Now all the Athenians and foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing more than hearing and articulating new ideas.
care for, to go about up and down the market, asking each other, 'Is there any news?'" The restless inquisitiveness of the Athenian character had all along been proverbial. It did not alone distinguish the Athenians, though it gained a peculiar prominence in their case. It has returned upon man in such power, now that telegraphs and newspapers bind the nations together, that it may profitably be made the subject of Christian meditation.
I. IT SOMETIMES COMES TO BE A DISEASE, A mental disease. A restlessness that we see illustrated in some children, who tire at once of their toys and crave for something new. We see it in the world of fashion, in which garments are speedily set aside, and the last new color, or shape, or material is eagerly sought. It is equally shown in the passion for the newest books, the last newspaper, the freshest opinion, the present excitement. It even afflicts Christian people, who in a crowd run after the newest revivalist, and cry for the latest novelty in doctrine or in Church method. It is a kind of feverish delirium, which palls the appetite, vitiates the taste, and makes patient continuance in well-doing impossible. It needs to be treated as a disease, and its influence in a family, in social life, and in the Church needs to be carefully checked. It is not progress that is usually sought, because true progress ever goes slowly; it is mere novelty that is sought. We may generally say that "the old is better."
II. IT IS ONE OF THE SIGNS OF OVERDONE CIVILIZATION. It is a marked feature of a nation that is struggling up into civilization, that all its members must be workers, and none can be kept in idleness. To such a nation mere news is the amusement of its resting leisure hours; it cannot be the sober business of its days. But when nations have long reached the high levels of civilization, wealth has increased, multitudes can live in idleness, and, having nothing better to do, they may run after the latest stranger in art, or science, or music, or politics, or religion, and gathering round him say, "May we know what this new doctrine is, whereof thou speakest?" This is well illustrated in the case of the Athenians, who were surfeited with art and philosophy and superstitious religion. A city full of wealthy idlers, no doubt of good taste and cultured minds, who had nothing better to do than to run after the last new thing. The antidote for this evil is the preaching of the responsibility resting on every man to be a worker, and a worker for the general welfare. Nobody has any right to food and life save as they work, in some good way, for it. Workers soon get interest enough to stop their yearning for "something new." Illustrate how these things may be applied to Church life. Church work is the great remedy for the hindering passion for novelty.
III. YET IT IS AN INDICATION OF THE UNIVERSAL ASPIRATION FOR IMMORTALITY. There is good in it; the evil of it lies
(1) in the forms it takes, and
(2) in the excessive degrees of its exercise.
That something in us all which cannot rest, which must seek for something more; which rises up above all bondages and limitations; which is as
"An infant crying in the night, is but the aspiration of souls made in the image of God, who cry for permanence, for holiness, for rest, for God, and "can find no rest until they find rest in him." We must seek after something new, on and on, until we find God. And Scripture inspires us to such seeking; for it assures us that "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath the heart of man conceived, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." And though, in measure, these have been revealed unto us by the Spirit, yet again we are led on by the Word; for "it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." - R.T.
is but the aspiration of souls made in the image of God, who cry for permanence, for holiness, for rest, for God, and "can find no rest until they find rest in him." We must seek after something new, on and on, until we find God. And Scripture inspires us to such seeking; for it assures us that "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath the heart of man conceived, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." And though, in measure, these have been revealed unto us by the Spirit, yet again we are led on by the Word; for "it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." - R.T.
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill.fete in honour of the poet. No, you are mistaken; it was but an ordinary evening, and there was nothing peculiar in the date or the events of the day. You shall not be kept in suspense; the reason was very simple; the statue was new; it had, in fact, only been unveiled the day before. Every one passes Dante now, having other things to think of; the citizens are well used to his solemn visage, and scarcely care that he stands among them. Is not this the way of men?
