Acts 17:16
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply disturbed in his spirit to see that the city was full of idols.
A Saddening Spectacle: a Missionary SermonW. Clarkson Acts 17:15-17
Christian Unconcern ExplainedJ. McFarlane.Acts 17:15-34
Moral Wretchedness of IdolatryD. Moore, M. A.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensExpository OutlinesActs 17:15-34
Paul At AthensSermons by the Monday ClubActs 17:15-34
Paul At AthensDean Vaughan.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensJ. Parker, D. D.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensH. J. Bevis.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensR. A. Bertram.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensBp. Stevens.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensA. Barnes, D. D.Acts 17:15-34
Paul's Estimate of the AtheniansEvangelical PreacherActs 17:15-34
Paul's Moral Survey of AthensD. Thomas, D. D.Acts 17:15-34
The Moral Versus the AestheticW. L. Alexander, D. D.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensE. Johnson Acts 17:16-34
Paul At AthensR.A. Redford Acts 17:16-34
Paul stands in Athens, amidst the master-pieces of Greek art and the memorials of Greek wisdom. It is not admiration or aesthetic delight which is awakened in him, but moral indignation. Christianity is not opposed to art; but Christianity does not approve the worship of sensuous or ideal beauty apart from moral earnestness. In the true relation, religion absorbs art into itself; when art is substituted for religion, there is moral decay. Nor is Christianity hostile to philosophy. On the contrary, there was in Greek philosophy a preparation for Christ. There were germs of truth in the Epicurean and the Stoic schools which Christianity incorporated, while it corrected the one-sidedness of these philosophies. The Epicurean built his practical system on human weakness, the Stoic his on pride. The gospel will not excuse sin on the ground of weakness; nor found a righteousness of man's own on pride (see the noted discussion of these schools, and the relation of the gospel to them, in Pascal's 'Pensees'). Between these extremes, as between those of Sadducecism and Phariseeism, the gospel ever makes its way. These academicians of Athens might well be anxious to know what the "ugly little Jew" had to say. Long had the mighty logos or dialectic of Plato and Aristotle and their successors and rivals ruled the world. What could the fanatical Jew have to say? An immortal discourse is the reply to these questions of curiosity.

I. GOD UNKNOWN, YET KNOWABLE. The speaker recognizes the reverence of the Athenians. The heathen were prepared for the gospel, all the more from the weariness and failure of their age-long "groping after God." In the inscription on the altar was the witness of the desire to worship all forms of divinity, whether to them known or unknown. Both Greeks and Romans recognized, above and beyond the definite gods and goddesses of the Pantheon, the indefinable in Deity, the mystery of that Essence, to us and to all, as to them, incomprehensible. So far we are all on a level with the Athenians. But there are special senses in which God is unknown to the worshipper.

1. To the sensual and sin-loving heart. Many there are whose heart is like the Agora of Athens or a Pantheon; one idol stands beside another. Wrath, pride, lust, avarice, treachery, ambition, - these are their gods. And again, science, art, money, the husband, the wife, the goods of this world. And in a neglected corner stands the altar with the inscription, "To the unknown God!"

2. To the wise in their own conceit. "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God;" "He resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the lowly."

3. To the formalists and externalists in religion. For the drama of an external ritual is rather a screen between the soul and God, if the soul be not bent on finding him.

4. To all who seek him otherwise than with the pure and lowly heart, coming by the Way, the Truth, and the Life to the Father. Though in one sense" God is great; I know him not," must be the confession of all hearts, from the lowliest to the wisest, in another the good news of the gospel proclaims - God may be known, is known; and every name by which he is known resolves itself into love. He is concealed, yet revealed; unknown, yet known; defined, yet indefinable. 'Tis a great yet a small part of his ways that we can understand.

II. GOD REVEALED IN THE CREATION. He has made the world and all things therein. Animate and inanimate nature, body and spirit, all have the stamp of omnipotence and of omniscience in the unity of a Mind. Every step in science makes more clear this unity; and in the last resort this unity is not conceivable as "law or force" merely, but only as the living and the loving God. In his infinite majesty, heaven is his throne, earth his footstool. He is in himself both Temple and Inhabitant. The voice of God bursts asunder the system of idolatry and superstition. The latter denies that God can be found only in fixed places, by means of fixed rites and mediations. The true temple is everywhere; "The walls of the world are that." In the Church, where the gospel of his Son is heard, and above all in the heart, where he indwells in the power of his Spirit, is the temple of the living God.

III. GOD REVEALED IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD, As love. Needing nothing from men's hands; they incessantly feel the need of him. Life itself is sweet, and in that sweetness we have an instance of his love. There is a joy in breathing, moving about, looking, learning, experiencing manifold experiences in this "fair world of God." And each and every pleasure, lower and higher, leads up to God and his love. The tie that binds us to our kind is an expression of the same love. Sympathy is possible, is actual, between men of every color and clime. The mechanism of thought and feeling is alike in all. All men suffer and rejoice from the same causes. The unity of the human race reflects the unity of God's mind in wisdom and in love. Men form one people, one race: this is the great thought the gospel throws upon the world, and teaches us to say, in deeper senses than the heathen knew, "I am a man; nothing human is foreign to me." He has set bounds to man's habitations. All the effects of climate, of physical configuration of the earth, distribution of land and water, so interesting to the student of man and his dwelling-place, are conditions fixed by the same wise and loving hand. God is in history. His thoughts alone are living. Athens was not for ever, nor Rome; but the Divine thought, whence proceeded the culture of Greece, the law and order of Rome, lives on, and is revealed in changing forms from age to age. And towards the "far-off goal" of an infinite love, we doubt not, the whole of creation and of history moves. The end of all is the union of man with God. Though in one sense he "needeth not anything," in another he needs all - the whole love of his whole rational universe. The process of thought in the world is a process of "groping after" and of finding God. God wills that we should find him, but only as the result of our seeking. Therefore he "half reveals" and" half conceals" himself. He is far off, yet near; in each and all the spheres of our knowledge. Our being rests on his; ours are borrowed lives (Isaiah 54:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6). "In the Father," says Cyprian, "we are, from him all life comes; in the Son, who lives, we have life; in the Spirit, who is the Breath of all flesh, we have our being." His offspring we are - by creation in his image, by redemption through his Son. This truth we know from Scripture, from the human heart, from life; and the effect of this knowledge may well be to produce holy humility, mixed with confidence and joy.


