowers” (Lewin).
2. With whom, and about what?
(1) On the Sabbath day or days in the synagogue with the Jews and devout persons or proselytes there assembled; and the fact that there were Jews and proselytes in the Greek capital shows that even in that idolatrous city the name of Jehovah could not have been utterly unknown. On the week days in the market-place with those encountered there, amongst whom mingled representatives of the various schools of philosophy for which Athens was celebrated (see below).
(2) With the former his theme of disputation would be the Messiahship of Jesus, which, as on other occasions, he would endeavour to establish from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3); with the latter he would reason not about philosophy or science, politics or trade, but about religion and theology, and, in particular, about the true knowledge of God and about the folly of idol worship, about the true wisdom which descended from heaven, and about the resurrection and eternal life.
IV. Confronting the philosophers.—
1. Their designations.
(1) Epicureans. The founder of this sect, Epicurus, born 342 B.C.—i.e., six years after the death of Plato, in his thirty-sixth year—opened at Athens a philosophical school, over which he presided till his death in B.C. 270. The principal tenets of his philosophy were, that the summum bonum of human life consisted in happiness or pleasure; that this happiness was to be found in sobriety and temperance, contentment with little and a life generally in accord with nature; that death was not an evil to be feared; that man has no moral destiny; and that the gods which in his system were more phantoms than gods, took no manner of interest in mundane affairs (Schwegler’s History of Philosophy, pp. 131–134). With his followers happiness became convertible with sensual pleasures (1 Corinthians 15:32), belief in inert and shadowy divinities degenerated into practical atheism, and man’s soul, if he had one, was nothing but a body composed of finer atoms than the fleshly tabernacle in which it was enshrined. They were thus the Greek Sadducees of their day.
(2) The Stoics. Followers of Zeno, who was born in Citium, a town of Cyprus about 340 B.C., and opened a school in an Athenian arcade (Stoa, whence the name Stoic), these were virtually pantheists, who believed that the world was God’s body, and God the world’s soul, that the highest law of human action was to live in accordance with nature, and that virtue, apart from all personal ends, was man’s sole good; but in point of fact they were commonly nothing better than fatalists, who boasted of their indifference to the world, and affected an ideal of morals which in practice became unreal (Schwegler, pp. 123–131).
2. Their exclamations.
(1) What will this babbler say? Better, what might this seed picker, this idle prater mean? I.e., if he has any meaning. These depositaries of the world’s wisdom looked upon the apostle as only another specimen of those market-place loungers and gossips who picked up scraps of information and retailed them to others, and whom the quick-witted humorists of the day likened to a sparrow, rook, or other bird which hopped about the streets and squares of the city picking up crumbs (see “Critical Remarks” on Acts 17:18).
(2) He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods (or daemons)—the very charge preferred against Socrates (Xen., Mem., i. 1, § 1)—“because,” Luke explains, “he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection.” This, the reason advanced by the philosophers for their exclamation, Luke must have learnt from Paul himself. The philosophers, it has been thought, mistook Anastasis for the name of a second divinity in addition to Jesus (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Spence, Plumptre, Holtzmann); but it is more likely that the gods referred to were the God of the Hebrews, the true God and His Son Jesus Christ (Alford, Hackett, De Wette).
3. Their interrogations.
(1) Where these were put. At the Areopagus or Mars’ Hill, “where the most awful court of judicature had sat from time immemorial, to pass sentence on the greatest criminals, and to decide the most solemn questions connected with religion. The judges sat in the open air upon seats hewn out in the rock, on a platform ascended by a flight of stones immediately from the ‘Agora’ ” (Conybeare and Howson, i. 346).
(2) How these were put! “May we know what this new doctrine or teaching is that is spoken by thee?” “We would know what these things mean.” The questions do not indicate that Paul was formally arraigned, but merely that he was called upon to furnish an explanation of the theological novelties to which they had listened—which, all things considered, was a fair enough demand. The words in which their demand was couched do not resemble those in which a prisoner at the bar is addressed by a judge; nor does the speech, made by Paul in reply, in the least degree resemble a defence.
(3) Why these were put. Partly out of a desire for information—the teaching sounded strange to their ears—but chiefly out of idle curiosity, which was a notorious characteristic of the Athenians (see, however, “Critical Remarks” and “Hints” on Acts 17:19).
1. The essential loneliness of God’s people in a sinful world.
2. The earnest activity which Christ’s servants should everywhere exhibit.
3. The natural incapacity of the human heart to comprehend the gospel.
4. The two principal obstacles to the reception of the truth, pleasure and pride.
5. The comparative frivolity of all earthly engagements in comparison with the business of salvation.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 17:16. Athens: A Microcosmus.—A city—
I. Of degraded idolaters, who worshipped the creature more than the Creator.
II. Of ignorant philosophers, who professed themselves to be wise, but were all the while fools.
III. Of arrant triflers, who had no just conception of the seriousness of life.
Acts 17:18. Strange Gods.
I. Senseless images.—Dumb idols such as were and are worshipped by the heathen.
II. Local divinities.—Such deities as were supposed to be restricted to particular lands and peoples—e.g., the gods of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Phœnicians, etc.
III. Impersonal abstractions.—Such as are worshipped by philosophers and others, both ancient and modern; as e.g., the All, the Great Unknown, the Power behind the Visible, etc.
