PAUL AT ATHENS.
Christianity in contact with cultivated mind.
Mars' Hill.—Paul's audience.—Was his discourse on a subject worthy their attention t—They considered it so.—Some regard religious truth as no concern of theirs.—Some only come near it.—Some have a distaste for it.—All truth ought to be investigated.—Religious truth is as important as any.—It is of personal importance.—Human scholarship exempts no man from its claim.—Socrates and Alcibiades. —Was PauTs discourse in advance of what Greek philosophers knew?—Prudence evinced in it;—he made no attack on their views; commended their zeal; referred to their perplexity; offered the knowledge they sought; argued from their own admitted principles.—His teachings, twofold: (1) those derivable from their own principles; (2) those peculiar to the Christian religion.—Christianity does not shrink from investigation. — It is still in advance of human philosophy.—It will always be so.—Argument for its Divine origin.—The Brahmin and the microscope.
"And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, which thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would kn w, therefore, what these things mean."
Acts xvii. 19, 20.
THERE is, in history, scarcely any more interesting object of contemplation than Paul at Athens:—the man; the place; the religion which he came to announce; the persons by whom he was surrounded; the address which he delivered. It may be regarded as, in a manner, the contact of the Asiatic with the European mind; it was the contact of a Christian mind with the most cultivated heathen mind of the world, and was, if not the first, yet among the most striking instances in which Christianity has been brought into collision with highly cultivated intellect. Paul had often come in contact with Jewish mind, and with the forms of Jewish belief; he had travelled much in Arabia, in Syria, in Asia Minor, and had not unfrequently encountered heathen mind under various forms of idolatry; he had recently passed into Europe, to convey the knowledge of Christianity,—the first to preach it in that quarter of the globe; and he was now in Greece,—at Athens—on Mars' Hill.
On no other spot on the earth could such an audience have been gathered around the apostle, as at the Areopagus.1 In that .place there could have been assembled, on such an occasion (and, for anything that appears to the contrary, there were actually assembled there at that time), the mostly highly-cultivated minds of the world. The Greek mind was eminently acute and subtle; it had been profoundly engaged in examining the great questions pertaining to philosophy, morality, and religion; it had pushed these inquiries farther than any other class of minds had ever done, and probably as far as it would be possible for the human mind ever to do, without the assistance of revelation. They whom Paul here addressed belonged also to a people who were in possession of a language better fitted to the purposes of philosophy, oratory, history, dialetics, poetry, than any then spoken; a language better fitted than any other to convey abstract ideas, and to express subtle discriminations of thought.
Surrounded by such minds, it is a matter of interest to inquire what such a minister of Christ could say that would be in advance of the knowledge which his hearers themselves possessed,—in advance of the truths which the cultivated mind of Greece had been able to discover respecting God, and His government,
1 On the place and the scene, see the remarks of Conybeare and Howson, vjl. i. pp. 346—348.
and the conditions of His favour; or, which is the same thing, what Christianity has to say in advance of what the mind of man can reach by its own independent inquiries. It is a claim which Christianity necessarily makes, that on a certain class of subjects, and those of more importance to man than any other, it is always able to give instruction to the minds of men, however highly cultivated and refined; that it is always able to communicate that which "the world by wisdom" cannot find out. Not undervaluing what man can himself secure,—not rebuking him for applying his mind to those great subjects,—and not setting aside the results of human wisdom on the practical affairs of this life,—it yet claims the ability to impart to men, at any period of the world, new and higher views of truth than they can otherwise obtain, and to carry the mind upward to a region of thought lying wholly beyond the natural grasp of the human powers.
What, therefore, would the minister and representative of the Christian religion have to say on Mars' Hill? We can readily conceive what he would have to say to the ignorant and down-trodden slaves in Attica; we can readily understand what Christianity has to say to Caffrarians, and to the inhabitants of the Fiji Islands; but what had its ambassador to communicate to philosophers at Athens? what had he to say to a people among whom Plato, and Aristotle, and Socrates, and Zeno, and Pythagoras, had lived and taught? what had he to reply when Stoics and Epicureans summoned him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new' doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is ? we would know what these things mean."
There are two things implied when a preacher stands, as Paul did, before such classes of men. One is, that the subject on which he proposes to address them is worthy of their attention; the other is, that he is in possession of knowledge beyond what they possess, so that what he has to communicate will instruct them. On these two thoughts I propose here to dwell. The object before us, will be Paul At Athens; the general subject, Chr1st1an1ty 1n Contact W1th Cultivated M1nd.