1. The heathen draw a wrong inference freer, the true saying on men being the offspring of God. If we are of Divine origin, they seemed to argue, then the gods are of human kind, and images of them may be made. On the contrary, Paul argues, those who are of Divine origin despise themselves if they render worship to any but the supreme Head and Lord. When we say that God is in affinity with man, we do not affirm that man can represent him in thought, much less in images of plastic art. The philosopher Xenophanes had said that if the animals had gods, they would imagine them in their own likeness - the god of the horse would be a horse, etc. The truth is that only our ideal or higher nature is the mirror of God.

2. In conscience we find his clearest reflex. And ignorance of him in this nearest sphere of knowledge is not excusable, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 1. Men did not like to retain God in their knowledge. At the same time, the conscience needs light from without. There are dark ages of the world, when men have comparatively little light, and which may be viewed as ages of God's forbearance, wherein he "overlooks" much that men do, "not knowing what they do."

3. But Christ is a Turning-point of history. Before him, the period of "ignorance;" with him and after him, the true light. Before him, forbearance; henceforward, the just judgment of the world. The description of the person and functions of Christ. He is Man; a member of humanity, a partaker of human flesh and blood, subject to death. As High Priest, he is one "touched with a feeling of our infirmities." And as Judge, he is qualified on the same grounds. It is a common feeling which requires that a man should be judged by his peers. Knowledge and pity, severity and compassion, are united in Christ.

4. The call to repentance. It is an urgent call. The more indifferent and light-hearted the listeners, the more urgently it must sound. It is an absolute call, admitting of no exceptions. No ignorance and no philosophy, no dignity or rank, can exempt men from the immediate command of God to repent. Amidst the depths of sin and the heights of virtue, in paganism and in Christendom, the new heart and the new life are indispensable.


1. Some scoffed, some procrastinated. These are ever the two main classes of those who turn a deaf ear to the Divine Word. Some make light of the truth, some put off attention to it until the "more convenient season." "Faith in to-morrow, instead of Christ, is Satan's nurse for man's perdition." Paul departed from among them, and came not back; the "tender grace" of the day of salvation vanished, not again to be found.

2. But some believed. Of whom Dionysius among men alone is mentioned; and of the women, Damaris, with some others. We need, however, to remind ourselves that great numbers are no sign of the true Church. There are many more of common stones than of jewels in its structure, according to the ordinary valuation; but God's measures are not ours. According to ancient testimonies, a bright light went forth from the Church at Athens. The splendid intellectual culture of Athens remains the heritage of the few; the gospel pours its common blessing on mankind. The relation of the Christian to the art and science of the world.

(1) He is not to despise them. The master-works of genius are gifts of God; and in their way they bear testimony to the universal striving of the human spirit after the reconciliation of sense and spirit, the human with the Divine. The aberrations of great spirits are more instructive than the meaningless commonplaces of ordinary minds.

(2) At the same time, he is to apply to them the Christian scale of judgment. Christianity cannot countenance immoral art or godless science. If tile heart of the artist and scientific man be sanctified, their works and studies will tend to the glory of God. - J.

And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athena
Expository Outlines.

II. THE FEELINGS OF WHICH HE WAS THE SUBJECT. Not of admiration at the masterpieces of art by which he was surrounded, but of —

1. Holy indignation. He saw how God was dishonoured; how He was robbed of the homage which was His due.

2. Christian compassion. He felt deeply at the contemplation of such moral debasement — a city wholly given to idolatry.

3. Zeal. It is well to feel; but what need have we to guard against a mere fruitless sentimentality.


1. Jews. With them he disputed daily.

2. Certain philosophers.

IV. THE ADDRESS HE DELIVERED. His text was the inscriptions he witnessed on one of the altars: "To the Unknown God." He at once proceeded with his subject, saying, "Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." He is declared —

1. In reference to His nature. In what he says on this subject, we are reminded —(1) Of the apostle's boldness. It is said that the laws of the city denounced death upon those who should introduce a foreign deity.(2) His decision. The philosophers in speaking of God had nothing but mere guesses and peradventures; but in no hesitating tone does Paul speak.(3) His skill. This was unlike his discourses to the Jews, where he mainly appealed to the Old Testament.

2. In reference to the Divine dispensations.(1) The past dispensation of forbearance.(2) The present dispensation of grace.(3) The coming dispensation of judgment.


1. Ridicule. "Some mocked."

2. Procrastination. "We will hear thee again of this matter."

3. Faith. "Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed."

(Expository Outlines.)

Sermons by the Monday Club.
1. No moment in the annals of the Church has larger significance than that in which the gospel of the living Christ comes to its first contact with the worn faiths of paganism, — its philosophy and its science.

2. The very inequalities in social position of this meeting between the Jewish tent maker — "whose bodily presence is weak, and whose speech is of no account" — and the classic and proud city of the ancient world, and the contrasted weapons of the debate — in the warm personal faith of the one, and the lifeless but cultivated ignorance of the other — all conspire to make this apostolic visit of historic significance, and this address a model in the missionary records of the Church.