IV. Material possessions.—Such as are worshipped under the names of Mammon, Wealth, Riches, by all classes of society.
Jesus and the Resurrection. Jesus—
I. The efficient cause (John 5:25).
II. The personal principle (John 11:25).
III. The archetypal pattern (Philippians 3:21).
IV. The first fruits of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23).
The Athenian Philosophers and their Relation to Christianity.
I. The Epicureans.—“The Epicurean system was essentially materialistic. The senses formed the only source of knowledge. The world was traced back to atoms, out of whose accidental concurrence all things were formed. Even the soul was said to be only a body of ethereal and fiery substance fashioned out of fine atoms. Hence the immortality of the soul was a delusion, the freedom of the will a deception, and the gods superfluous; only quite illogically Epicurus allowed them to exist, but denied them all world-government and participation in the fortunes of men. The highest good of man, placed as he is in this senseless and heartless existence, is pleasure; wisdom to attain to the highest measure of this in life; and virtue, the conduct leading to this aim.”
II. The Stoics.—“The Stoical system, on the other hand, was essentially pantheistic. It distinguished in the world—all, matter and force. It named the latter in relation to the whole, it is true, Reason, Providence, Godhead, but thought of it only as not self-existent, in personal, and therefore also not truly spiritual essence, as an all-forming and all-animating fire which brings forth the creatures and the worlds and again destroys them. The human soul, a spark of this impersonal godhead, and consequently without immortality, has, according to the Stoics, its highest good in virtue; but virtue is a life in accordance with nature, the agreement of the human will with the law of the world, consequently above all resignation in presence of world-governing fate.”
III. Their relation to Christianity.—“According to these doctrines of the Epicureans and Stoics, which present numerous resemblances to modern un-Christian modes of thinking, it is conceivable that both, notwithstanding their different views of the world and of morals, should have agreed, with reference to the gospel of the apostle, to see in it a new Oriental enthusiasm desirous of being admitted to Greek philosophical rank and especially in the resurrection message, a fable to be laughed at.”—Beyschlag.
Acts 17:19. The Teaching of Christianity at Once, Old and New.
I. Old, as the fall of man, being contained in the first promise; New, as the latest need of man, being able to adapt itself to the ever-varying phases of human civilisation.
II. Old, as the outgrowth of the Hebrew dispensation; New, as the substance of a fresh revelation.
III. Old, as being the subject of prophetic anticipation; New, as being the burden of a specially sent teacher, Christ.
IV. Old, as gathering up and crowning all God’s utterances in the past; New, as exhibiting all that is required to meet the exigencies of the future.
The New Doctrines of Christianity.
I. The unity of God.—Though not new to the Jews it was new to the Athenians.
II. The brotherhood of man.—Even to the Jews as well as Greeks this was an unheard-of idea.
III. The resurrection of Christ.—To both Jew and Greek this was a stumbling block and a strange thing.
IV. The reality of a judgment day.—The conception of such a general assize had never before entered into the world’s mind.
V. The duty of repentance.—Men may previously have admitted the necessity in certain cases of reformation. Repentance in the sense of godly sorrow for sin against God was a novelty.
Unto the Areopagus; or, In the University at Athens.—“Two questions have to be answered in regard to the scene that follows: Why was Paul taken before the council? and what were the intentions of the philosophers in taking him there?
1. It is clear that Paul appeared to the philosophers as one of the many ambitious teachers who came to Athens hoping to find fame and fortune at the great centre of education. Now, certain powers were vested in the council of Areopagus to appoint or invite lecturers at Athens, and to exercise some control over the lecturers in the interests of public order and morality. There is an almost complete lack of evidence what were the advantages and the legal rights of a lecturer thus appointed, and to what extent or in what way a strange teacher could find freedom to lecture in Athens. There existed something in the way of privileges vested in the recognised lecturers; for the fact that Cicero induced the Areopagus to pass a decree inviting Cratippus, the peripatetic philosopher, to become a lecturer in Athens, implies that some advantage was thereby secured to him. There certainly also existed much freedom for foreigners to become lecturers in Athens, for the great majority of the Athenian professors and lecturers were foreign. The scene described in Acts 17:18-34 seems to prove that the recognised lecturers could take a strange lecturer before the Areopagus, and require him to give an account of his teaching, and pass a test as to its character.
2. When they (the philosophers) took him to the court to satisfy the supreme university tribunal of his qualifications, they probably entertained some hope that he would be overawed before that august body, or that his teaching might not pass muster, as being of an unsettling tendency (for no body is so conservative as a university court).”—Ramsay, St. Paul, the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, pp. 246, 247.
