And they that conducted Paul brought him to Athens: and receiving a commandment to Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed…
I. THE SUBJECT ON WHICH THE MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL ADDRESSES MEN IS WORTHY OF THE ATTENTION OF CULTIVATED MINDS.
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.
II. PAUL WAS IN POSSESSION OF KNOWLEDGE ON THESE SUBJECTS WHICH WAS IN ADVANCE OF WHAT THESE PHILOSOPHERS POSSESSED. In considering this, notice —
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,
III. THE LESSONS SUGGESTED BY THE DISCOURSE.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.