Acts 17:27
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(27) Should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him.—The word for “feel after” expresses strictly the act of groping in the dark. From the Apostle’s point of view, anticipating in part the great Theodikæa—the vindication of the ways of God—in the Epistle to the Romans, the whole order of the world’s history was planned, as part of the education of mankind, waking longings which it could not satisfy, leading men at once to a consciousness of the holiness of God and of their own sinfulness. The religions of the world were to him as the movements of one who climbs

“Upon the great world’s altar stairs,

That slope through darkness up to God;”

who can only say—

“I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,

And gather dust, and chaff, and call

To what I feel is Lord of all,

And faintly trust the larger hope.”

Their ritual in all its manifold variety was but as the inarticulate wailing of childhood—

“An infant crying for the light,

And with no language but a cry.”

—Tennyson, In Memoriam, liv.

The “if haply” expresses the exact force of the Greek particles, which imply a doubt whether the end had been attained in its completeness. The altar to the Unknown and Unknowable was a witness that they had not been found. “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1Corinthians 1:21). It had not got, in the language of another poet of our own, beyond

“Those obstinate questionings

Of sense and outward things,

Fallings from us, vanishings;”

which are as the

“Blank misgivings of a creature

Moving about in worlds not realised.”

—Wordsworth, Ode on Immortality.

Though he be not far from every one of us.—Better, and yet He is not far. The speaker appeals, as he does in Romans 2:15, to the witness borne by man’s consciousness and conscience. There, in the depths of each man’s being, not in temples made with hands, men might find God and hold communion with him. It was natural, in speaking to the peasants of Lystra, to point to the witness of “the rain from heaven and fruitful seasons.” (See Note on Acts 14:17.) It was as natural, in speaking to men of high culture and introspective analysis, to appeal to that which was within them rather than to that which was without. But it will be noted that he does not confine that witness to the seekers after wisdom. God is not far from every one of us.” St. Paul accepts the truth which St. John afterwards proclaimed, that Christ is the “true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (See Notes on John 1:9.) The writer of the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:11-14) had asserted a like truth when he taught Israel that “the word was not in heaven, or beyond the sea,” but “in thy mouth and in thine heart, that thou mayest do it.” At this point the Stoics, we may believe, would recognise the affinities which St. Paul’s thoughts presented to their own teaching. The Epicureans would be more and more repelled by this attack on the central position of their system.

Acts 17:27-28. That they should seek, &c. — As if he had said, This most wise and free government of the nations of men, God carries on through all ages for this purpose, that they may be led to seek the Lord — That is, to seek the knowledge, fear, and love of him; to seek his favour, his Spirit, and communion with him: if haply — The way is open; God is ready to be found; but he will lay no force upon any man; they might feel after him — Feeling is the lowest and grossest of all our senses, and is therefore applied to that low kind of the knowledge of God which some of the heathen possessed, and which is first attained before higher discoveries of him are made. Though he be not Και τοι γε, and truly indeed he is not, far from any one of us — Therefore, though he be not the object of men’s senses, we need not go far to seek or find him. He is very near us; yea, in us. It is only blind, perverse reason which thinks he is far off. For in him — Not in ourselves; we live, move, and have our being — This denotes his necessary, intimate, and most efficacious presence. The structure of our bodies, and the union of our souls to these exquisite pieces of material mechanism, together with the noble faculties of our minds, wherein we resemble God, and the admirable end for which this wonderful composition of soul and body is formed, afford to every man, not only an idea, but a proof of the Deity supporting and animating him: so that no words can better express, than these of the apostle do, the continual and necessary dependance of all created beings, in their existence and all their operations, on the first, the universal, and almighty Cause, which the truest philosophy, as well as divinity teaches. As certain also of your own poets have said — Aratus, whose words these are, and who also added another sentence, equally just and striking, namely, We are his offspring, especially in respect of intelligence, and other mental powers, similar to his, with which we are endowed. This poet, Aratus, was an Athenian, who lived almost three hundred years before this time. The words are also to be found, with the alteration of one letter only, in the hymn of Cleanthes to the Supreme Being, one of the purest and finest pieces of natural religion in the whole world of pagan antiquity.17:22-31 Here we have a sermon to heathens, who worshipped false gods, and were without the true God in the world; and to them the scope of the discourse was different from what the apostle preached to the Jews. In the latter case, his business was to lead his hearers by prophecies and miracles to the knowledge of the Redeemer, and faith in him; in the former, it was to lead them, by the common works of providence, to know the Creator, and worship Him. The apostle spoke of an altar he had seen, with the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. This fact is stated by many writers. After multiplying their idols to the utmost, some at Athens thought there was another god of whom they had no knowledge. And are there not many now called Christians, who are zealous in their devotions, yet the great object of their worship is to them an unknown God? Observe what glorious things Paul here says of that God whom he served, and would have them to serve. The Lord had long borne with idolatry, but the times of this ignorance were now ending, and by his servants he now commanded all men every where to repent of their idolatry. Each sect of the learned men would feel themselves powerfully affected by the apostle's discourse, which tended to show the emptiness or falsity of their doctrines.That they should seek the Lord - Greek: to seek the Lord. The design of thus placing them on the earth - of gang them their habitation among his works - was, that they should contemplate his wisdom in his works, and thus come to a knowledge of his existence and character. All nations, though living in different regions and climates, have thus the opportunity of becoming acquainted with God, Romans 1:19-20. The fact that the nations did not thus learn the character of the true God shows their great stupidity and wickedness. The design of Paul in this was doubtless to reprove the idolatry of the Athenians. The argument is this: "God has given to each nation its proper opportunity to learn his character. Idolatry, therefore, is folly and wickedness, since it is possible to find out the existence of the one God from his works."