1. The apostle was in that "Holy Land of the Ideal," to which the ancient world of art and letters made pilgrimage. Here was the shrine at which "the fair humanities" of the pagan faith were worshipped — here the gymnasium, in which the human form came to its most perfect development in grace and beauty. Here, also, the human mind, the laws of thought, and that language which became the chosen medium of God's truth, attained an almost ideal acuteness and expansion, while in the age of Pericles art, poetry, and philosophy reached such consummate excellence as to become classic models of form and style to all the generations. It was in the market place at Athens that Socrates, "the wisest of men," asked his immortal questions; and yonder in the olive groves by the brook Plato founded the academy; to the east, under the shadow of the mountain, was the lyceum of Aristotle, while near at hand, in the agora, were the garden of Epicurus and the painted porch of the Stoics. Here was the home of the drama, and the scholar speaks with pride the names of AEschylus and Sophocles. Here spoke the orators of Greece, not only to the civil issues of that time, but also to the listening ears of the future, and here wrote historians like Thucydides and Xenophon; while in her temples was deified the national spirit in the marble images of her heroes and soldiers, in the trophies of her victories, and the memory of her defeats, until we may say with truth that no city of like limits ever gathered to itself so much of history, so many objects of interest, and such prestige as Athens.

2. In the midst of such surroundings Paul was waiting for the coming of Silas and Timothy from Berea. As his eyes rested upon the images of gods and goddesses which filled the temples and lined the avenues of the city — where, the historian says, it was easier to find a god than a man — "his spirit was stirred within him as he beheld the city full of idols." The apostle was not destitute of that fine sense of the beautiful which belongs to all great souls, nor did the mind of the Jewish scholar fail in quick response to real culture; but the beautiful in art or letters was subordinate to the truth in Jesus, which filled his soul.

3. He was not of choice nor as a student in this university city, but in the providence of God he was a delayed messenger of the Cross; and, true to the great mission which possessed him, he engages the loiterers of the market place in religious debate. For such street colloquies the Athenians had particular liking. It was through such that their great philosophers had come into prominence; and, having abundant leisure on their hands, the citizens generally found both occupation and excitement in taking part in them.

4. We can easily picture the amused curiosity, and the half-serious, half-sneering questions of the crowd which gathered around him: "What would this babbler say?" "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods." As the circle grew larger, and hearing more difficult, curiosity in the new religion became more earnest, until, in the spirit of mischief or half-mirth, "they laid hold upon him," and led him up the stone steps to the top of the Areopagus, the ancient judgment seat of Athens, where in the crescent of stone seats had sat the judges, who, three hundred years before, had condemned Socrates to die. Beyond the tribunal, in the cleft of the rock, was the menacing sanctuary of the Furies, while above was the great temple of Mars, the god of blood. Here, then, was the pulpit of the apostle — such a pulpit as no man, unless sent of God, and filled with the courage of the truth, would have dared to occupy!

II. THE AUDIENCE. Their temper and character have exhibition in the half-earnest, half-contemptuous, inquisitive spirit with which they placed the apostle on "the stone of impudence" — where the accused were wont to plead their cause before the council — and with mocking judicial tones bade him speak.

1. The Athenian was religious: the innumerable temples, statues, and altars prove his "carefulness in religion"; but it reveals also what his religion was. It was one which made him a splendid animal with a splendid intellect, which had no holding power against profligacy and fatalism, but, like the sun, while it preserves the living, it hastens the decay of the dead. The same temper of mind and life had gone over into philosophy.(1) Three hundred years before, in his little garden beside the market place, Epicurus had taught his followers that happiness is the great purpose and pursuit of life. In close alliance with this standard of life was a material theory of the universe, which made the world "a fortuitous combination of atoms," so that Providence became accident, and chance the disposer of events.(2) The Stoics taught a system of ethics radically at variance with this; for, while the Epicurean had made the world conform to self, the Stoic had made self conform to nature; thus self-gratification became the maxim of the one, and self-denial of the other. And while the Epicurean avoided pain, the Stoic welcomed it in or let to despise it, and found the secret of life in living in conformity to nature, receiving its bitter as sweet, and its sweet as bitter, with equal composure. But while its austere morality commands our admiration, its theories of the universe are degrading and material. Mind and matter were not distinguishable. God is only the reasoning principle in the universe — one with the material world. The very souls of men, like their bodies, were material.(3) One other class of hearers were represented; the gossips who spent their time in hearing and telling some new thing. This sect needs no analysis; their creed is simple and their history is familiar. Every community knows them, and every successor of the apostle addresses them.

2. We have outlined the character and creeds of the company that we may note one or two facts.(1) That, while unbelief is a revolving wheel, it is not a progressive one; for the very phases of unbelief against which the Church is contending today Paul met on Mars' Hill. Our materialistic philosophy which rules out God; our advanced thought in natural science; where do they receive better statement or definition than in that old poem of Lucretius "On the Nature of Things"? Our selfish and infidel systems of ethics — what are they but echoes of voices across that line which has divided the centuries? Unbelief always carries its ball and chain; it has no progress, and it cannot build.(2) In the focused light of Christianity in which we live today it would seem impossible for the worn pagan faiths of Epicurus and Zeno to exist among us. But such is not the case. For multitudes are living upon the unformulated theories and unspoken creeds of heathendom. Self is the centre of the universe, pleasure the great end of life; and as regards conduct they have no souls; there is no hereafter, and God is a fiction. Or they are austere, stern moralists, complacent in their own rightness, conforming to the events of life with stoical composure; scorning that humility which comes from repentance, and treating with disdain an atonement for its guilt and death.

3. Athens teaches us that culture cannot save a man nor a city from moral decay. Not commerce nor national era, not wealth nor taste, not even the library nor the college, convey the forces of permanent power or real welfare to men; but the gospel is the power of God unto life to the man and the state.

III. THE SERMON. Note the courteous prudence with which he begins as he raises his hand for silence — "Men of Athens, in all things I observe that you are unusually religious" — a compliment which carries the truth and the attentive favour of his audience; and yet such conciliation does not compromise the man nor his message. He continues "For as I passed through your city," etc. (ver. 23). Paul might have denounced their idolatry with a sledge hammer blow, for his spirit had boiled within him as he beheld it; but alert to every circumstance which should serve a Christian purpose, he uses the very errors of heathendom to guide their feet and thought to Him who was the way and the truth. And now every sentence is packed with "the deep things of God" as he proceeds, and every word is a battle blow to the false philosophy of his hearers.

IV. ITS RECEPTION (ver. 32). The same old story wherever the truth is taught. Mockers, procrastinators, believers; to which class do we belong?