(C. H. Spurgeon.)outré, unusual; yet, when they see this freak of nature, or of grace, they turn back to the more usual order of good things with considerable relief, for they feel that "the old is better." It is a pity when a man, especially a preacher, is merely a green rose, with a name for being something remarkable, but with no special excellence with which to maintain a reputation. He attracts only for a moment, but sustains no permanent attention, for there is hardly as much about him as there is in the ordinary unpretending teacher of the gospel. Those wanderers who are always running all over the world after green roses, are by no means so wise as those who are content with the perfume and colour of that flower which grows over their own porch, whether it be red or white. The affectation of the unusual is a trick of the charlatan; the craving after it is the weakness of the shallow-minded. Yet, be it noted, that we do not wish to depreciate the green rose. You see we have almost fallen into that unfairness, but the fault was not intentional. We are glad to have seen it, for as a green rose it has charms of its own. Yet this eagerness to see it, this passing over of lovelier objects, this crying up of one beauty above another, inevitably leads to an undervaluing of that which has obtained undeserved prominence. Your foolish partiality has made your favourite a target for excessive criticism; but we will not yield to the temptation. God has made the green rose, and He makes nothing amiss. Your remarkable friend has his excellencies, and God be thanked for them. Your eccentric preacher has his own adaptations for usefulness. Because you cry him up, we are not going to cry him down. Let each rose display its own colour, and let each man be himself, and let the Lord be glorified in all.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THE AUDIENCE.
1. Jews. The place where he made his first public appearance as a teacher was the synagogue; and his first audience was composed of Jews and devout persons. This was in accordance with the usual apostolic custom of visiting the Jewish place of worship first, and making it the starting point for more extended labours. Nothing is said about the nature or result of his intercourse with his brethren, save that he disputed with them. He would remind them of their splendid opportunities of bearing witness for God in the pagan city.
2. Common people. Leaving the synagogue, and coming to the Agora or market place, the apostle had to mingle with a different class, and the subject of discussion would also be different. The Agora of Athens must not be associated with what is called the market place of a modern town. It was, indeed, the centre of public life, where business was transacted, where busy men moved to and fro, and idlers loitered about. But it was more than that, it was a space decorated with architectural beauties, an attractive place of resort for all classes of the community eager to listen to instruction or hear the news. It was a place where orators and statesmen, poets and artists used to meet for encouragement and stimulus in their several callings. The appearance of a foreigner among such a people, especially if he seemed sociable and talkative, would soon attract a crowd expecting to hear something new. The daily visits of the apostle to the Agora would afford him ample opportunities of proclaiming new truths in the idol city.
3. Philosophers. The philosophers who encountered him were the Epicureans and the Stoics, both of whom had their schools in the vicinity of the Agora.(1) Epicureans. This sect took its name from Epicurus, who opened a school for the teaching of his philosophy in a garden in Athens; hence his followers were sometimes styled the "Philosophers of the Garden." Epicurus taught that the chief end of man was the attainment of pleasure or happiness; and the way to gain it was the removal of every cause of pain or anxiety. A sound body and a tranquil mind constituted the ideal of Epicurean bliss. The main business of life was to raise the mind above cares. Such was the original aim of this school of philosophy; but its later disciples allowed grossest ideas to enter, and pleasure degenerated into the gratification of the appetites. There was no Creator, and no moral government. There were indeed deities, but they lived in undisturbed tranquillity: serene above the turmoil of the world, careless of mankind. The attainment of bliss like theirs was the main business of man's life on earth.(2) Stoics. The other sect that encountered Paul was the Stoics, so named because Zeno its founder held his meetings inn building called the Stoa or porch. This system of philosophy is regarded as a nearer approximation to Christianity than the Epicurean, inasmuch as it seems to possess a glimmering of the Divine Fatherhood, and forestalls the Christian truth that goodness is indispensable to happiness. But while it recognises God as the Author of all, it does so in a Pantheistic sense, as if God were everything and everything God. The God of the Stoic is not a distinct personality, but an all-pervading spirit, inseparable from the works of his hands. And not only so, but he, and all his works, are under a pre-ordained decree amounting almost, if not altogether, to fatalism. Everything, indeed, is the result of Fate, and freedom of will consists in bowing to Fate. The man who yields most completely to this iron law is the perfect man. The aim of this system was to produce a passionless conformity to Fate. The pursuit of this end engendered apathy or indifference to everything alike pleasurable and painful. Such was the array of diversified opinion that Paul had to combat, and he nobly vindicated his trust as a Christian teacher in the face of pagan enlightenment. His experience of men, and his knowledge of philosophy, gave him special fitness to discharge the mission that Providence had laid upon him.