Acts 17:21, with Revelation 21:5. The Idolatry of Novelty.—It cannot be denied that there is in all lives—probably not least in the busiest and the loftiest—an element of dulness. This is only to say that there must be routine in every life which is either active or useful. The Athenians of the first text were not mere gossips or newsmongers. The first sound of the words does them some injustice. Their idolatry of novelty by no means exhausted itself in inventing or embellishing or retailing scandalous or mischievous stories against the great men of their city, or against humbler neighbours “dwelling securely by them.” Their treatment of St. Paul shows this. He was not a man of sufficient notoriety or sufficient importance to attract the attention of the mere tattler or scandalmonger. It was because he raised grave questions, going to the very root of the national and individual life—questions of “Jesus” and of “resurrection”—that these idolaters of novelty were attracted. The idolatry of novelty has a wide range. There are those amongst us whose idolatry of novelty never rises to the level of the Athenian. In vain for them the preaching in ten thousand churches of Jesus and the resurrection, even could that doctrine be for once new. Enough for them the last new fashion in dress, the last new horror in the police-courts, the last new tragedy or comedy in the newspapers, the last new mystery or the last new misadventure in society. This sort of idolatry of novelty, this base, vulgar, grovelling curiosity, is of no value whatever beyond the evidence which it affords, more than half by negatives, to the instinct which is in all of us that this is not our rest. It may be enough to say of this worship of novelty, that, as often as not, perhaps (if we knew all) in nine cases out of ten, it is but another name for the worship of falsehood. No trouble whatever is taken by the caterers for this table to make sure whether its supply has anything more in it than a germ, if even a germ, of fact however worthless. But in itself, even where “news” and “lies” are not synonyms, how paltry, how unworthy of an immortal being is this form of the idolatry of novelty! Let us try it in another and higher region—the region of art and literature. There the idolatry of novelty becomes the worship of originality. And need I say what the effort to be original becomes in the hands of the commonplace? Need I speak of the exaggerations, the contortions, the burlesques of the would-be originalities of landscape and portrait-painting? Alas! the rage for novelty does not exhaust itself in the province of art. It is the condition of success in the historian, to invert received opinions of character, and to rewrite history itself into contraries. But the mischief stops not even here. The preacher himself is tried by his originality. A cruel trial this for the weak, vain man, who is miserable without an audience, and must purchase it at any cost. Yet how preferable any dulness to this sort of brilliancy! The subject widens before us, and we must lose no more time in bringing it to its practical application in the one higher province still. The Athenian development of the worship of novelty will be our guide here. We can scarcely wonder that the fanciful mythology of the earlier days of that wonderful people should have sunk, before the Christian era, from a beautiful though insubstantial faith into a cold and half-conscious hypocrisy—a miserable form for the many, a political expedient for the few. Philosophers and statesmen had long ceased to worship. But the former dreamed and the latter acted in agreement thus far—that a thorough iconoclasm would be dangerous, if not to the welfare of the people, at least to the tranquillity of the State. That altar of which St. Paul availed himself with such skill in his address on Mars’ Hill, “To the Unknown God,” was probably the only one which had any honest votary in the then population of Athens. Those Athenians might well have an open ear for the preacher of a new divinity. This was but to confess, what was no secret by this time, that their anonymous altar was still standing, and that they waited to worship till it had a name. For them the idolatry of novelty was their hope and their religion. Alas, brethren, that we should have come round again to those days! After all these centuries we too are left with an anonymous altar, and the worship of English hearts is offered once again at the shrine of an unknown, an avowedly unknowable, God. There is not an arrival of a so-called new apostle, there is not an importation of a so-called new divinity, for which this modern Athens has not at least one of its ears open. There is no pretence and no burlesque of a new commerce with the invisible, which cannot hold its séances in darkened chambers with a certainty of a sufficient gathering and a great probability of a crowd of awe-struck questioners outside. We are told that some one has dared to say, within the Christian Church of London, that Buddha himself is second only (if second) to Jesus Christ in morals, and superior to Christ Himself in this, that he never claimed for himself divinity. The idolatry of novelty can no further go—at least not while “he who now letteth will let”—but soon he shall be taken out of the way, and then shall “the lawless one” be revealed—to be unmasked and consumed in his season by the One mightier. We will turn now to the other and better half of the subject, and try to show, in a few concluding sentences, how considerately, how mercifully, our Lord Jesus Christ, and His Heavenly Father our Lord God, enters into that natural want of something new, which lies at the root of the worship of the ugly idol which we have sought to characterise in this sermon. Do you suppose that Jesus Christ, God in Christ, is unaware, as of the many woes and crimes of earth, so of this particular feature of it, and specially of this earth of England and London—its flatness, its staleness, its dulness, its monotony, as it is felt certainly in all but its ten thousand upper lives—and what are they among the teeming multitudes which make up the population of either? What is the second text of this morning? “He that sitteth upon the throne saith, Behold, I make all things new.” The very feeling, the very sense of monotony which has made impatient man set up this paltry idol of novelty—is here provided for by God Himself saying, “Behold I make (not a few things, but) all things new.” Yes, you will say—somewhere and some day, in that visionary region, in that far-off unrealisable world, of which St. John’s Apocalypse tells. Well—despise not the world to come. Think not scorn of that pleasant land. But let me tell you of a nearer “making all things new.” Let me tell you of it first in a word of St. John, and then finally in a word of St. Paul. There are two ways of fulfilling the promise of renovation. One is by the renewal of the thing itself—the other is by the renewal of the eye that views it. If the one is the promise of the text, the other is the promise elsewhere alike of St. John and St. Paul.—Dean Vaughan.
Acts 17:22. Too superstitions.—Somewhat superstitious (R.V.); better, more god-fearing, more religious (sc., than others)—i.e., unusually religious; though the word has both senses. Your devotions should be objects of devotion, as temples, images, altars, and the like.
Acts 17:23. To the (or, an) unknown God.—Not a singular for a plural as Jerome (ad. Tit., i. 12) asserts: “Inscriptio aræ non ita erat ut Paulus asseruit: ignoto Deo; sed ita: Diis Asiæ et Europæ et Africæ, Diis ignotis et peregrinis. Verum quia Paulus non pluribus Diis ignotis indigebat sed uno tantum ignoto Deo, singulari verbo usus est.” The accuracy of Paul’s statement is confirmed by the testimony of Pausanias, I. i. 4, and Philostratus, Apoll., vi.