If haply - εἰ ἄρα γε ei ara ge. If perhaps - implying that it was possible to find God, though it might be attended with some difficulty. God has placed us here that we may make the trial, and has made it possible thus to find him.

They might feel after him - The word used here ψηλαφήσειαν psēlaphēseian means properly "to touch, to handle" Luke 24:39; Hebrews 12:18, and then to ascertain the qualities of an object by the sense of touch. And as the sense of touch is regarded as a certain way of ascertaining the existence and qualities of an object, the word means "to search diligently, so that we may know distinctly and certainly." The word has this sense here. It means "to search diligently and accurately for God, to learn his existence and perfections." The Syriac renders it, "That they may seek for God, and find him from his creatures."

And find him - Find the proofs of his existence. Become acquainted with his perfections and laws.

Though he be not far ... - This seems to be stated by the apostle to show that it was possible to find him; and that even those who were without a revelation need not despair of becoming acquainted with his existence and perfections. He is near to us:

(1) Because the proofs of his existence and power are round about us everywhere, Psalm 19:1-6.

(2) because he fills all things in heaven and earth by his essential presence, Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Amos 9:2-4; 1 Kings 8:27. We should learn then:

(1) To be afraid of sin. God is present with us, and sees all.

(2) he can protect the righteous. He is always with them.

(3) he can detect and punish the wicked. He sees all their plans and thoughts, and records all their doings.

(4) we should seek him continually. It is the design for which he has made us; and he has given us abundant opportunities to learn his existence and perfections.

27. That they should seek the Lord—That is the high end of all these arrangements of Divine Power, Wisdom, and Love.

if haply they might feel after him—as men groping their way in the dark.

and find him—a lively picture of the murky atmosphere of Natural Religion.

though he be not far from every one of us—The difficulty of finding God outside the pale of revealed religion lies not in His distance from us, but in our distance from Him through the blinding effect of sin.

That they should seek the Lord: the apostle tells these philosophers, to whom he spake, the true use of their philosophy, to improve their knowledge of natural things, to beget in them by it an admiration of the God of nature; for as from him, so for him are all things, Romans 11:36.

If haply they might feel after him, and find him; and although God himself is incorporeal, yet the things which he made are palpable; and did they seek as they ought, they might find out a great deal of God by the creatures, in which his wisdom, power, and goodness are manifested, Romans 1:20.

Though he be not far from every one of us; God filleth all things, especially he is near in the effects of his wisdom, goodness, and faithfulness, by which he orders and disposes of all things, to the falling out of a hair from our heads. That they should seek the Lord,.... Or "God", as the Alexandrian copy and others, and the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Ethiopic versions read; their Creator, and kind Benefactor, and who has appointed their time of life, and their habitations for them; and this should engage them to seek to know him, who has done all this for them, and to fear and serve him, and to glorify his name:

if haply they might feel after him, and find him; which shows, that though it is possible for men, by a contemplation of the perfections of God, visible in the works of creation and providence, so to find God, as to know that there is one, and that there is but one God, who has made all things; and so as to be convinced of the vanity and falsehood of all other gods, and to see the folly, wickedness, and weakness of idolatrous worship; yet, at the same time, it very strongly intimates, how dim and obscure the light of nature is; since those, who have nothing else to direct them, are like persons in the dark, who "feel" and grope about after God, whom they cannot see; and after all their search and groping, there is only an "haply", a peradventure, a may be, that they find him:

though he be not far from everyone of us; not only by his omnipresence, and immensity, whereby he is everywhere; but by his power in supporting all in their being; and by his goodness in continually communicating the blessings of providence to them.