4. Public meeting on Mars' hill. To speak on this venerated spot was a distinction reserved for the foremost orators, and Paul's promotion to that distinction showed the profound impression he had made. The summit of Mars' hill was associated in the Athenian mind with solemn and venerable scenes. There sat the most august of assemblies, to dispense justice and confer on religion. The Areopagite court was the supreme tribunal of Athens on social, political, and religious questions. The judges sat in the open air, and their seat on the summit of the rock was reached by a flight of steps. Somewhere on this reserved and hallowed eminence the apostle took his stand; and whether he was there on his defence, as some suppose, or simply for convenience in addressing a large assembly, no spot could have been more suitable for a discussion on the mysteries of religion.
II. THE DISCOURSE. It was no easy task adequately to address the assemblage that gathered to hear him. What theme could be chosen to suit all and benefit all? Their motives were manifold and their tastes diverse. There were the scoffing Jew and the wisdom-loving Greek, the refined Athenian and the rude provincial, the sceptical philosopher and the unsophisticated stranger, the contented Epicurean and the passionless Stoic. We will now listen to the apostle as he attempts to lift his heathen audience out of their ignorance into the knowledge of the true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.
1. Creator. He begins by setting forth "the unknown God" as the Creator of the world. "God made the world and all things therein." This was an idea entirely new to the speculative minds or the ancient world, and the prominence here given to it shows that, in Paul's estimation, it lay at the foundation of every true system of religion. It was idle to talk of worship if the Being worshipped was not raised above the worshippers by such qualities and attributes as inspired reverence and trust. So that Paul's statement of the fundamental principle of Theism dealt a fatal stab at the views of ancient philosophy on the origin of the world. There could be no compromise between positions so radically at variance; and while philosophies change with the changing generations, the Christian position remains the same as stated from apostolic lips eighteen centuries ago — "God made the world and all things therein."
2. Governor. Advancing a step, the apostle announces the unknown God as the Governor of the world: "He hath made all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times appointed and the bounds of their habitation." Here too there was a sharp contrast between revealed truth and the tenets of the schools. Chance, or Fate, said ancient philosophy, appoints to each nation and race its time and place in the world. No, said Paul, there is one presiding Deity, who not only set the world in motion, and gave everything in it life, but who keeps it going and sustains all life, assigning to each man and nation the sphere they are to fill and the length of their stay. The all-controlling providence of God, indeed, follows from the fact of creation. How grand the conception! God marshalling the nations of the earth one after another on the stage of time, appointing their seasons, their work, and the bounds of their habitation, and then withdrawing them when their work is done!
3. Judge. The apostle further declares the unknown God to be the Judge of all men. "He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness." Here is another aspect of the Divine character and work, which carries our thoughts forward to the close of the present constitution of things, just as the reference to creation recalled their beginning.
4. Father. This is another aspect in which the unknown God is set forth. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being, as certain also of your own poets have said, For we also are His offspring." If the ideas of creation, superintendence, and responsibility were unknown to the ancients, much less was the Divine Fatherhood. The quotation referred to does not prove that they recognised God as Father save in the Stoical sense. Cleanthes, one of the poets, quoted from, was a Stoic, and Paul, in citing him, not only showed his acquaintance with Greek literature, but his willingness to take up common ground with his hearers whenever that was possible. In doing so, he doubtless gained for himself a more respectful hearing. He adopted the language of the Stoics, but put upon it a Christian meaning. Taking our position, then, in the world as God's children, we can view everything in a different light, no longer repelled by the unapproachable majesty of a Great Creator, but drawn by His parental love. The works of His hand also will have an additional interest for us.
5. Is God knowable? This is the question to which the whole argument was leading up, and the answer is in the affirmative. The main purpose of Paul's reasoning was to show the Athenians that He whom they styled the "unknown God" could be known if they sought Him aright. Though the Divine Being was for a long time pleased to draw a veil over His character and modes of working, it was not intended that He should for ever remain unknown. Indeed, all the arrangements of His providence were such as to lead men to the knowledge of Him.
III. THE APPLICATION. The apostle did not content himself with laying down great general principles. Like a practical man, he applied them. And in order to insure success it will be observed that throughout this masterly exposition there is an evident desire to carry his hearers along with him, so that they might be without excuse if they continued ignorant of God. Having thus laid down a few broad principles, he goes on to apply them to the religion and life of the people.
1. Idolatry. The first application is to idol worship, in which the Athenians prided themselves. It required no small courage and tact to assail with effect such a deep-rooted custom in its very hot bed. The inference was irresistible. The invisible Godhead cannot be represented in visible symbols; and even though it could, every such effort is here condemned because it is a dishonour to God. Besides, we do not need it any more than a child needs the help of an image to love its parents; and we ought not to attempt it, because we have a personal God and Father, who is near to every soul that seeks Him. Moreover all such externals are not only not helps to spiritual worship, but may become a positive hindrance.