2. who both report the existence at Athens of altars to unknown divinities. Whom … Him.—Rather, what … this.
Acts 17:26. Blood.—Omitted by the best authorities. Times before appointed, προτεταγμένους, should be times appointed, προστεταγμένους.
Acts 17:28. The quotation, For we are also His offspring, is verbally taken from Aratus, a native of Tarsus, B.C. 270, who composed astronomical poems, and in one of the only two extant, the Phœnomena, wrote τοῦ γὰρ καὶ γένος ἐσμέν; though substantially, also, it is contained in the words ἐκ σοῦ (Διὸς) γὰρ γένος ἐσμέν of Cleanthes of Assos in Troas, B.C. 300. Other traces of Paul’s acquaintance with Greek poetry may be found in 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12.
Acts 17:31. Because, διότι. Better, inasmuch as, καθότι Giving the reason why the heathen are required to repent. The world means “the inhabited earth.” That man should be “the” or “a man”—viz., Jesus, of whose appointment to the office of judge God had given assurance, or confirmation—lit., offered faith, or a sufficient ground for faith (“Quia res erat vix credibilis argumentum adfert eximium”—Grotius), unto all men by raising Him from the dead.
Acts 17:32. Some mocked.—Perhaps Epicureans. Others, perhaps Stoics (Grotius) or Platonists (Zöckler), said—whether seriously (Calvin, Grotius, Alford) or only courteously, as a polite refusal (De Wette, Meyer), remains uncertain—we will hear thee again of this matter, or less happily person.
Acts 17:34. Dionysius, the Areopagite.—Obviously a man of note, though nothing further in known concerning him—at least with certainty. According to tradition he became the first bishop of Athens (Euseb, H. E., iii. 4, iv. 23) and suffered martyrdom under Domitian (Nicephorus, H. E., iii. 11). Damaris.—Conjecturally regarded by Chrysostom to have been the wife of Dionysius, and by Stier unnecessarily supposed to have been a courtesan.
Note.—On the historic credibility of Paul’s visit to Athens and oration before the Areopagus.
I. The usual objections to the narrative on the ground of miracle narrations are in this case awanting, as the apostle is not credited with having performed so much as one wonder in the capital of Achaia.
II. The special difficulties set forth by the Tübingen critics (Baur, Zeller, Overbeck, Hausrath, and others) are so unreasonable that they can hardly claim a refutation. Weizsäcker, indeed, without offering any reasons, dismisses the story of Paul at Athens, as of “no historical value,” and looks upon the speech before the Areopagus as simply “the author’s conception of Paul’s manner of preaching to the heathen.” By those who give reasons it is alleged:
1. That the narrative is so obviously full of purpose and reflection that it must have been manufactured in order to bring out as strongly as possible the contrast between Christianity and Heathenism.
2. That the apostle could not have introduced his mention of the resurrection in so sudden and objectionable a manner as is represented, and in fact in a way so admirably fitted to make the worst possible impression upon his hearers.
3. That the apostle should have alluded to the Athenians’ characteristic irony as well as to their peculiar curiosity.
4. That there was no altar to an unknown God in Athens, but only “to the gods unknown.”
5. That if Paul had been brought before the Areopagus, he must have undergone a judicial trial—which he did not.
6. That the glory of Paul’s “hearing” before the Areopagus, or highest Greek tribunal, was simply invented as a parallel to the account given of Stephen’s appearance before the highest Jewish court.
7. That the last section of the oration breaks off so suddenly as to show that the composer has been without accurate information about what actually occurred. So far as these and other similar difficulties require explanation, that is furnished either in the “Critical Remarks” or under the “Homiletical Analysis”; but their purely arbitrary and subjective character shows the straits to which the opponents of the credibility are reduced.
III. The sufficient answer to all that can be urged against Luke’s narrative is that it bears on its surface evident marks of its truthfulness.
1. The Pauline conceptions and expressions it contains, which are too numerous to have been invented. Compare, eg., Acts 17:27 with Romans 1:19-20; Acts 17:26 with Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Acts 17:30, “times of ignorance,” with Romans 3:25; Acts 17:31, “the judgment of the world through Christ,” with 2 Corinthians 5:10.
2. The exact acquaintance which it shows with the thoughts and manners of the Athenians, as these are borne witness to by classical writers—as, e.g., with
(1) the habit of the Athenians to ask after new things;
(2) the devotion of the Athenians to idolatry;
(3) the existence in Athens of a worship of unknown gods; and
(4) the belief which prevailed in Athens of the superior origin of their progenitors (see on these points the “Critical Remarks” and “Homiletical Analysis”)—an acquaintance much more easily explained by supposing Luke’s narrative to have proceeded from an eye and ear witness such as Paul, than from a second century fabulist.
3. The possibility of Luke obtaining accurate information about the whole Athenian visit, either from Paul himself or from Dionysius and Damaris, all of whom may have preserved written notes of what took place.
4. The difficulty of discovering how a second century writer could have manufactured the incident and far less the discourse. The suggestion that these were freely constructed out of Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians is totally inadequate as a solution of the problem.