I. The first point to be illustrated is, that the subject on which the minister of the Gospel addresses men is worthy of the attention of cultivated minds.
There ought to be no occasion for arguing this point, for it should be apparent at once that the subject of religion is in itself of sufficient importance to claim the attention of such an audience as Paul had. It is important, however, to remark that it is more necessary to do this now than it was for Paul when he addressed the Athenians. In this respect there is a remarkable difference between heathen Athens and the communities where Christianity prevails. Paul felt himself under no necessity of showing to his hearers that the subject was worthy of their attention. They had already expressed their sense of the importance of the inquiry by inviting him to come to the most public place in their city:—the place where he could best address the people; the place where the people had been addressed a thousand times. by the most celebrated orators of Greece, on occasions of deepest interest to liberty and law; and the place whence the opinions given by magistrates of highest rank and learning had gone forth to influence Greece and the world. We, on the contrary, are obliged to awaken inquiry in the minds of this class of men, and to show why it is worthy of their profound thought. Some of the reasons which make this especially proper and necessary are the following.
First. Among the class of persons that, in other respects, would be represented by the philosophers of Athens, religion does not come within the range of subjects to which they propose to direct their inquiries. The questions respecting religion, or theology, lie beyond or aside from the investigations which they design to pursue. They regard these as belonging to a separate department of knowledge, and as appertaining, in a great measure, to a distinct profession—the clergy. Despairing of being able to know everything, men have learned to think not only that there is to be a "division of labour," but that this is to extend to the investigations of truth as well as to other kinds of toil; and, instead of regarding the great inquiries about religion as of common interest to all men, they have set them by themselves as appertaining only to those who feel themselves called to pursue such studies as a matter of professional interest. Their lives are devoted to other things. They are chemists, geologists, jurists, surgeons, critics, editors, philosophers, mathematicians, orators, poets, historians, not theologians. Nature, in the particular department which they have selected, is to be their study, not the Bible; the working of physical forces, not the plan of salvation; the laws which rule in the material world, not the revealed laws of God. Extensively it is felt, by these classes of men, that one who is engaged in these pursuits need no more trouble himself about the subtleties of religion, than for example, a geologist should about the rules of Greek prosody, or the poetry of Homer, or the works of Rubens or Raphael. Every thing in its place, they say, and every man for his own chosen pursuit. So thought not the Athenians. By them the subject of religion was regarded as a matter in which they were as much interested as any others. Paul found this state of mind; it was not necessary for him to create it .
Second. From some cause, the great mass of men, when they are pursuing other inquiries, 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 the history of the sciences and of the arts, it is often painfully affecting to see how near men have come to some brilliant discovery or invention that would have changed the aspect of the world, and that would have made their own names immortal;—but either they died just as the great result was about to be reached; or, for some unknown reason, their zeal died away, and they lost their interest in the matter. They approached it, and yet missed it; and we wonder that they could have been so near, and not have found it. Thus we often see how near some bold navigator has come to an undiscovered country, and has just turned the prow of his vessel back, when, if he had kept on his way a little longer, he would have made his name immortal. Thus the Chinese long possessed the art of printing from solid wooden blocks, and all that was needed, in order to discover the art of printing as that term is used now, was to cut up their wooden blocks into separate and moveable letters ;—yet they never took this simple step. In like manner, they long understood the properties of the loadstone or the magnet, but it never occurred to them to apply these to the purposes of navigation. The Arabians, under the Caliphate at Bagdad, were on the verge of the most splendid discoveries In chemistry, but they paused just before they had attained them. So it has been in religion. Nothing can be more painful than to see how near to God men come in the pursuit of science, and then pause or turn away. One can hardly understand how it is possible that they should go so far, and not take the one step further, by which they would be led to the recognition of a Divine Being. In astronomy, for example, such men seem almost to look upon the throne of God; but they will not allow their minds to take what would seem obviously to be the next step, and many an astronomer remains ignorant of Him who made the worlds. In anatomy, one can hardly imagine how it is that he who studies the human frame can tail to learn that there is a God, and yet many an one in that study comes up to the point where it seems impossible that he should not be convinced of this truth, and then pauses and turns aside.
