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PAUL AT ATHENS
III. QUAR., LESSON III., JULY 16, ACTS 17:22-31
Golden Text—”God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24
Having been by divine providence delivered and honorably discharged from the
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prison at Philippi, the zealous and undaunted Apostle to the Gentiles was again about his Master’s business; and the interim between the account of our last lesson and that of this lesson shows him (1) giving his parting counsel and encouragement to the Philippian Church at the house of Lydia; (2) thence departing for Thessalonica, where he again boldly declared the truth and made many converts, and again brought upon himself the wrath of many enemies; (3) and when persecuted in that city and no longer permitted to preach Christ, we find him escaping by night to Berea, where similar success and similar persecution awaited him. His work there accomplished, we next find him in Athens, whither he had fled alone without his companions, Silas and Timothy, who were to follow him.
While here awaiting the arrival of the brethren, he first quietly took observation of the religious conditions of this great city, far famed for its literary and artistic genius—the city where Homer sung, where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle philosophised, where Solon promulgated his famous code of laws, and where Demosthenes held his audiences spell-bound with his eloquence. But Paul was stirred with holy zeal when, notwithstanding its marvelous crop of wise men and philosophers and all its learning and accomplishments, he beheld this famous city wholly given over to idolatry.—Verse 16.
With characteristic zeal he began at once to present the profounder philosophy of divine truth, both in the synagogues of the Jews, and daily to the multitudes in the market-places. This new philosophy soon attracted the inquiring minds of many of the two most distinguished schools of Greek philosophy—the Stoics and the Epicureans. As they listened to the eloquent logic of the Apostle in the market-places they said among themselves, This is no place for such profound discourse; and they led the Christian orator to the Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill, where the supreme court of Athens convened and where Demosthenes and other eloquent orators had spoken. From this notable place many of the learned and wise, in the wisdom of this world, heard for the first time the heavenly wisdom, the new divine philosophy which far outshines the wisdom of the world.
VERSES 22,23. The courteous address of the Apostle to the cultured audience before him is made to appear rather rude by our common translation—a rudeness quite incompatible, too, with the Apostle’s own culture and refinement, and with his tact in presenting truth. The Revised Version is an improvement, and shows the Apostle to have been complimentary rather than rude: „Ye men of Athens [the address usual with all Greek orators], in all things I perceive that ye are somewhat religious; for as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription—’TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore [by your own confession] ye worship in ignorance, this set I forth unto you.”
This exhibition of tact in the presentation of the truth is worthy of the imitation of all who are seeking to declare the good tidings with effect. It is not wise to begin with a rude attempt to batter down prejudices, but rather we should begin with that which is already known or conceded, and then proceed by logical and Scriptural reasonings from the known to establish that which is as yet unknown to the hearer.
VERSES 24,25. The one true God, hitherto unknown to the Athenians, as the author and sustainer of all life, and hence incomparably greater than the gods they had hitherto worshiped, instead of needing gifts, is himself the giver of every good and perfect gift.
VERSE 26 declares the brotherhood of all the world of mankind (aside from the Church), and the earth to be their dwelling place; and that God has fixed times and seasons in working out his great plan respecting them.
VERSES 27,28. God is near to all who seek him, even though it be a blind feeling after him as an unknown God. As certain of their own poets had said, and so had come very near the truth, We are his offspring—the offspring of his creative power.
VERSE 29. The logic which would trace the existence of living intelligent creatures to a source so unworthy that man could imitate it in silver and gold, is evidently faulty and untrue.
VERSE 30. God is not holding man accountable for this ignorance of him and his ways; but when the truth is presented, it should be regarded as a call from God to repentance, and the knowledge brings a responsibility.
VERSE 31 declares an appointed time for the world’s judgment and Christ Jesus as
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the Judge of all the earth; and that this, God’s declared purpose, is corroborated by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
VERSES 32-34 show the usual results of the preaching of the truth. Like a magnet it attracts those who have an affinity for it, and others will not have it. Some mocked, and others desired to hear him further; but the real lovers of truth were evidently few. Worldly wisdom is not of itself sufficient to find out God; and, except when accompanied by humility and sincerity, it proves an obstacle rather than an aid to the attainment of that heavenly wisdom whose price is far above rubies.
— July 1 & 15, 1893 —