HOMILETICAL ANALYSIS.—Acts 17:22-34
Paul on Areopagus; or, Preaching to Philosophers
I. The courteous exordium.—
1. A respectful salutation. “Ye men of Athens,” the style of address with which their renowned orators had made them familiar. Had Paul been defending himself before judges he would probably have said: ἄνδρες δικασταί.
2. A complimentary ascription. Possible that he characterised his hearers as “too” or “somewhat superstitious” (R.V.), but more likely that he called them more religious—i.e., more occupied with and devoted to religion than others (see “Critical Remarks”). As a mere matter of good taste he could hardly have expected to gain their ears by reproaching them as superstitious; the course of his subsequent remarks shows he regarded their devotion to religion as something in itself good, which only needed to be instructed and guided to become better.
3. A pleasing intimation. That he had been wandering through their streets, closely observing, not their devotions (A.V.), but the objects of their devotion, such as their temples, images, altars, and the like, and in particular that he had noted one altar more remarkable than the rest, on account of its inscription, which ran: “To the (or to an) unknown God” (see “Critical Remarks”).
4. A startling declaration. That he, whom they had just denounced as a babbler, was prepared to acquaint them with the true personality and character of that divinity they were ignorantly worshipping. What with all their wisdom they had not been able to attain to (1 Corinthians 1:21), a just knowledge of the true God, he was ready and willing to impart. By no means a modest pretension; yet splendidly fulfilled.
II. The weighty sermon.—Three main divisions.
1. The relation of God to the world (Acts 17:24-25). The Supreme Being was exhibited in five different aspects.
(1) As Creator of the world. A truth denied by both sects of the philosophers who listened to the apostle, but frequently affirmed by the apostle (Acts 14:15; Romans 11:36; 2 Corinthians 5:18; Ephesians 3:9), and other New-Testament writers (Hebrews 3:4; Revelation 4:11).
(2) As Lord of heaven and earth (Matthew 11:25; compare Genesis 14:22); the absolute ownership of the universe flowing of necessity from God’s relationship to it as Creator (Romans 10:12).
(3) As filling immensity with His presence, and therefore as incapable of being confined like idols in temples made with hands (compare Acts 7:49). That the heathen failed to distinguish between the Deity and His image, see Acts 19:26.
(4) As self-sufficient and therefore as independent of His creatures. Incapable of being profited by any service that might be rendered by man’s hands, God was equally removed above the necessity of requiring such service (Psalms 50:9-13). In both respects He transcended the divinities they worshipped, who not only inhabited and were confined to their shrines, but were supposed to be in need of and to be benefited by the sacrifices laid upon their altars (compare Iliad, i. 37).
(5) As the source of life and blessing to His dependent creatures. “Seeing He Himself giveth to all life and for the continuance of the same breath, and all things they require (compare Acts 14:17; Psalms 104:14-15; Psalms 104:27-28; Psalms 145:15-16; Matthew 5:45; 1 Timothy 6:17).
2. The dignity and destiny of man (Acts 17:26-29).
(1) As forming a divinely constituted brotherhood, all nations, or every nation, of men having been made of one blood, or simply of one (stock, or blood must be supplied), for to dwell on all the face of the earth. A magnificent conception, abundantly asserted in Scripture (Genesis 1:26-27; Deuteronomy 4:32; Psalms 86:9; Malachi 2:10), and confirmed by the best science, which must have struck at the pride of Paul’s hearers, who regarded themselves as the flower and cream of humanity, while all others were designed to be their slaves (Aristotle, Pol., I. ii. 6); which still opposes itself like an immovable rock or impregnable fortress to all modern theories which deny man’s descent from a common stock, and on the ground of that (supposed) fact to establish the original, radical, and essential superiority of civilised to savage, or of white to black races; and which warrants the hope and expectation that a day is yet coming when this transcendent truth will receive universal recognition, and when the Scottish poet’s dream will be realised—
“When man to man the world o’er,
Shall brithers be and a’ that.”—Burns.
(2) As guided in all their movements by an invisible hand. That of Him who had called them into existence, and who, so far from being indifferent to and unobservant of their fortunes, had “determined their appointed seasons and the bounds of their habitations”—i.e., fixed the periods of their rising, flourishing, and decaying, “and the limits of their territory” (Deuteronomy 32:8), beyond which they could no more pass than could the waves of the sea overstep the sand barriers by which their fury was restrained (compare Job 12:23). The truth thus announced was well adapted to humble his hearers, whose city’s greatness had already passed its meridian, and whose territory was year by year becoming narrower, and to remind them of the wisdom of listening to a message from Him who so manifestly held them in His hand (Psalms 22:28; Daniel 4:25).
(3) As designed to come to a true knowledge of God and of their obligations to Him. That they did not possess such a knowledge originally, in themselves and on the platform of creation (1 Thessalonians 4:5), was a clear testimony to their fallen and sinful character and condition (1 Corinthians 1:21). Nevertheless it was God’s will and desire that they should grope about after Him, like blind men feeling their way in the dark, in the hope of finding Him who was not beyond their reach by being at a distance from them, but was near to every individual composing them,
“Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.”—Tennyson.
for “in Him we live and move and have our being,” or live and move (or are moving), and are—i.e., every moment depend on Him for life, activity, and being. And that this was no self-invented dogma, but an old and acknowledged truth which their own gifted seers had discerned, he demonstrated to them by citing in its support the similar sentiment of one of their own poets (Aratus, a Cilician poet, B.C. 270), who wrote: “For we are also His offspring,” clearly showing he regarded man as dependent on the Deity for life, activity, and existence.