Third. When men do come up to the point, and when the demonstration of the existence of a God, and of a moral government, and of the need of a revelation is forced upon them, they find the subject in an eminent degree distasteful to them. They see no beauty in what is disclosed to them, and perceive in it nothing to induce them to pursue the inquiry farther. They, in fact, see much that is repellent in these disclosures. They have come into a region where the ideas of obligation and duty,—the thoughts of eternity and retribution,—the subjects of prayer and repentance, of death and the judgment,—are likely to be predominant;—and they are not attracted by these themes. They reach that point referred to by the apostle Paul, when on another occasion, addressing Greeks, as he was now, he said, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Some of those very philosophers who had invited Paul to address them on Mars' Hill, evinced this spirit when in his discourse he advanced to the higher truths of religion;—part openly "mocked," and part, probably cherishing the same feeling, but designing to carry out the idea of Grecian courtesy, and not to give needless offence, though really showing how distasteful the subject had become, said, "We will hear thee again of this matter."
It is proper, therefore, to show that the subject of religion is worthy the attention of this class of minds. In endeavouring to do so, we may observe—
(1.) That it is an avowed principle with such persons, that all subjects are to be investigated; that all truth is of importance, and has a claim to attention. In other words, it is a just maxim in philosophy, that truth is to be followed wherever it may lead us, and is to be yielded to in its proper influence, disclose what it may on any subject whatsoever. No man can be a philosopher in the true sense of the word,—no man can pursue science in the true spirit of science, who does not most strictly and rigidly act on this principle, that we are never to start back from the disclosures of truth, —that we are never to be deterred in our inquiries because what is disclosed may be distasteful to us, or because it may cross the path of our preconceived opinions, and even require of us the sacrifice of former views, or because it may demand of us the performance of painful duty, or because it may expose us to ridicule, or because it may interfere with our pleasures. Every man who has any pretensions to science, would condemn himself as destitute of the true spirit of a philosopher, if he should detect in himself a disposition to pause in his inquiries when he found himself approaching a conclusion that would overthrow a favourite theory which he had cherished, or even confirm the opinions of a rival. And why should the astronomer, whose glass penetrates the fields of ether, revealing new worlds and systems, 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 who studies and admires the skill and wisdom displayed in the human frame shrink back from the conclusion that it had an intelligent Contriver and Maker? Why should he hesitate to allow these disclosures to lead him up to that Great and Holy One, in whose being and perfections there is infinitely more to admire? 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. I do not now say, more worthy; but I content myself with saying that, in the range of human inquiries, the matters pertaining to religion are of as much importance as any other subjects of inquiry, and of as much importance to cultivated minds as to others. The Greeks, as a people, had evinced their own convictions of this truth, for more than most other nations they had turned their attention to these great inquiries. When the Athenians asked Paul to come -to Mars' Hill, they were acting in accordance with all that had occurred in their own history. Stranger though he was, Jew though he was, a follower of the "Nazarene" though he was, yet the very subject of his discourses had, in their view, such an importance as to justify all attempts to learn from him something more about the nature of religion. 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 where Socrates, Zeno, Pythagoras, and Plato had taught; no one would feel that this was a departure from the national character. Wherever else such an act, or such an inquiry, might excite contempt or ridicule, it would not be in Athens. No man, no people, no class of people, however learned, exalted, or advanced in civilization and in the arts of life, act contrary to the dictates of the highest wisdom, when they give themselves to earnest thought about the Creator of the world; the origin of man; the methods of the Divine administration ; the redemption and immortality of the soul; the question about the resurrection of the dead, and the future state. And when men, weary with their inquiries into nature, and saddened with the few intelligent answers which nature gives to the questions that agitate their souls, return to their homes from the laboratory or the dissecting-room, and, in the presence of their families, or alone in their closets, take the Bible to ascertain what it says, or kneel before the Father of lights, and ask guidance on these great subjects from on high, they are doing nothing of which any man should be ashamed. 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 is not merely a thing abstractly of interest and importance. It does not merely open great questions relating to the welfare of society, to refinement of manners, to the happiness of domestic life; but it is a subject of personal importance to each individual. Every one of the Athenian philosophers who invited and accompanied Paul to Mars' Hill, whether Stoic or Epicurean, and whether he realized it or not, had personally as deep an interest in the matters which were to be discussed as Paul himself had,—as deep as any member of the human family could ever have. That interest, moreover, was not at all lessened, but rather augmented, by any claims to profound talent, to metaphysical acuteness, to exalted rank, to rich and varied learning, or to refined and polished manners, which any of them might have, or might suppose they had.