(Sermons by the Monday Club.)

It is one test of a real gospel, that it can overleap all barriers placed between man and man, and find its way into that innermost heart's core which makes the whole world kin. Already in this one Book we have seen it dealing with the Jew and with the Gentile: we have seen it in Palestine, in Asia Minor, in Europe. Everywhere it has found some hearts into which it entered as a healing balm, some lives which it penetrated with transforming power. Now we are to see it at Athens.

I. ST. PAUL'S FEELING. He was left there for a time alone. Some of us know that sinking of the spirits which is occasioned by loneliness in a strange city. He was a man of quick feeling, lively emotion, and gentlest affection; but even these were not the causes of his chief distress. His life was given to one work, and his whole heart was in it. Many a so-called Christian has tarried in an idolatrous place, and seen nothing in it but the antiquity of its associations or the curiosity of its monuments. At Athens the traveller feels nothing but a thrill of historic and poetic interest; and it would be judged by many a mere narrow-mindedness to remember the gospel. But St. Paul could not dissever the magnificence of a temple or the perfection of a statue from the remembrance of the idolatry which it served and of the souls which it debased. Yet his irritation was not a merely vexing and annoying thing, torturing to himself and to all about him, on the contrary.


1. At Athens, as elsewhere, there was a Jewish synagogue: there at all events he might find some to sympathise with his horror at idolatry; there, too, he might at least argue from the common ground of Scripture, and assume both the unity of the Godhead and the expectation of a Christ.

2. But the Jews he had with him always, the Athenians he met but for once; this was their day, the season of their visitation. Accordingly we read that in the far-famed Agora "he reasoned daily with those who met with him." St. Paul was not too proud, reserved, indolent, or half-hearted, to seize opportunities of conversing with strangers. A man with a soul to be saved or lost must have, for him, a ground of interest and a point of contact. Thus there encountered him some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Strange meeting between a man who lived but for duty, yet found that duty in love Divine and human, and those who either denied the existence of a duty, or else made duty another name for hardness. Very brief, yet very graphic, is the account given of the treatment of the gospel by these philosophers. Nothing could be more contemptuous. They treated him as a mere reporter of idle tales picked up from others, and as a man incapable even of expressing the follies which he has adopted. Others took a more serious view of the case, and thought him a sort of travelling missionary of false gods, desiring to add new names to an already overflowing Pantheon. Because the names of Jesus and the Resurrection occurred so frequently they ran to the conclusion that they were the names of two deities whom he sought to incorporate in the national religion. And if this were so, it was a case requiring the cognisance of the great religious court of Athens (vers. 19, 20). A brief word of comment on the Athenian character is here introduced (ver. 21). It was the complaint of their own orators. When they ought to have been taking vigorous measures for the welfare or protection of their own state, still the love of news predominated over every other principle, and they who should have been acting were ever talking still! There are some in every congregation to whom this reproof be. longs.

3. Then St. Paul stood before that famous court, of which the poets and orators of Greece tell such proud things. It does not appear to have been a formal trial, nor that life or death hung upon the issue. For the present it was a hearing only for information. Observe now the wisdom and the courage with which he spake. "Ye men of Athens, I observe that in all things ye are more religious" than others. He would carry them with him if he could. And he selects this one characteristic as in itself hopeful. And it is better that a man should feel his dependence, and seek to be in communication with One above him, than that he should do neither. Lest after all their care anyone superior being should at last have been overlooked, they had adopted the singular expedient of an anonymous altar, which might at least deprecate the vengeance of a disregarded and slighted God. This altar St. Paul, with a wisdom and a skill above man's, takes as the text of his sermon. I am come, he says, to give a name to that anonymous altar. I am come to you from an unknown God, to enable you to fill up that blank space in your devotions. And who then is He? The God who made the world. How then can He be limited to one spot in it? He is the Giver and Preserver of human life: how can He require material offerings as though to support His own? He is the one Creator of all races, assigning to each the duration of its being, and the place of its habitation, and with what object? The 27th verse gives the answer. He quotes from a Greek poet of Tarsus in Cilicia, his own native city, as though claiming for himself a new link of connection with his audience. If we are, as your own poets say, God's offspring, it is derogatory even to man's nature to represent God under material and inanimate forms. Let the very dignity of man cry out against the disparagement of God. There was, he continues, a long and dreary age, during which God seemed as it were to acquiesce in the spiritual ignorance of His creatures. But now He has interposed with a call to repentance. And that call is backed by a threatening as well as a promise. There is a day of judgment. And that judgment will be conducted by a Man, the proof of whose Judgeship is the fact of His own resurrection. Well can we understand that there was that in this address which was at once trifling and shocking in Grecian ears (vers. 32-34). And for this time he departed from among them.

(Dean Vaughan.)

1. Paul is now "waiting." He needs rest, and so will sit down and be quiet and recover himself. Paul waiting! The two words do not go happily together. He cannot wait. Life is short; the enemy is at hand; the opportunity enlarges; and he who was left in an attitude of waiting begins to burn. A paroxysm (for that is the literal word) seizes his heart as he sees a sight he had never beheld before — a city wholly given to idolatry — one, as an historian tells us, in which it was easier to find a god than a man. "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image" was ringing in Paul's ears.

2. Athens was wholly given to idolatry. You cannot stop at one idol. One brings another. This law has also its force in higher directions. You cannot stop with one isolated excellence. It is not excellence if you so use it. Vices go in groups; piety is a whole excellence and not a partial virtue, The Athenians covered their irreligious lives by these religious forms. "Fill the city with gods, and let us live as we like," was the Athelstan philosophy — it is ours too! "Start another mission, and let us play what pranks we like under the darkness." "Build five hundred more churches, but let us drink the devil's cup right down to its last hot drop." There are more idols in London than ever there were in Athens; not marble idols, but idols we can hide. Were Paul to come here he would see fashion, fortune, ease, ambition, self-seeking. In mighty, measureless London, for every man is his own idol! Stone idols may be so many marble steps up to the highest altar; but when the heart is its own idol, and its own idolater, nothing can break up the paganism but crucifixion. The Athenian pagan might be led away argumentatively from stone deities to conceptions of deific being and force; but the pagan heart never listens to intellectual appeals. Only one thing can break the heart idol — "the hammer of the Lord," that can grind to powder the stoniest heart that ever shut out the clemency and love of Heaven. "Not by might, nor by power," etc.