(4) As convicted of unreason in thinking that the Godhead could be like to gold, or silver, or stone graven by art and device of man. The argument was irresistible. Was man the offspring of God? Then God could in no sense be the handiwork of man. Was man God’s child? Then God must at least be possessed of a nature resembling man’s, and if like man’s then unlike that of molten or graven idols.
3. The doctrine of Christ and His salvation (Acts 17:30-31). This third main division of discourse, entered upon, was not finished. So far as it had proceeded it had announced four things.
(1) A new dispensation on the part of God. Whereas God had winked at or overlooked the past ages of ignorance, left them alone without either gracious revelation or stern rebuke, suffering men to go their own ways (Acts 14:16), He had now interposed with a word of command that men everywhere should repent—i.e., change their minds, about God and His holiness, about themselves and their sin, about the present world and the next.
(2) A new duty published to men, not in one nation; but in all nations to obey this command instantly, thoroughly, permanently, honestly, cheerfully.
(3) A new argument for the enforcement of that duty. Binding upon men everywhere and at all times without further reasoning, this duty was rendered the more imperative and urgent by the fact of an impending judgment day, on which all would be arraigned at God’s tribunal and reckoned with for their performance or neglect of that duty, the judge already appointed being that man whom he had come to proclaim.
(4) A new certificate provided both for the fact of the judgment day, and for the certainty that Christ would be the judge—viz., His resurrection from the dead. If that was true, as Paul was prepared to show, then Christ could be no other than God’s Son, and if God’s Son sent into the world to redeem men, it was inconceivable that there should not be a day of judgment, at, and on which, He would adjudicate upon the final destinies of men, according as they had repented and believed the gospel, or died in unbelief and sin.
III. The disappointing result.
1. The preacher was abruptly interrupted. Never before had either Stoic or Epicurean listened to sentiments so sublime, or to an orator more worthy of attention. Yet at the mention of the resurrection of the dead—a doctrine which both denied—they felt it impossible to longer remain silent or allow the speaker to proceed. Did they do so, they might seem to grant that such a thing as a resurrection was possible, while according to their philosophy it was not; if, however, on the other hand, it was possible, then the whole contention of the speaker would require to be admitted.
2. The teaching of the sermon was variously regarded.
(1) Some mocked. At the resurrection chiefly, but also at the other tenets of Paul’s gospel concerning God and concerning man. “The Greek was more irrational than the savage, when religion was philosophised about. He laughed when he heard of the resurrection of the dead, for the doctrine was not a fashionable one; but when he was told that our souls would one day pass into cows, oxen, donkeys, etc., he was less opposed to it, for this idea did not seem so new or strange to him, the Pythagoreans having taught it” (Michaelis).
(2) Some procrastinated—deferred coming to a conclusion on the momentous themes which had been submitted to their judgment—saying like Felix (Acts 24:25), “We will hear thee concerning this yet again.”
(3) Some believed—credited Paul’s teaching as true, and embraced with their hearts the gospel it contained. Among those who thus received the truth, besides others unnamed, were Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, of neither of whom is anything certain known, though Eusebius (Hist., iii. 4, iv. 23), and other writers report that Dionysius afterwards became bishop of the Church at Athens, and that Damaris was his wife (Chrysostom), for neither of which statements however exist solid grounds of belief.
3. The preacher was obliged shortly after to leave the city. How long he stayed within its precincts after the incident just recorded is unknown; only this much can be told as certain, that no tidings survive of his having ever again preached the gospel in or visited the brilliant but idol-loving metropolis of Greece. That none of his epistles speak of a Christian Church at Athens does not prove that his work there was absolutely fruitless, or that he did not leave behind him a believing community.
1. That advocates of Christianity should both maintain a respectful bearing towards and cherish a charitable view of those whose confidence and conversion they seek.
2. That preachers of the gospel cannot take too comprehensive a view or firm a grasp of the truth they recommend to others.
3. That the ablest and most eloquent discourse will not succeed in converting all who listen to it.
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS
Acts 17:22. Superstition.—Define the meaning of the original adjective, and then state the sense in which the word “superstition” is employed now. It is the preponderance of terror in the religious life.
I. Its causes.—
1. Erroneous views of the attributes of God.
2. Ignorance of the nature of personal religion.
3. Crude conceptions of the works and laws of nature.
4. A desire to have systems of religion and worship of human invention.
II. Its forms.—
2. Corrupted Christianity.
3. Pietistic errors.
4. Popular illusions. Witchcraft, astrology, fortune-telling, warnings.
III. Its evils.—
1. It degrades human nature.
2. It saps the foundations of morality.
3. It lessens the sum of human enjoyment.
4. It hinders the progress of the Gospel.—G. Brooks.
Acts 17:22-31. The Areopagus Oration; or, a Sermon for Philosophers.
I. The doctrines it proclaimed.—
1. The personality, self-existence, omnipotence, and unity of God.
2. The reality, universality, and efficiency of Divine providence.
3. The spirituality and non-externality of Divine worship.
4. The unity and brotherhood of the human race.
5. The possibility of a true natural religion.
6. The dignity and dependence of man.
7. The absurdity of idols and idol-worship.
8. The essential graciousness of God’s dealings with the race of man.
9. The duty of immediate and universal repentance.
10. The certainty of a day of judgment.
11. The exaltation of Jesus Christ to the office of supreme Judges
12. The reality of a future life.
II. The errors it corrected.—
1. Atheism, or the dogma that there is no God.
2. Pantheism, or the theory that the all is God.
3. Materialism, or the notion that the world is eternal.
4. Fatalism, or the superstition that no intelligence presides over the universe, but all things come to pass either by necessity or chance.