It is greatly to be wished that the class of persons now referred to, would disabuse themselves, or allow others to disabuse them, of a deception—almost a hallucination—into which they seem unconsciously to fall, as founded on the idea that they are somehow exempt from the claims and requirements of religion. It would be much — very much — if they could be brought to feel that great talents are not, before God, a substitute for love to Himself; that the possession of a profound intellect does not free any man from the obligations resting on the heart for purity and holiness; that a reputation for attainments in science does not settle the question whether he is righteous before his Maker; that refined manners are not, in the sight of God, a substitute for the graces of the Spirit; that God does not justify men on the ground of human learning; and that attainments in chemistry, anatomy, geology, botany, astronomy,—or skill in sculpture and painting,— do not prepare a man to die. Paul would have said to Epicurus or Zeno, that dialectical skill does not necessarily commend a man to the favour of God;—to Phidias and Praxiteles, that the productions of the chisel, though they may secure immortal fame on earth, do not make immortal blessedness certain beyond the grave ;—to Leonidas and his brave Spartans, that great military bravery, and great services rendered to one's native land, though these may secure the plaudits ol men, even in remote futurity, do not necessarily secure the approbation of Him who shall judge the quick and the dead, and that laurels won on the battle-field are not always followed by an "incorruptible crown."
No more lamentable delusion has ever settled down on the misguided human mind than the notion that a man can be placed by the fortune of birth or talents, or by his own efforts, in a situation where he is released from the obligation to be, in the most thorough sense of the term, a religious man. Did not the same God make him, that has made others? Is not the law of God binding on him, as it is on others? Is he not to die, as well as others? Will not the grave be the same to him, as to the humblest of the race? Is he not to stand at the judgment-bar, as they are? Is he not, equally with them, responsible to his Maker? Can any one prove— can any one seriously imagine—that by wealth, or rank, or'learning, or accomplishments, he can place himself beyond the reach of moral obligation, or that in the sight of his Maker, these things can be a substitute for obedience to Him? To ask these questions is enough. There can be but one answer,—that in proportion as men raise themselves up by their talents and acquirements, in that proportion do they augment their responsibility, and in that proportion also make it equally criminal and dangerous to live without God.
In this connexion it may not be improper to venture a remark, of a speculative character, on what might have occurred if it had been the lot of Socrates to meet with Jesus of Nazareth. With the known character of Socrates as an inquirer after truth,—with his earnest searchings after what was true, wherever he found it,— with his love for the pure in morals and the true in religion,—with the acknowledged perplexity of his own mind in regard to the great questions which pertain to God, and to the human soul, and to the future state,— and with his thorough conviction that the system of religion in his own country was false, and the worship of the gods of Greece a vain service,—is it too much to believe that in the presence of such a Teacher as Jesus was, so humble, so pure, so wise, so familiar with these great questions, and uttering truths so far in advance of all that the world had known, the Grecian sage would have seated himself at His feet as a learner? Socrates is represented by Plato, in his Dialogue on Prayer, as telling Alcibiades that we do not know what we ought to pray for, and adding "We must, therefore, wait till such time as we may learn how to behave towards the gods, and towards men."—"But when will that time come?" says Alcibiades, "and who is it that will instruct us? for I would see this man, who he is."—" It is one," replies Socrates, "who takes care of you ; but . . . the darkness that hangs over your mind must be removed before you are able to discern what is good and what is evil."—"Let him remove from my mind, the darkness, and what else he pleases," rejoins Alcibiades; "I am determined to refuse nothing he shall order me, whoever he is, so that I may become the better for it."1 With what profound respect (may we suppose) such a man would have listened to the teachings of Him who spake as never man spake.
II. We are to illustrate the fact that Paul was in possession of knowledge on these subjects which was in advance of what these philosophers possessed; or that the religion which he came to communicate was of a nature to impart instruction to them. It taught truths which they knew not; it answered questions which the unaided human mind is not able to answer. In considering this, we may notice,
I. The manner in which Paul approached the subject of his peculiar doctrines.2 The wisdom which the apostle evinced, in circumstances of so much difficulty,