3. Paul did a little introductory work. He always began just where the opportunity permitted him. "He disputed in the synagogue with the Jews," and he found a custom in Athens of meeting in the market place, which was the general school house of the city; and there learned men were talking and Paul listened. Having listened, he spoke, as he had a right to do according to Athenian custom, but be spoke so as to bring upon himself a contemptuous name. "What will this seed pecker say? He is evidently nibbling at something, poor little, small-minded, weak-eyed Jew." "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods." "Strange, i.e., startling things" (ver. 20). The gospel startles; it never comes easily into any civilisation. Jesus did not come to send peace, but a sword, not quietness, but fire!

4. The Athenians were interested in the matter from an intellectual point of view (ver. 18). That is not religious inquiry. If you want to know what that is, recall the instance of the jailer who said, "What must I do to be saved?" Are we typified by the jailer or by the stoic? Let us be honest with ourselves. If we are in God's house for the purpose of ascertaining God's Word, all heaven will be aflame with light, and every guest at God's table will be satisfied; but if we are here in the Athenian spirit we may be disappointed and mocked.

5. Paul was always ready to speak. But they were learned men, so was he, but not as many men are with unavailable learning, but in his gospel. He asked for no time to prepare. Instantly he said, "Ye men of Athens." That was Demosthenic; the great orator always began his appeal thus. Thus the true preacher can always begin. He cannot always say "Dear friends," for there may be none; "brethren," for that may be an unknown term. There is genius even here. There is a gift of God in little matters as well as in great. Paul was never wanting in tact. Mark the simple dignity of the salutatory form. They were "men"; they met upon a common platform. Then the next, "I perceive that in all things ye are too religiously minded." Mark the broad and generous recognition. Do not affront the people you intend afterwards to persuade. There are two methods of delivering a country from idolatry. The one is, Jehu like, to destroy Baal out of Israel; the other is to displace the false by the introduction of the true; not to deride an idol, but to preach a Saviour. So Paul recognises what he sees. "I found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. I will begin where you end. Whom, therefore, ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." What infinite tact! That is the true method of preaching today. You must interpret to men what they do not interpret to themselves. Endeavour to make the most of a man. Every man has upon him this inscription, "To the Unknown," and the Christian teacher has to say, "Then I will make it known to you. Do you ever yearn and desire?" Then such aspiration is the beginning of prayer. Do you suffer for others? You will sit up all night that others may sleep. If so, that is the beginning of sacrifice. Are you dissatisfied with earth and time? Are you filled with discontentment? That is the beginning of immortality. This text of Paul's is in every man; every life furnishes a Mars' Hill from the top of which Christian preachers may preach. The sun does not plant the root, but warms it into fulness of life. The witness of God is in every one of us, and answers to the claim of the written Book.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Greece was the clime and residence of the beautiful. The very air was tempered to delight, and the soul imbibed the same sunny hues as the landscape. The passion for the beautiful, gave to the Greeks a more brilliant mythology than any other nation. Music moulded the flexible language into its own nature, and it became so plastic that its very swell and modulation were but the waves of song. The arts and sciences danced around humanity, and "stored man's home with comforts, and charmed his senses with all kinds and forms of elegance." Athens was a marble paradise, filled with temples and with gods, whose forms were the very models of symmetry and perfection. What were the feelings which Athens was likely to produce in a mind so accomplished as Paul's? To the splendour of its name, to the charms of its literature, he was no stranger; and his mind was peculiarly alive to every form of beauty. The streets were but long galleries of godlike forms in marble. Athens was the very focus of idolatry, and the apostle witnessed the living magnificence of their worship, the gorgeous attire of their priests — the solemn pomp of their processions — the clouds of fragrant incense which alone could obscure their transparent atmosphere, and the majesty of their theatres. He heard the surpassing melody of their music, and listened to the discourses of their orators; and "his spirit was stirred within him," but only because "he beheld the city wholly given to idolatry." Let me direct your attention to —

I. THE PREACHER. He was no ordinary man. His mind, naturally strong, had been strengthened by culture; he had great energy and decision of character. Like the bird of heaven, he was at home in the storm as well as in the sunshine. He was once the greatest enemy of that truth of which he was now the foremost advocate. What a change has taken place in his views and feelings, since when a young man he studied Grecian literature! Just look at him with that volume of Greek poetry in his hand. He is longing for the hour when he shall visit Athens, and converse with the literati, and drink in inspiration from the fountain. He visits Athens; but, strange to tell, he visits that celebrated city as a preacher of the Cross! He is now to contend with the very master spirits of the world, in the very palace of intellect, and in the very sanctuary of idolatry.

II. THE PLACE WHERE PAUL PREACHED. The spot where he stood was a rock where in earlier days the supreme court of justice had been held. Though the authority of this court had been abridged by the Roman conquest, still it was reserved for the judges to determine what gods were to be admitted into the temples, and to pronounce sentence upon any who should be guilty of blaspheming the divinities of Greece. If ever the sincerity of the preacher was tried, it was upon this occasion; and if ever Paul displayed intrepidity of character, it was upon Mars' hill.

III. THE CONGREGATION. Around him, then, were gathered a multitude, acute, inquisitive, and polished. Never did preacher have such a congregation. There were the philosophers of bower and porch; orators with whom the slightest tinge of a barbarian accent would break the power of the most persuasive discourse; Epicureans who believed the world was created by accident or by chance — men who though they professed to believe in the existence of a God, regarded Him as dwelling in the far-off watchtowers of some distant world, indifferent to His creatures; and Stoics who believe in two principles, God and matter, both eternal, and therefore they virtually denied that there was any creation. There, too, was the priest, astonished at the daring of the preacher; the young Roman who had come to Athens to be educated; the Jew looking on with hatred and fury at the apostate from the ancient faith; and there, too, though afar off and crouching to the ground, was the slave, drinking in the doctrine — strange and new to him, sweet as music to his ears — that God had "made all men of one blood." What must Paul have felt when surrounded by such a congregation!