5. Polytheism, or the fancy that there are, or can be, many gods.
6. Ritualism, or the imagination that God can be honoured by purely external performances.
7. Evolutionism (in its extreme form), or the hypothesis that man is a product of force and matter.
8. Indifferentism, or the creed that man should seek after nothing and no one higher than himself.
9. Optimism, or the delusion that this is the best possible world, and man has no sin of which to repent.
10. Unitarianism, or the tenet that Christ was an ordinary member of the race.
11. Annihilationism, or the belief that after death is nothing.
12. Universalism, or the sentiment that all will be saved.
III. The lessons it taught.—
1. The duty of renouncing idolatry and worshipping only God.
2. The obligation to cultivate a spirit of love towards others.
3. The necessity of repentance and reformation.
4. The wisdom of preparing for the great assize.
Acts 17:22-34. The Great Sermon on Mars’ Hill.
I. The wise men (of Athens) charged with superstition (Acts 17:22-23).
II. The nature of God and the method of His worship established by natural arguments (Acts 17:24-25).
III. The stupidity of men who, though created that they might recognise their Maker, nevertheless walk in darkness (Acts 17:26-28).
IV. The absurdity of supposing that God could resemble idols (Acts 17:29).
V. The doctrine of Christ and the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:30-31).—From Calvin.
Paul at Athens! A more striking picture than Luther in Rome or Calvin in Paris. Note—
I. The sensations with which the apostle tarries in the city of the Athenians.—
1. He does not shut his eyes to the monuments of the most ingenious art.
2. He does not permit himself to be captivated by their sensuous beauty.
3. A deep feeling of compassion for the error of the human spirit remains as the keynote of his innermost feelings.
II. The testimony which he there bears.—Three great truths opposed to three great falsehoods.
1. Creation out of nothing as opposed to Naturalism.
2. The personality of God as opposed to Pantheism.
3. The nature of sin as opposed to Antinomianism and Rationalism.
III. The result.—
1. Not very consolatory. Prejudices too deeply rooted thwarted the apostolic word.
2. Yet not without comfort. A single convert already weighs heavily in the balance of the kingdom of God.—From Krummacher.
Acts 17:23. “To the (or an) unknown God.”—The Athenian altar a significant testimony to three things—
I. The insufficiency of human wisdom.—If any people under heaven could have attained to a knowledge of God by philosophy those people were the Athenians.
II. The unsearchableness of the Divine nature.—After all man can learn from creation, providence, and revelation about the supreme being, he must still acknowledge that he knows only in part, and exclaim with Zophar (Job 11:7) and with Elihu (Job 37:23) that the infinite and eternal One can never be fully understood by man.
III. The incomparable glory of Christ.—“That which can be known of God” is by the gospel more clearly and fully revealed than by either creation or providence. The central figure of the gospel records was the image of the invisible God, the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.
Ignorant Worshippers of God.—Such were the Athenians, the philosophers amongst them no less than the vulgar herd. Both alike were ignorant—
I. Of God’s exalted nature.—As a personal intelligence and spiritual essence. Epicureans and Stoics, indeed, spoke of God or of gods. Yet neither in one system nor the other was there room for God, the Epicureans being practically Atheists and the Stoics Pantheists. Paul’s argument that God must be a personal intelligence rested on two premises:
(1) that molten or carved images could not be God, seeing they lacked mind; and
(2) that God must resemble man, if man is God’s offspring.
II. Of God’s real character.—As
1. The maker of the universe. According to the Epicureans and Stoics matter existed from eternity. The Hebrews held that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2. The governor of the nations. The Greek philosophers had no true conception of the moral and spiritual rule of the Divine being. This idea, which was known to the Hebrews, received its proper and complete development under Christianity.
5. The preserver of His creatures. “He Himself giveth to all life and breath and all things.” Opposed to the Epicureans and Stoics, who equally believed that the gods, if any existed, were indifferent to men.
4. The judge of men. Neither of the philosophic schools had the smallest idea of a future judgment. Whatever evil they dreaded was present. Immortality found a place in neither of their creeds. Paul’s sermon opened up to them a new thought.
III. Of God’s gracious purpose.—That men should seek after Him and find Him. How did God propose to carry out this?
1. By His providential goodness. “Giving to all life,” etc. (Acts 17:25). “Filling their mouths with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
2. By His governmental restraints. Leading men and nations to see that they had to do with a higher power than themselves, that they might seek after and find Him (Acts 17:27).
3. By His longsuffering treatment of them. “The times of this ignorance God winked at” (Acts 17:30). “Account the longsuffering of our God salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).
4. By His announcement of a new commandment. That men should repent. That men must change their minds. That men can no longer be allowed to go on in sin. Whatever doubt may have existed previously as to man’s duty, now there can be none.
5. By public certification of a future assize. Through Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which showed both who Christ was and to what dignity and power He had been exalted.
Acts 17:23-31. God’s Three Great Books about Himself.