1 Addison's "Spectator," No. 207.
'In our common Version, there are, in the rendering of Paul's discourse at Athens, a few infelicities of expression. For language more exactly expressing the sense, I would refer to the translation by Conybeare and Howson ("Life of St. Paul," vol. i. pp. 350, 351). Of this discourse, in general, as bearing on the manner in which Paul introduced his subject, I may extract the following remarks from the same volume:—" We observe, also, how the whole course of the oration was regulated by his own peculiar prudence. He was brought into a position, when he might easily have been ensnared into the use of words, which would have brought down upon him the indignation of all the city. Had he begun by attacking the national gods in the midst of their sanctuaries, and with the Areopagites on the seats near him, he would have been in almost as great danger as Socrates before him. Yet he not only avoids the snare, but uses the very difficulty and on an occasion of so much importance, deserve a somewhat particular notice. The following points are worthy of attention :—
(a.) He made no direct attack on their religion. He did not even advert to the evil of idolatry, or to its necessary influence. He did not awaken their prejudices, and alarm their fears, as if his mission among them was to overturn their altars, to destroy their temples, to disrobe their priests, or to effect sudden and violent changes in their social organization.
(b.) 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. The city was full of altars and temples, on which all the skill of sculpture had been lavished, and which won the admiration of all travellers —illustrating an uncommon zeal in the cause of religion, and showing how the public mind estimated the value
of his position to make a road to the convictions of those who heard him. He becomes a heathen to the heathen. He does not say that he is introducing new divinities. He rather implies the contrary, and gently draws his hearers away from polytheism, by telling them that he was making known the God whom they themselves were ignorantly endeavouring to worship. And if the speech is characterised by St. Paul's prudence, it is marked by that wisdom of his Divine Master, which is the pattern of all Christian teaching. As our blessed Lord used the tribute-money for the instruction of his disciples, and drew living lessons from the water in the well of Samaria, so the apostle of the Gentiles employed the familiar objects of Athenian life to tell them of what was close to them, and yet they knew not. He had carefully observed the outward appearance o( the city. He had seen an altar with an expressive, though humiliating inscription. And, using this inscription as a text, he spoke to them . . . the words of Eternal Wisdom."—Ibid. p. 349.
and importance of Divine worship. He found a city evincing that very interest in the general subject, which he regarded as appropriate for man, and which he therefore desired to secure everywhere.
(c.) He referred to their acknowledged difficulties,— to the avowal of their own ignorance or uncertainty, as recorded on an altar which they had themselves reared in so prominent a place as to attract the attention (even among the multitude of altars and temples) of a passing stranger:—To THE UNKNOWn God. Such an altar in fact existed. It was reared on an occasion when the city had been suddenly delivered from pestilence. That the deliverance was the work of divinity—of a "God "—all their rational convictions led them to believe; and their ideas of propriety led them to believe, also, that the act should be recorded and commemorated on some appropriate monument, or by some appropriate memorial. As they had avowed openly that they knew not what God it was, it could not be uncourteous for a stranger to refer to the doubts of which they made no concealment.
(d.) He proposed to reveal the God whom they thus unconsciously adored; to lead them up to the real source of every blessing. It could offend none of their prejudices to do this; it would be doing no dishonour, in their view, to the claims of any other God. Here was a field wholly vacant, in respect to which, if Paul had any knowledge, it could not but be supposed that it would be acceptable to them. It was, moreover, taking no unfair advantage. It was no mere art of a rhetorician. It was true in all the senses in which he urged it, that the God whom he proclaimed was that God who had interposed in the time of the pestilence.
(<?.) Paul agreed, as far as possible, with the philosophers who heard him; and he reasoned from their own admitted principles. In fact what he stated in this discourse is little more than what they would readily see must be fair conclusions from the doctrines which they themselves held. As he availed himself on other occasions of the principles held by those with whom he was reasoning,—as, according to his own statement elsewhere (1 Cor. ix. 20—23), and in accordance with what is allowed everywhere, he sought to win men by every proper concession, and every proper compliance with their habits and views,—so, here, he makes use of the principles held by his hearers, as a g1ound of appeal. He argues as they argued. He agrees with them as far as he can. He avails himself of admitted truths to prepare the way for the statement of truths from which he might apprehend that they would recoil. He, therefore, quotes their own poets,— thus showing that he was not averse to what they so much prided themselves on, and that he was familiar with the writings which had made them illustrious. 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 success1ul. 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. We are prepared, then, to consider the doctrines which he made known to them.
These were of two kinds :—those which were based on principles that they themselves held, or which might be urged as derived from those principles; and those which were peculiar to the Christian system.