IV. THE SERMON. Nobly did the champion of truth perform his part. He spoke worthy of himself, of his commission, and his congregation. You cannot fail to be struck by the adaptation of this discourse to the congregation. When Paul went into a synagogue he reasoned with the Jews out of the Scriptures. But here were men who believed that the creation of the world was altogether fortuitous; those who did not believe in any creation at all; those who denied that there was any future state. The apostle then set himself to prove to them that there was a God, that this God was the Creator of all things, that there was an overruling Providence, and consequently that there was a judgment to come. We can only seize on some of the leading features of this sermon. How appropriate and judicious his introduction! Since you are worshippers of an "unknown God" it must be gratifying to you, who are such religious people, to hear something concerning Him. From his primary positions the apostle proceeds to draw certain inferences, viz., that God is not confined to any particular place, that God is independent; and the spirituality of the Divine Being. With these reasonings the apostle makes an assertion relative to the duty of man, to seek an acquaintance with God through the medium of His works and ways; and then concludes by observing, that though God for ages had left the Gentiles to themselves, now He "commanded all men everywhere to repent," etc.

V. THE EFFECTS (vers. 32-34). Conclusion:

1. The great propriety of discourses being adapted to the circumstances of the hearers. It is necessary that the preacher should commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God; but where there is a variety of character and circumstances, it is a difficult thing for a minister to adapt himself. But "the truth as it is in Jesus" is adapted to all men's circumstances.

2. Paul's discourse is an excellent homily for these times. There are not a few who are worshippers of an "unknown God"; who attach sanctity to certain places; who suppose that God takes delight in certain words, and in certain postures. Let such study Paul's sermon, and they will find that that very sermon preached eighteen hundred years ago is peculiarly adapted to their circumstances.

(H. J. Bevis.)

The practical lessons are: —

I. THAT A TRULY GOOD MAN WILL BE SENSITIVE TO THE MORAL EVILS PREVALENT IN THE COMMUNITY IN WHICH HE IS PLACED (ver. 16). Here idolatry was rampant. What are the prevailing evils in London?

II. A TRULY GOOD MAN WILL BESTIR HIMSELF FOR THE REMOVAL OF THOSE EVILS. There are those who feel and say much, but do nothing (ver. 17).

III. IN DEALING WITH THESE EVILS A MAN WHO IS WISE AS WELL AS GOOD WILL STRIKE AT THEIR ROOT IGNORANCE OF GOD AND HIS WILL. There was much vice, but Paul said nothing of that. Political and social reforms are good, but what the world needs is regeneration. Make the tree good and its fruit will be good.

IV. IN DEALING WITH THESE EVILS TACT IS NEEDED AS WELL AS ZEAL (ver. 22). Paul never committed the gross oratorical blunder of accusing his audience of superstition. What he commended and proved was their religiousness, and having put them in good humour he proceeded to deliver his message. There is a great deal in the way we take hold of people. You must conciliate men before you can convert them.


(R. A. Bertram.)

The practical lessons which this scene teaches us are —

I. THAT THE LOFTIEST EFFORTS OF UNAIDED MEN, CAN PRODUCE NO HIGHER RELIGION THAN A REFINED POLYTHEISM. This is confirmed by the records of all heathenism. Had man been left to himself, he never would have known the true God; and hence the privilege of living in a land where the Triune God is known and worshipped.

II. THAT ART AND LITERATURE HAVE IN THEMSELVES NO CONSERVING MORAL FORCE. The citizens of Athens had a poetry, which maintains its precedence to this day; a literature, unsurpassed in eloquence and vigour; an art, developing itself in paintings, and statues, and architecture, which are even now the proudest monuments of human skill: yet just as in the age of Louis XIV in France, and in the Augustan age at Rome, art and literature were not only powerless to arrest immorality, they absolutely ministered to it. The mind is rightly cultivated only when educated in the principle of personal accountability to God. Hence the danger of a merely secular education. Hence the need of a Christian leaven in our secular schools.

III. THAT PHILOSOPHY, ORIGINATING IN HUMAN MINDS, CAN CONSTRUCT NO TRUE SYSTEM OF BELIEF OR DUTY. Philosophy requires three constant factors to its full and true development, viz., a first Cause; a full knowledge of this first Cause; and a full knowledge of man himself. But no human mind can grasp these factors. We must look then above man to get this true philosophy; and we find it in the revelation of God. But "no man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and Hero whom the Son will reveal Him"; and Jesus only "needeth not that any should testify of man; for He knows what is in man." So then we reach the fact that in Jesus Christ are "hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." A philosophy which leaves out Christ is like a planetary system without a central sun, a mere series of vortices without a uniting and controlling centre. Philosophy has found out many truths, but not the great foundation truths of God's existence, and attributes, and grace; and man's fall, and helplessness, and need of a Saviour. How, then, should we thank God, that He has revealed all this to us.

IV. THAT REPENTANCE IS A PERSONAL DUTY, EASED ON PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD FOR PERSONAL SINS. Heathenism knew nothing of sin, as the alienation of the heart from God. Its very gods were but splendid embodiments of sin; and their influence was only to reproduce in daily life the crimes which filled Olympus. It is the religion of Christ only which measures moral character with the unerring lines and in the unerring balances of the Divine law. It is only as we act upon the truth that man is personally responsible to God, and will be judged, that we shall have true views of God, and understand our need of a Saviour.

(Bp. Stevens.)