That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might {p} feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

(p) For as blind men we could not seek out God except by groping, before the true light came and enlightened the world.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 17:27. The divine purpose in this guidance of the nations is attached by means of the telic infinitive (Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 224 [E. T. 261]): in order that they should seek the Lord, i.e. direct their endeavours to the knowledge of God, if perhaps they might feel Him (who is so palpably near) and find Him. Olshausen thinks that in ζητεῖν is implied the previous apostasy of mankind from God. But the seeking does not necessarily suppose a having lost; and since the text does not touch on an earlier fellowship of man with God (although that is in itself correct), the hearers, at least, could not infer that conclusion from the simple ζητεῖν. The great thought of the passage is simply: God the Author, the Governor, and the End of the world’s history: from God, through God, to God.

ψηγαφεὕροιεν] Paul keeps consistently to his figure. The seeker who comes on his object touches and grasps it, and has now in reality found it. Hence the meaning without figure is: if perchance they might become conscious of God and of their relation to Him, and might appropriate this consciousness as a spiritual possession. Thus they would have understood the guidance of the nations as a revelation of God, and have complied with its holy design in their own case.[68] The problematic expression (εἰ ἄραγε, if they at least accordingly; see Klotz, ad Devar. pp. 178, 192) is in accordance both with the nature of the case (Bengel: “via patet; Deus inveniri potest, sed hominem non cogit”), and with the historical want of success (see Romans 1:18 ff., and comp. Baumg. p. 550 ff.); for the heathen world was blinded, to which also ψηλαφ. points—a word which, since the time of Homer, is very frequently used of groping in the dark or in blindness (Od. ix. 416; Job 5:14); comp. here especially, Plato, Phaed. p. 99 B.

καίτοιγε κ.τ.λ.] although certainly He (Acts 14:17; John 4:2) does not at all require to be first sought and found, as He is not far (for see Acts 17:28) from every one of us. Comp. Jeremiah 23:23. This addition makes palpably evident the greatness of the blindness, which nevertheless took place.

[68] Comp. Luthardt, vom freien Willen, p. 415.Acts 17:27. ζητεῖν = ὅπως ζητῶσι, telic infinitive, Winer-Moulton, xliv. 1.—Κύριον, see critical note. Θεόν: the more fitting word before this audience—Ramsay renders “the God”.—εἰ ἄρα γε: “if haply,” A. and R.V., ἄρα strengthened by γε; in classical Greek we have ἆρα followed by γε, but not ἄρα. This ἄρα and ἄρα γε are generally regarded as = Latin si forte (Blass, Grammatik, p. 211), although Simcox, Language of the New Testament, pp. 180, 181, in admitting this, is careful to point out that it is misleading to regard ἄρα as = forte. Alford (so Page) maintains that the expression here, as in Acts 8:22, indicates a contingency which is apparently not very likely to happen. On the other hand Rendall holds that the particle here, as in Acts 8:22, should be rendered not perhaps or haply, but indeed: “if they might indeed feel after him,” etc., expressing a very real intention of God’s providence, the optative pointing to the fact that this intention had not yet been realised (pp. 66, 110), cf. also Mark 11:13, and in 1 Corinthians 15:15, εἴπερ ἄρα (see further Blass, Gram., pp. 254, 267; Burton, pp. 106, 111). With the whole passage, Wis 13:6 should be compared. On St. Paul’s study of the Book of Wisdom at some time in his life see Sanday and Headlam, Romans, p. 52.—ψηλαφήσειαν, Æolic aorist, the verb is used several times in LXX for the act of groping in the dark, Deuteronomy 28:29, Job 5:14; Job 12:25; Isaiah 59:10; cf. its use also in classical Greek, Odys., ix., 416; so Plato, Phædo, 99 B, where it is used of vague guesses at truth (Wendt, Page). The word would therefore fitly express the thought of men stretching lame hands of faith and groping, and calling to what they feel is Lord of all. Weiss finds the idea of the word as used here, not in the LXX as above, but in 1 John 1:1, of some palpable assurance, which was everywhere possible in a world made by God, Acts 17:24, Romans 1:20, and where men’s dwellings had been apportioned by Him. But the word might still be used in the above sense, since the recognition of God in His Creation is after all only a partial recognition, and not the highest knowledge of Him; and the inscription “To an Unknown God” testified in itself how imperfect that recognition had been. For the meaning of the verb in modern Greek see Kennedy, p. 156.—καίτοιγε, see critical note, καί γε, cf. Acts 2:18, quin etiam (quamvis καίτοιγε “vix aptum,” Blass). The word ψηλαφ. had intimated “et proximum esse Deum et oculis occultum” (Blass, Knabenbauer), and the Apostle now proclaims the nearness of God, not only in creation, in its maintenance and preservation, but in the spiritual being of man: “Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet”.—οὐ μακρὰν: the word implies not mere local nearness, but spiritual, cf. Jeremiah 23:23, and Ephesians 2:13. With this we may compare Seneca, Ep. Mor., xliv. 1. “God is near thee; He is with thee; He is within” (quoted by Lightfoot, Philippians, p. 290). The relation of man to God is a personal relationship: God is not “careless of the single life”: ἀπὸ ἑνὸς ἑκάστον ἡμῶν, “from each one of us,” R.V. The words may well have struck a responsive chord in the hearts, not only of some in the crowd, but of some of the Stoics who were listening, contradictory and incongruous as their system was, with its strange union of a gross material pantheism, and the expression of belief in the fatherly love and goodness of God (see further Lightfoot, u. s., p. 298, and Curtius, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, ii., 530, 531).27. that they should seek the Lord] The best authorities read “seek God.” This was the lesson which God meant His creation and providence to teach, that through His works men should see Him.