(a.) Those which were based on principles that they themselves held,—though in advance of their views. These were such as the following :—
(1.) The existence of a God :—to them the "unknown God." By rearing the altar in their city with this inscription, they admitted the fact that there was such a Being. Paul affirmed that it was so, and proceeded to disclose to them His character, attributes, and claims. The statement, that there was a "God," though "unknown" to them, was, in fact, though not in form, a denial of the whole doctrine of idolatry, and was doubtless designed by Paul to be such, though he meant to present it in such a manner as not needlessly to shock them. The inference was suggested more directly and clearly in the subsequent part of the discourse, when he declared that this was the Maker of the world, who had made of one blood all the nations of men. This assertion, then, though founded on principles admitted by them, went far beyond the doctrines held in Greece, or in any part of the heathen world; for the belief of the Greeks, as of other nations, had been, not that there was one God, but that there were many gods.
(2.) The fact that this "unknown" God was the Creator of the world: "God that made the world, and all things therein." This, too, was a statement in advance of all that was held on the subject of the existence and origin of the uerse by the men who had invited him to state his views, though here again the statement was so made as not to shock their prejudices. Part among them—the Stoics—held that all things were originated and controlled by "Fate;" part—the Epicureans—that all things were originated and controlled by chance;— part resolved the origin of the world into a "fortuitous concourse of atoms;" part acknowledged nothing higher than physical laws; part supposed that the uerse had its origin in the creative power of subordinate divinities. None of the gods that were worshipped in Greece corresponded with the idea of One Infinite and Eternal Being, as Creator of the uerse.
(3.) The immensity of God: He "dwelleth not in temples made with hands." He is too great, too exalted, too unlimited in His being and perfections, to have His abode in a temple of human structure. This, too, was an idea in advance of any that was held in Athens, and would vitally affect all their notions of religion. The gods which they worshipped, did, in their apprehension, dwell in the temples which human hands had reared. In each of those temples, there was a sacred recess—a dark, retired, solitary room—where the god was supposed to reside, and which was his abode. This was the idea which made the temples sacred, and clothed with sanctity those who officiated at their altars. The idea of Paul, if embraced by these Athenians, would at once have changed their conceptions in regard to the numerous temples which surrounded him, and which adorned the city on every side.
(4.) The independence of God: "Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." This, too, struck at a favourite doctrine of idolatry, and was quite in advance of the views which prevailed even in Greece. It was a doctrine, nearly uersal in the heathen world, that the gods were sustained by the food offered in sacrifice; that that food was actually consumed by them; that they were thus dependent on their worshippers, and "needed" the service thus rendered by mortals,—being not less dependent on men than men were dependent on them.
(5.) The unity of the human race: "And hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth." No more far-reaching principle, perhaps, could have been stated than this; none more in advance of the prevalent belief of those whom Paul addressed; none more deeply affecting the faith and the conduct of mankind; none that would ultimately do more to f^fflflf" liberty, to break the bonds of slavery, to dethrone tyrants, and to lay the foundation for just views of government—a truth in advance of any held even in Greece. It was a truth far in advance of that age,—for then, as too often now, the disposition prevailed to divide the world into races, castes, and clans, and to regard one portion accordingly as inferior and subordinate to another. Eighteen hundred years have passed away, and it is, in many respects, a truth still in advance of the age in which we live.
(6.) The grand purpose for which certain arrangements had been made in respect to the human race: "And ordained to each the appointed seasons of their existence, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him." He has so fixed the boundaries of the nations, —so assigned and arranged their nationality,—so broken up the one great family into different communities,—so separated them from each other, by their lineage, their languages, and their manners, or by lakes, mountains, seas, rivers, and deserts,—that the whole race should be in the best circumstances to seek and to find their Maker, and that all separate and independent inquiries among the nations might tend to the one result, leading them to find out God. In this arrangement there may be a depth of wisdom which we, even now, are little able to comprehend; and Paul may have stated a principle here, not only far in advance of any view as to the origin of nations which prevailed in Greece, but far beyond any which we are yet able to fathom in regard to the arrangements by which the one great race is broken up into nations, tribes, clans, and families. Perverted as the arrangement may have been, and seems to have been, by having been made the occasion of war among rival nations, or by having been made the pretext by which one nation has reduced another to slavery, yet (if it had not been thus perverted) it might have been the wisest and best arrangement to lead men up to God. We can see an illustration of its wisdom, on a small scale, as manifested in the smallest of those divisions,— that of the family. Is there any arrangement conceivable which could be made more conducive to the great purposes of religion than this? On a larger scale, may there not have been some similar advantage as derived from the division into tribes and nations .?1
(7.) The spirituality of God and of religion: "Forasmuch as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." Paul, in Athens, saw around him gods that were made of gold, and silver, and stone, graven with the highest perfection of art, as z/the divinity could be represented by molten and graven images. Greece, too, in this respect, represented and reflected the uersal sentiment of mankind. How far in advance of that sentiment was the declaration thus made by a Christian apostle on Mars' Hill, and in the very presence of these idolaters!