1. There ought to be no occasion for arguing this point. Paul felt no necessity of showing that the subject was worthy of attention. The Athenians had already expressed their sense of the importance of the inquiry by inviting him to come to the place where he could best address the people. We, on the contrary, are obliged to awaken inquiry, and to show why religion is worthy of profound thought.(1) Among those who, in other respects, would be represented by the Athenian philosophers, religion does not come within the range of their inquiries. They are scientists, jurists, editors, philosophers, etc., not theologians.(2) The great mass of men stop short when they approach the subject of religion in their investigations, even when it would appear impossible that they should not be led to see and to embrace its truths. In astronomy, e.g., such men seem almost to look upon the throne of God; but they will no, allow their minds to take the next step, and many an astronomer remains ignorant of Him who made the worlds.(3) When men do come up to the point they find the subject distasteful. They have come into a region where the ideas of duty — retribution, repentance — are likely to be predominant; and they are not attracted by these themes.

2. It is proper, therefore, to show that the subject of religion is worthy the attention of this class of minds. Observe therefore —(1) That it is an avowed principle with such persons, that all subjects are to be investigated. It is a maxim in philosophy that truth is to be followed wherever it may lead us. Why, then, should the astronomer refuse to follow out the revelation when the throne of God seems to stand before him, and admit that there is a God? Why should he always talk about "Nature," and never about "God"?(2) As mere abstract matters, the subjects of religion are as worthy of attention as any that can come before the minds of men. The Greeks, as a people, had evinced their own convictions of this, far more than most other nations. When Grecian sages were thus leading a foreign Jew to the Areopagus to ask him what he had to say on this subject, no man in Athens would feel that this was an unworthy act in the city of Socrates and Plato. No class of people, however advanced in civilisation, act contrary to the dictates of the highest wisdom, when they give themselves to earnest thought about the Creator of the world, the methods of the Divine administration, etc. If these great subjects are not important for man, what subjects can be?(3) The subject of religion pertains, as a personal matter, as really to cultivated men as to the rest of mankind. It does not merely open questions relating to the welfare of society; but it is a subject of personal importance to each individual.


1. The manner in which Paul approached the subject of his peculiar doctrines.(1) He made no direct attack on their religion. He did not awaken their prejudices, as if his mission was to destroy their temples.(2) He commended their zeal in religion as real zeal in a great cause; and he referred, without any unkind reflections, to the evidence of that zeal exhibited on every hand.(3) He referred to their acknowledged difficulties — to the avowal of their own ignorance or uncertainty, as recorded on the altar.(4) He proposed to reveal the God whom they thus unconsciously adored; to lead them up to the real source of every blessing.(5) He agreed, as far as possible, with the philosophers who heard him, and reasoned from their admitted principles. A truth found in their poetry, though it was heathen poetry, was not the less a truth because it had had such an origin, and because it was not found in the inspired writings of the Jews. So far he was successful. He did not excite their fears. He did not expose himself to contempt. He secured, as he had hoped to do, their profound attention.

2. The doctrines which he made known to them.(1) Those which were based on principles that they themselves held — though in advance of their views.

(a)The existence of a God — to them the "unknown God."

(b)The fact that this "unknown" God was the Creator of the world.

(c)The immensity of God.

(d)The independence of God.

(e)The unity of the human race.

(f)The grand purpose for which certain arrangements had been made in respect to the human race: "that they should seek God," etc.

(g)The spirituality of God and of religion (ver. 29).(2) The doctrines which were peculiar to the Christian system; the "strange things" in reference to which particularly they had asked an explanation.

(a)God now commands universal repentance.

(b)God will judge the world.

(c)The resurrection of the dead; as derived from the fact that God had raised from the dead Him who was to judge the world,


1. Christianity does not shrink from investigation. Paul manifested no reluctance, but rejoiced in the opportunity of proclaiming the gospel where it would be most likely to be subjected to a thorough examination.

2. The history of the world, since Paul stood on Mars' Hill, has made no difference in the relation of Christianity to the world ill the matter under consideration, lit claims to be now not less in advance of the world than it was then. The world has, indeed, made great progress in arts, science, etc., but it has made no advances in the knowledge of the great truths of religion by the aid of science or philosophy.

3. If Christianity was then, and is now, ahead of the world on these subjects, it may be presumed that it will ever retain this advanced position.

4. This furnishes a strong proof of the Divine origin of Christianity. System after system of philosophy and religion has disappeared. But Christianity has lived through all changes. After all the discoveries and developments of the last eighteen centuries — after all that has been affirmed to be in conflict with the Bible — the hold of Christianity on the world is stronger now, and the belief that the Bible is true is more widespread and deep, than in any past age.

(A. Barnes, D. D.)

His spirit was stirred in him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry
The great argument for missionary exertion, next to its being the plain command of God, is the spiritual helplessness of those who live under the power of idolatry. This paroxysm of grief which the apostle felt would be excited by —

I. THE DISHONOURING VIEWS OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER AND GOVERNMENT NECESSARILY ASSOCIATED WITH SUCH A SYSTEM. Those who think lightly of idolatry speak as if it afforded the same outlet for the religious affections as true religion; that the religious element in man's nature is as effectually cultivated, whether men called the being they worshipped Vishnu, or Juggernaut, or God, seeing the same honour in all cases is intended to the Great Author of the universe. But now, even if this monstrous impiety were conceded, it is sufficient to observe that the attributes with which these gods are commonly invested must for ever forbid the acceptableness of the worship. So far otherwise, God must regard it as worship by which His character is debased, and everything which could inspire filial and reverential sentiments is taken away.

II. THE SANCTIONED AND PERMITTED DISREGARD OF THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY. The religion of Greece was chiefly a religion of festivals; and some of these extended to seven days. True, some were simply absurd; but at the majority things were performed of which it were a shame even to speak. With similar accounts our own missionaries are obliged to stain their reports unto this day. Now, it is easy to see that morality can have no existence under such a state of things, because all morals must have as their foundation the will of God. "Be ye holy, because I am holy," appeals to a universal moral instinct; flee from iniquity, because God hateth iniquity — these are the safeguards of all that is pure in our social system. In the case of idolatry, however, this safeguard is removed. It were in vain that the law should forbid a thing as unholy which religion has declared to be acceptable in the sight of God.