2. Repentance. The next application which the apostle makes of his subject is to repentance, or the need of an inward change, which was never contemplated by the ancient religions. Their whole history was an acknowledgment of impotence to effect such a change, or satisfy the burdened heart.
3. Jesus and the resurrection. One practical question still remained. How were they to find favour with this just and holy God? The answer to this question brings us to the climax of this trenchant appeal. There was only one way of return to God, and that not through images of silver and gold, but through Him who is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His Person. If they must have an image of the invisible God, they had it in the person of His Incarnate Son, who was dead and is alive again, and clothed with judicial authority.
IV. THE RESULT. It has often been pointed out that the saving impression made by Paul on this occasion was disappointingly small. Nor need this excite surprise, when we reflect on the peculiar character of the discourse, and especially the sensuous habits of the Greek mind, its philosophic culture and pride of intellect. The haughty cultured Greek would not readily yield himself to the teaching of a rude barbarian. It is seldom that we are able to see the results of our work for Christ in this world, and no doubt the great apostle never saw on earth the fruits of that day's work.
1. Some mocked. The philosophic mind of Athens would not bend to the simplicity of the gospel.
2. Others procrastinated. They had a passing glimpse of the falseness and hollowness of the present, and they thought the matter worthy of more serious consideration.
3. A few believed. We know the names of only two — Dionysius, a judge of the Areopagite court, and a woman named Damaris, of whom we are told nothing.
(D. Merson, B. D.)
I. IN RELATION TO THE UNIVERSE IN GENERAL. As —
1. The Creator of the universe: "God that made the world," etc. This would strike at once against the Epicureanism which regarded the universe as springing from a fortuitous concourse of atoms — the work of chance: and against the Stoicism, which regarded the universe as existing from eternity.
2. The Ruler of the universe: "He is Lord of heaven and earth." The universe is not like a great machine built to manage itself, it is an order of things kept in being and harmony by the unremitting agency of the Creator.
3. The Life of the universe: "He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (cf. ver. 28). The deductions which the apostle draws from this are irresistible.(1) That God is unlocalised. "He dwelleth not in temples made with hands."(2) That God is independent. "Neither is worshipped with men's hands as though He needed anything." The heathens thought their gods needed their services.
II. IN RELATION TO MANKIND IN PARTICULAR.
1. He gave to all mankind a unity of nature. "Made of one blood all nations of men." There are immense diversities subsisting between the European, the Mongolian, the Hottentot races that have led many scientists to conclude that they have descended from various stocks. Without touching on arguments of a scientific kind, we ground our belief chiefly —(1) On mental resemblances. The faculties of thinking, loving, hating, fearing, hoping, worshipping, self-commending, self-condemning, are common to the race.(2) On Scriptural statements. There is not a single passage in the Bible to suggest a doubt as to the homogeneity of the race, and the descent from one pair. The most brilliant names in science have maintained the unity of the race: Buffon, Linnaeus, Soemmering, and Cuvier, in natural history; Blumenbach, Muller, and Wagner, in anatomy; Pritchard, Latham, Pickering, among ethnologists; Adeling, W. von Humboldt, and Bunsen, among philologists; and Alexander yon Humboldt, "at whose feet all science had laid down its treasures,"
2. He appointed to all mankind their boundary in life. "And hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." There is a boundary for every man in relation to —(1) The place of his existence. The sphere which individuals occupy is a sphere which God has appointed. Every man has an orbit of his own, and that orbit is appointed by Him. The same with nations. Nations have their geographic boundary, and these have been drawn by heaven. Though they may proximately grow out of the diversity of men's organisations, customs, laws, habits, still God hath made them.(2) Time. Men and nations have their day, and the length of that day even to the minute is determined. There is no room for chance in human history.
3. He requires from all mankind the recognition of His existence. "That they should seek the Lord," etc.(1) Man's distance from God. This distance is moral, and is to be overcome by effort on man's part. That they should seek the Lord.(2) God's nearness to man. This utterance is so pregnant as to require a separate discourse.
4. He is the Father of all mankind. "We are all His offspring."
5. He demands repentance from all (ver. 30).
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. GOD THE CREATOR. Paul shows this "unknown" Deity to be "the God that made the world," etc. He was unlike the other gods in these respects —
1. There was no limit to His power. For none of the gods did the Athenians claim the power of universal creation. One could do one thing, and another something else, but this God was the maker of the world and all things in it.
