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…
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.
II. IT STIRRED HIM TO ACTING.
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.
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.