if haply they might feel after him, and find him] The world was to be man’s book in which he should read God’s power and love; thus stimulated, a desire to know more might grow, and by efforts, which the graphic word of the Apostle compares to the exertion of one groping in the dark, more knowledge would come, and at last the full discovery would be made. God would be found. He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.

though he be not far from every one of us] And so can reveal Himself according to the measure of zeal shewn by those who seek Him.Acts 17:27. Εἰ, if) The way lies open: God is prepared (ready) to be found; but He does not compel a man. He wishes him to be free, in such a way as that, when a man seeks and finds God, this in respect to GOD may be, in some measure, as it were a matter (an act) contingent.—ἄραγε) This particle implies that the attempt is an easy one.—ψηλαφήσειαν, if haply [as well they might] they might feel after) This is a middle term between seek and find. The touch, the coarsest and lowest of the senses, is here appropriately applied to the Gentiles.—καίτοιγε, although) The particle in this place has not so much a concessive force as an intensive force, so as that by it the facility of the “finding” is augmented. It is not necessary that this universe should be thoroughly known: each one may take (derive) an argument from himself.—οὐ μακρὰν, not far) A Litotes [See Append.]; that is to say, He is altogether near and intimately close to us; namely, in the propinquity of His presence, and the tie of connection which binds us to Him. Perverse reason supposes Him to be far off.Verse 27. - God for the Lord, A.V. and T.R. (Meyer does not accept this reading); is for be, A.V.; each for every, A.V. If haply they might feel after him. Ψηλαφάω is "to touch, feel, or handle," as Luke 24:39; Hebrews 12:18; 1 John 1:1. But it is especially used of the action of the blind groping or feeling their way by their hands in default of sight. So Homer describes Polyphemus as χερσὶ ψηλαφόων, feeling his way to the mouth of the cave with his hands after he was blinded by Ulysses ('Odyssey,' 9:416). And in the LXX. of Deuteronomy 28:29 we read, Ἔση ψηλαφῶν μεσημβρίας ὠς εἴ τις ψηλαφήσαι τυφλὸς ἐν τῷ σκότει, "Thou shall grope at noonday as the blind gropeth in darkness." The teaching, therefore, of the passage is that, though God was very near to every man, and had not left himself without abundant witness in his manifold gifts, yet, through the blindness of the heathen, they had to feel their way uncertainly toward God. In this fact lies the need of a revelation, as it follows ver. 30, etc. And hence part at least of the significance of such passages as, "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8); "Who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9 ); "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6), and many more like passages. Might feel after

See on handle, Luke 24:39. Compare Tennyson:

"I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope

And gather dust and chaff, and call

To what I feel is Lord of all."

In Memoriam, lv.

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