2. There was no limit to His dominion. "Being Lord of heaven and earth." Other deities were supreme only in certain localities, or under certain localities, or under certain circumstances, but this God was everywhere, and always Master.
3. There was no limit to His dwelling place. "Dwelleth not in temples made with hands." The whole universe was His sanctuary.
II. GOD THE GIVER.
1. His independency. "Neither is served by men's hands," etc. Other deities, according to their notions, were hungry, and needed to be fed, and were therefore brought costly offerings of food and drink.
2. His outgiving. "Seeing He Himself giveth," etc. God was the Giver, instead of being the Receiver — like the other deities that were worshipped. The Creator could not be dependent upon the creature.
III. GOD THE FATHER. "For we are also His offspring."
1. The brotherhood of men. To the Athenians this was no palatable thought. Proud of their culture and intellectual superiority, they superciliously divided the world into Greeks and "barbarians." Paul set forth this doctrine by showing —(1) The unity of the nations. "He made of one every nation of men." They were not sprung from different sources, but from one source. They were not made of different blood, but of one blood. Having but one Father, the human race is one family.(2) The cause of the creation of nations. "That they should seek God," etc. God created men that they might adore Him. He blessed them with life that they might bless Him. He hungers for their love as a father hungers for the love of his children.
2. The Fatherhood of God.(1) The fact. "For we are also His offspring." To a heathen audience Paul does not quote from the Scriptures, but from one of their own authorities. Truth from any source is truth, and it is best to use that which will find the quickest acceptance.(2) The obligation. "We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold," etc. God who made living, seeing, breathing, speaking men, how could He Himself be like those lifeless, sightless, breathless, speechless idols?
IV. GOD THE JUDGE.
1. The time of repentance. The "times of ignorance" are gone by. God cannot overlook sin any longer on the plea that one does not know.
2. The day of judgment. That day is surely coming. Men then will be judged according to the deeds done in the body. It will be a day of terror to the wicked — a day of rejoicing for the righteous.
3. The Judge. The world once judged Christ — the time is coming when Christ will judge the world. Christ is the Saviour now — the Judge by and by.
4. The people to be judged. They were in the audience before Paul — they are in the audience of every minister of the gospel now. How did those act who were before Paul?(1) "Some mocked." Some now mock at the preacher, or at sacred things, knowing their sacredness.(2) Others did, as the majority of hearers do now — they put off deciding for the salvation of their souls.(3) But there were a few who closed with the offer of salvation. In every revival there are a few who get ready for the day of judgment. But who shall be able to characterise the folly of those who continue to walk in the way of destruction?
(M. C. Hazard.)
Some new thing.
1. A disposition to undervalue established ideas or institutions is a sign of a weak mind. A misconception is prevalent at this point. There are some, particularly among the young, who say that they will not accept anything which they have not personally investigated and found to be true; and they pride themselves upon that position, and deem it an evidence of intellectual strength and independence. As a matter of fact, it is simply an evidence of intellectual conceit or moral debility. Has the world learned nothing in all these thousands of years? Has it proved nothing to be true? Does the endorsement of ages create no favourable presumption? A sensible man will no more refuse to become a Christian because he has not had time to investigate for himself the history and claims of Christianity, than he will refuse to become a citizen of the country in which he was born and reared until he has satisfied himself by years of study that the institutions of that country are better than the institutions of other countries. He who declines to avail himself of an electric car, because he has not yet learned what electricity is, is not a wise man, but a fool.
2. In this restless age we need a progressive conservatism, a willingness to accept the new when it is the true, but a holding fast to the old, which has demonstrated its right to be. This gospel which we preach, and in which lies the hope of the race, is not a new gospel. And we love it because it is old, because time has not been able to weaken it or exposure to tarnish it — because all the attacks of earth and hell have not been able to overthrow it.
(A. J. Brown.)
LinksActs 17:21 NIV
Acts 17:21 NLT
Acts 17:21 ESV
Acts 17:21 NASB
Acts 17:21 KJV
Acts 17:21 Bible Apps
Acts 17:21 Parallel
Acts 17:21 Biblia Paralela
Acts 17:21 Chinese Bible
Acts 17:21 French Bible
Acts 17:21 German Bible
Acts 17:21 Commentaries