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…
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.)
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.