Thus far Paul had advanced sentiments founded on their own principles, or fairly derived from principles held by them. We turn then to the second class of truths advanced by him.
(6.) The doctrines which were peculiar to the Christian system; those which might be regarded as among the "strange things" which (they said) had been brought "to their ears," and in reference to which particularly they
1 This is a mere suggestion. It would, I think, if carried out, furnish material for an entire treatise in illustrating the wisdom of God.
had asked an explanation from his own lips. We are to remember here that Paul was interrupted—rudely interrupted—in his discourse, even in Athens (ver. 32, 33),—and that we have but a fragment of what he intended to say, and for which he had been preparing the way, so that he could say it in a manner which would give the least offence. Yet we have a statement which he was permitted to make before he was interrupted,—a statement of the utmost importance to the class of men gathered on Mars' Hill, and to all other men. That statement consists of the following particulars.
(1.) God now commands and requires uersal repentance. This was the great doctrine with which John the Baptist and the Saviour of the world had both commenced their ministry,—a doctrine not new in the sense that men do not understand the nature of repentance, or that they never feel its obligation—(for these things are laid in the very nature of man),—but new in the sense that, being now proclaimed by God as a matter of obligation, it is implied that the penitent may find pardon. Of this, man can never be assured by the mere light of nature, for repentance does not repair the evils of the past, or make atonement for sin; it does not bring back health ruined by dissipation, or property wasted in vice, or reputation lost by crime; nor does it heal the broken heart of a parent, crushed by the folly and sin of a son or a daughter; nor restore innocence to the seduced; nor recall the murdered from the grave. How, then, can man by the light of nature know that the favour of God may be secured, and past sins forgiven?
(2.) That God will judge the world. This doctrine was not absolutely new to the world, for all men have, in a certain sense, apprehended it,—but new in the assurance that a particular "day" had been appointed for the purpose; and in the statement—a statement which would be so startling to an Athenian philosopher,—that it was to be done by a "man"—by one in human form; —a statement suggesting the inquiry who he could be, and what would be the extraordinary character and rank on account of which he would be elevated to that high office.
(3.) The doctrine that there would be a resurrection of the dead ;—as derived from the fact that God had raised from the dead Him who was to judge the world,—implying that He had been laid in the grave, and opening the way for a statement of the reasons why He had been put to death. All this would be new to the Athenians; it would be deemed by them to be incredible and absurd. Yet it suggested a great truth in advance of all that they had learned, and it disclosed what by their philosophy they could never have learned. In all their speculations— (and their minds had been more given to that point than the minds of any other people)—they had never been able to satisfy themselves that even the soul would continue to exist after death; and it seems never to have occurred to them, as a subject even demanding inquiry, that the body would be raised from the grave. Even, those among them who had dared to hope that the soul might be immortal, had never been able to suggest arguments in proof of it which convinced either themselves or others. Cicero said that when he read the arguments of Plato on the subject, they seemed for the time to make some impression on him, but as soon as he laid down the book, the impression wholly glided away. It may be safely affirmed that the arguments of Plato—the profoundest that the world has ever discovered—on the immortality of the soul, would convince no man now. We are not to be surprised, therefore, that when Paul stated it as a fact that this had actually occurred,—that one who had been dead had been restored to life again,—part turned away in disgust, and part politely left him, saying that they would hear him again of that matter.
What Paul would have said, if he had been allowed to proceed, we can have no difficulty in ascertaining, for we have abundant evidence in his writings of what his faith was. We have only, therefore, to take the system which he has at leisure disclosed to us in the Epistles to the Romans, to the Corinthians, to the Ephesians, and to the Hebrews, in order to understand what must have been the substance of those "strange things" which he brought to the people of Athens;—the great plan of redemption by the sacrifice on the Cross; the incarnation of the Son of God; the atonement made for sin; the doctrine of justification by faith; the Divine purposes or decrees; the native and uersal depravity of man; the necessity of regeneration by the Holy Ghost; and the offer to all mankind of a free and full pardon. These doctrines were immeasurably in advance of all that Greek philosophy had discovered. On these great themes Christian apostles claimed to be able to instruct the wisest of men.