I. The book of the world.—In two parts.
1. Nature (Acts 17:24-25).
2. History (Acts 17:26).
II. The book of the heart.—Also in two parts.
1. Reason (Acts 17:27).
2. Conscience (Acts 17:28).
III. The book of Scripture.—Again in two parts,
1. Law (Acts 17:30).
2. Gospel (Acts 17:31).—Gerok.
Acts 17:26. Made of One; or, the Unity of the Race.
I. One in origin.—Created by God.
II. One in nature.—One blood and one spirit.
III. One in character.—All equally fallen, sunk in sin, and under condemnation.
IV. One in salvability.—All included in the offers and provisions of the gospel; none, at least, while alive, beyond the reach of grace.
V. One in responsibility.—All alike will be held accountable to God not only for their actions and words, but for their treatment of His gospel.
Acts 17:27. Seeking after God.
I. It is God’s desire that men should seek after Him.—He had so constructed the world in which men live, and arranged men’s environment in the same, that they should feel themselves impelled to do this.
II. Men’s interest should lead them to seek after God.—It being inconceivable that men should be capable of attaining happiness apart from God, without a knowledge of His character or without the enjoyment of His favour.
III. Those who seek after God have the greatest possible encouragement.—
1. That if they seek in earnest they are sure to find. And
2. That God is so near to them that seeking should be easy.
Acts 17:29. God’s Offspring; or, the Dignity of Man.
I. The sublime truth announced.—That man is God’s offspring.
1. Anticipated by heathen poets. The best pre-Christian and extra-Jewish thought had some dim apprehension of man’s true origin.
2. Revealed by inspired Scripture. In the Old Testament (Genesis 1:26; Numbers 16:22; Malachi 2:10). In the New Testament (Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 12:9).
3. Confirmed by modern science. Indirectly at least; first, through its failure to explain man’s mental and moral nature through evolution; and second, through the circumstance that, however eager to establish a paternity for man among the lower animals, it has never been able to more than set forth an unproved hypothesis.
II. The consoling inferences implied.—
1. That God must be a personal intelligence. Neither a senseless image, nor a blind force, nor impersonal matter, but a living personality.
2. That God must be the father of men. Not simply their creator and Lord, their preserver and judge, but their all-wise and loving parent, who regards them with pity and affection.
3. That men, as God’s children, must be brethren. Not members of different races, but children of the same parent, and therefore members of the same family.
Acts 17:30. Repentance of Sin.
I. An imperative duty.—Commanded by God.
II. A universal necessity.—Required by all.
III. An immediate obligation.—Admitting of no delay.
IV. A saving grace.—Without which none can stand in the day of judgment.
Acts 17:30-31. Past and Present. The Cross of Christ, the dividing line between these.
I. The past.—
1. Times of ignorance. Before the meridian light of gospel-day had come.
2. Times of wickedness. Else repentance would have been unnecessary.
3. Times of forbearance. Otherwise the nations must have been cut off.
II. The present.—
1. Times of illumination. The full light of Divine revelation now shines.
2. Times of commandment. Mankind everywhere enjoined to repent—change their minds and amend their sinful lives.
3. Times of responsibility. Whereas the past dispensation closed with a transcendent discovery of Divine mercy in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (the first advent), the present age will terminate in a sublime exercise of judgment, at the glorious appearing of the Son of man (the second coming).
Acts 17:31. The World’s Assize; or, the Great Day of Judgment.
I. The fact announced.—God will judge the world.
II. The day fixed.—He hath appointed a day.
III. The judge designated.—That man whom He hath ordained, or set apart for this work.
IV. The standard indicated.—In righteousness. Every verdict will accord with equity and truth.
V. The proof given.—The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Acts 17:31. The Doctrine of a Future Judgment as a Doctrine of Reason.—
1. The character of God requires it.
2. The analogy of the laws of nature indicates it.
3. There are facts in our own experience that foreshadow it. Incipient strivings toward retribution in the present state.
4. There is a general expectation of it among men.
5. Our history would be incomplete without it. Let it not be imagined that by rejecting the claims of revelation we shall escape the doctrine of a future judgment.—G. Brooks.
Acts 17:32-34. Man’s Treatment of the Gospel.
I. Derision.—“Some mocked.”
II. Delay.—“We will hear thee again of this matter.”
III. Decision.—“Certain men clave unto him and believed.”
Chap. Acts 7:2-58 with Acts 17:22-34; or, Stephen and Paul, the Two Apologies of Christianity towards Judaism and towards Heathenism.
I. Both agree in some of their principal expressions.
II. Stephen’s was delivered before the Sanhedrim, whose office it was to protect customs and morals in Jerusalem; Paul’s before the Areopagus, which performed the like service in Athens.
III. Stephen was accused of destroying the old religion, Paul of introducing a new one.
IV. Stephen told his countrymen that the temple worship must cease, Paul the Athenians that God dwelt not in temples made with hands.
V. Stephen extolled the beneficence of God to Israel in His dealings with them as a people, Paul the revelation given by God to men in nature.
VI. Stephen, through the warmth of his eloquence, called forth a storm of violence against him; Paul’s oration took a turn which, in an unexpected fashion, broke up the assembly.—From Holtzmann, who looks on these resemblances as unfavourable to the historicity; whereas, rightly viewed, they confirm it, being fully and satisfactorily explained by remembering that most likely Paul heard Stephen’s defence.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Acts 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29