III. THE UTTER ABSENCE OF ALL RELIGIOUS PEACE OR TRANQUILLITY OF CONSCIENCE. The consideration may address itself, first, to our feelings of humanity. In some respects we know that the worship of the idolater must be a miserable worship. His self-inflicted torture must make existence to be a burden to him. But this belongs less to Athenian than to Asiatic idolatry. We may suppose the mind of the apostle to have been exercised by the absence of religious peace. They know not God; they know not the mercifulness of His nature, the wisdom of His ways, the gentleness of His yoke, the goodness of His laws. I am speaking to men who know something of the comforts of religion. What is the source of it? You feel that a propitiation has been found for your offences; that an exhaustless fund of holy influences is opened to meet every remaining infirmity; and that there is the power of a covenant keeping God to keep you faithful unto the end. You have troubles; but are not these among those things which work together for the believer's good? But what knows the poor heathen of such consolations?

IV. PAINFUL MISGIVINGS AS TO THE FINAL SALVATION OF THESE PEOPLE. Our chief guide upon such a subject must he the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. There does not seem to be an important distinction in that chapter; for though the apostle does seem to leave some hope of salvation for the mere heathen who is without the knowledge of God, is it quite so clear that it leaves a hope of salvation to the idolater? The heathen, it seems to be supposed, will be a law unto himself, and has a power to discern from the things which are seen and made the Almighty's eternal power and Godhead. But suppose, instead of this, he should change the image of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible man, etc., are we then prepared to say that an idolater hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God? We limit no mercies; but everywhere, as we look on the vast outspread of idolatry, the stern and withering sentence meets us, "Without God, without hope." Oh! must not every heart be stirred up within us at such a spectacle? Conclusion: And now, in applying my remarks to the cause of missions, I must remind you of our three great wants and your three correlative duties. First, we want the means. But not only do we want your money — we want your sons. And then we want your prayers.

(D. Moore, M. A.)

What did he discover that so intensely distressed him?


1. Developments of great genius. What Jerusalem has been in the true religious culture of humanity, Athens has been in the culture of the aesthetical and reasoning powers of mankind.

2. Perversions of great genius. Though possessing a mind qualified to appreciate the splendid works which lay about him, yet he was thrown into an agony of grief at what he beheld. He had a standard of character unknown to any Athenian sage, and he felt that the aesthetic glory of Greece was but a gorgeous covering which genius had spread over a vast cemetery of moral corruption. Genius wasted — nay, worse than that, employed for immoral and impious ends. There is nothing in mere material civilisation, even in its highest forms, to delight a truly enlightened soul.

II. THE GREAT GOD DISHONOURED. With all this display the Athenians had —

1. No grand moral purpose in life (ver. 21). Empty theories and idle gossip occupied their chief attention; since they knew not the only true God, they had no grand purpose in life. The deeper and diviner parts of their souls were undeveloped.

2. No love for the true God. Athens, by wisdom, knew not God. "It was easier," says an old writer, "to find a god than a man." All history shows that where the gospel has not gone, man has never reached the true religion, nor felt the higher inspirations of his being (Romans 1). The best of the Athenian gods were but men, whose passions in some cases were of the most revolting kind. Paul knew that the destiny of the soul depended upon its worship; that if it worshipped any object but God, it must inevitably sink lower and lower forever. There is but one being that has a claim to the worship of man — the Creator. He claims the supreme homage and service of all souls. His claim is just: no conscience can dispute it. Because the apostle loved supremely this supreme object of worships he felt intense pain at seeing His righteous claims contemned. "I beheld the ways of transgressors, and was grieved."

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

Evangelical Preacher.
We are taught by this passage —


1. Paul's was the excitement of fervent zeal for the honour of Christ.

2. He felt also the outrage done by idolatry to the dignity of human nature.

3. In this excitement the love of souls was not wanting.


1. Paul was never ashamed of Christ's gospel.

2. He laid aside all fears of failure.

3. He does not remain inactive at Athens because he has no particular mission there.

(Evangelical Preacher.)

When Howard went forth, on what a great orator has called his "circumnavigation of charity," he visited some of the noblest cities, and passed through some of the most attractive scenery of modern Europe; but neither the splendour and wealth of the one, nor the attractions of the other, could engage his attention; the dungeon and the hospital, where suffering humanity invited his aid, had an interest to his mind which drew him aside from everything else, and made him insensible "to the sumptuousness of palaces and the stateliness of temples," to the curiosity of art, and even to the sublimities and beauties of nature. Cicero tells us that for him Athens had a higher charm than was derived from its magnificent buildings and exquisite works of art — the charm that arose from the memory of its illustrious men, and which made him search out the abodes and favourite haunts of each, and look with intent gaze on their sepulchres. In all large and earnest minds the moral will ever overtop and master the aesthetic; and, save as the latter may in some way be made subservient to the former, such minds will be apt to overlook, if not entirely to underestimate it. What wonder, then, that Paul, bent on a mission of moral beneficence to which he had consecrated his life, and penetrated with an all-absorbing desire to accomplish a result which he knew to be the noblest and worthiest and most enduring that could be proposed to human exertion, should have been content to bestow only a passing glance on the marble splendours of Athens, and should have been more deeply moved by the gloom which rested on the moral features of the scene, than by all the glory which lighted up its physical and material aspect? As he moved through the city, he beheld how all this wealth of genius was prostituted to the service of a vain and misleading superstition.

(W. L. Alexander, D. D.)

I was speaking with a gentleman who had just returned from a visit to Niagara, where he lived in the Clifton Hotel, which is close to the Falls. He asked a waiter, 'Are you not annoyed by the noise of the waterfall?' 'Positively I don't hear it. When I first came here I hardly heard anything for it; now it is quite quiet to me.' Why is this? Because he is accustomed to it. That is the reason Christians are content to sit with folded hands, looking calmly on while so many of their fellows are gliding down the broad road to eternal death. Rouse yourselves; ask God for Christ's sake to give you grace and strength to 'rescue the perishing.'"

(J. McFarlane.)

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