The lessons which are suggested by the view which has been taken of Paul's discourse on Mars' Hill, are the following:—
First. Christianity does not shrink from investigation. Paul manifested no reluctance to accede to the request when invited to go to a place so conspicuous and so celebrated, and where he was certain to be surrounded by the most eminent philosophers in the world, but evidently rejoiced in the opportunity thus furnished of proclaiming the truths of the Gospel where they would be most likely to be subjected to a thorough examination. If there was any place in the world which an impostor might have dreaded, it was Athens; if there was any spot in Athens where he would be most likely to be appalled, it would be that to which Paul was conducted. Yet we have in this case an illustration of a very marked feature in the character of those to whom the Saviour had entrusted the business of propagating His religion. Their Master had said that "repentance and remission of sins" should be "preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem;" and they understood it to be fairly implied in this that while they were to visit places and people the most obscure and uncivilized, they should, also, seek to make His Gospel known in the chief seats of influence, of learning, and of power, where its claims would undergo the strictest scrutiny.
Second. The history of the world, since Paul stood on Mars' Hill, has made no difference in the relation of Christianity to the world in the matter under consideration. It claimed then to be in advance of the world on subjects of the highest interest to mankind; on these same subjects, it claims to be now not less in advance of the world than it was then. The world has, indeed, made great progress in these eighteen hundred years. In civilization, in arts, in science, in all that promotes comfort as pertaining to this life, it is immeasurably in advance of what Corinth, Athens, and Rome, at that time were. But the world has made no material advances in the knowledge of the great truths of religion by the aid of science or philosophy. There are truths which science and philosophy do not disclose. The astronomer through his telescope sees millions of distant worlds that could not be discovered by the naked eye,—but he does not see God. The electrical machine throws out vivid sparks—a blaze of light,—but it does not reveal God. The chemist analyzes nature, resolves the world around into primitive elements, combines and compounds those elements anew, but he does not see God. From none of these things do we obtain an answer to the great questions which man asks about the moral character of his Maker; about the soul and its immortality; about the future state; about redemption from sin; about the way of pardon. On these subjects the world has made no progress. Science and philosophy have made no new disclosures; and even now, a man desirous of learning all that he can learn without revelation—would not direct his steps to the observatory of the astronomer, or the laboratory of the modern chemist, but would set himself to the study of what was taught in the Academy, the Lyceum, and the Porch at Athens. It is true, therefore, that on these points, of so much interest to man, Christianity is still as much in advance of what the human mind can discover by its own unaided efforts, as it was when Paul stood on Mars' Hill.
Third. 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. If it stood in advance of human wisdom in Greece, and if the discoveries of eighteen hundred years have not, in this respect, changed the relations of the two, it may be presumed that Christianity will ever onward maintain this advanced position, and be fitted still, in the remotest ages, to instruct mankind about God, and the human soul, and the way of salvation. Progress will still doubtless be made in science, civilization, and the arts. Nature has doubtless many more things to reveal to mankind. It would be presumption to deny that discoveries may yet be made, as much in advance of the manner's compass, the art of printing, the telescope, and the microscope, or the marvels of the magnetic telegraph, as these were in advance of what was known in Greece or in the middle ages. But as these things, so wonderful, have not superseded Christianity in its proper sphere, or shed such light on the unsolved questions of religion as to supersede the Bible and the Cross, it may be presumed that Christianity, in its own proper I
sphere, will still remain in advance of all the discoveries of man.
Fourth. This furnishes a strong proof of the Divine origin of Christianity. System after system of philosophy and religion has disappeared. Not a vestige now remains of what Mr. Gibbon calls " the elegant mythology of Greece;" not a vestige of the religion of ancient Rome. The Ptolemaic system of astronomy has passed away, never to be revived. The philosophy of the Stoics and Epicureans has to a great extent perished. But Christianity survives. It has lived through all these changes; and, in its original structure, had evidently anticipated all the discoveries which man could make, so that it would not interfere essentially with those discoveries, but readily combine with them. In Pagan systems the religion and the science are blended; and the one is as sacred as the other. The assertions respecting science in the religious books of the Hindus are held to be as sacred as the assertions about the gods; and the overthrow of the former would be the overthrow of the latter. The Brahmin reasoned correctly when he threw the microscope to the ground, and exclaimed that if its revelations were true, his religion was false. But after all the discoveries and developements of the last eighteen centuries,—after all that has seemed to conflict with the Bible (or in reference to which it has been affirmed that it is 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.