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18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and Athens. riod, 4762. of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What Vulgar Æra,
Epicureans were induced to question him. The Epicureans
The system of the Stoics was of a different character; they
Can we be surprized that among such men the stranger Hebrew, one of a despised people, whose personal appearance is supposed to have been by no means in his favour, who ventured in his conversation to differ from the decisions of the gay and the proud, should be treated with contempt? The word σTEρμoloyog (babbler), by which they expressed their bitter ridicule, is very expressive. It is said that the term σrepμoλoyos was originally applied to a bird that picks up seeds in the highway. It was then used of mean persons, that were used to pick up the refuse of things that had been brought to market: then it came figuratively to denote those who retailed the sayings of other The apostle, we may suppose, was gradually led, from his conversing and questioning, to more lengthened discussion, for it is said he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
Many indeed have been of opinion that St. Paul was taken by violence to the court of Areopagus, and compelled to plead his cause before the assembled members, to whom appeal was made in all matters of religion; and capital punishment was inflicted upon all who, upon their private authority, introduced the worship of new gods. There does not, however, appear to be sufficient proof, in support of this opinion. It seems more probable, that the philosophers, who crowded round him, removed him for their own convenience to an eminence on the Mars' Hill; as a higher part of the city, where the principal persons who would interest themselves in any novel philosophical discussion, might assemble, and listen without interruption. Through the whole of the narrative there is no appearance of a trial. We read neither of accusers nor judges; nor does St. Paul argue as if he was defending himself against any charge (a).
ST. PAUL'S CONDUCT AT ATHENS-CHAP. XII.
Julian Pe- will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a Athens. riod, 4762. setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto Vulgar Era, them Jesus, and the resurrection.
Amidst this assemblage of philosophers, disputers, senators, statesmen, and rhetoricians, stood the despised and insulted stranger; surrounded by the professed lovers of pleasure on one side, and the proud supporters of the perfectibility of human reason and wisdom on the other. St. Paul, without the smallest compromise of his personal dignity, or the least departure from the purity of his faith, endeavours to conciliate the good will of his assembled hearers, by commencing at the points on which they are all united.
By taking advantage of the professed ignorance of the Athenians, he shields himself from the power of that law which considers the introduction of a new God into the state as a capital offence, and avails himself of that acknowledgment to declare the nature and attributes of that God, who was already sanctioned by the state, although confessedly unknown.
He offends no prejudice, makes no violent opposition-he keeps back all that was difficult or mysterious in his own beloved and holy faith, till those who heard him might be able to bear it. He appealed to them from their own principles and practice, however deficient the former, or corrupt the latter. He united at once zeal, judgment, faithfulness, and discretion. He declared the unknown God, whom the Athenians ignorantly worshipped, to be the great Creator of the world, in whom, and by whom, all things were made, and exist. From the visible proofs of his Providence, in his government of the world, he leads them to the consideration of his spiritual nature; and thus condemns the idolatrous worship of the Athenians, while he gradually unfolds to his philosophical audience, the important truths of their accountableness and immortality, which were demonstrated by the fact of Christ's resucrretion from the dead. The same mode of reasoning is to be observed in all St. Paul's Epistles. With the Jews, he constantly alludes to some acknowledged principles of their belief, and endeavours to overcome their prejudices against Christianity, by explaining to them the spiritual intention of their own law; and by referring them to the declarations of their own prophets. With the Gentiles, on the contrary, he begins by asserting those simple and evident truths which must be acknowledged by all; and having once established the existence and attributes of a God, and the necessity of a moral conduct, he gradually reveals those great and important doctrines which are the very basis of Christianity. In all the pursuits of life, in all the acquirements of science, there must be some progressive initiation, some previous introduction. Is it, then, to be believed, that the highest attainments to which human intellect and human wisdom can aspire, the knowledge, both of God, and of the immortal accountable spirit, requires no such elementary preparation? Our Saviour has set the question at rest, by beautifully inculcating this system of instruction, and the gradual development of his Gospel in his parable of the man who should cast seed into the ground; in which we read, as in the usual course of vegetation, the seed of the word of God must first produce “the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." This system of revelation has been adopted throughout the whole economy of Provi. dence (b), from the fall of Adam till the present day; it was acted upon by the apostles, and unless it be persisted in, the great work of evangelizing the world can never be so effectu. ally, consistently, or advantageously carried on, and must conR 2
riod, 4762. Vulgar Æra, 51.
19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopa- Athens.
sequently fall short of our highest and fondest hopes or expec-
The conduct of St. Paul at Athens is a model for the mis-
Does the self-devoted missionary hazard his life among the learned and intelligent idolaters of Hindostan! would it not be possible to demonstrate to the Brahmin that the facts which are recorded in the first books of Scripture, are probably the foundation of his religion; and that the corruptions of those truths may be severally traced to various periods of a comparatively late date? Might it not be shewn that their belief in the incarnations of Chrishna, for instance, originated in the general expectation of the one incarnate God, who has now appeared among men, and established a pure faith? Could not the imagined atonements of their self-inflicted tortures be traced to the perversion of the great truth, that "without shedding of blood there is no remission," but that a greater and more perfect dispensation now prevails?
The Buddhist believes in the doctrine of an incarnate spiritual being: could not this truth be gradually explained without offence, and the true Incarnate be pointed out?
The Mahomedan acknowledges that Christ is a great prophet: on this confession could not another be grafted, and the infatuated follower of Mahomet be led to acknowledge the divine nature of the Son of Man?
The grossest idolater believes in his superiority to the brutes; could not even this conviction be made the means of imparting to him the great doctrines of his accountableness and immortality?
It is, however, an easy task to sit at home and form plans for the conduct of the noble-minded servants of God who have hazarded their lives unto death; and met the spiritual wickedness of the world in its own high places. Hannibal smiled with contempt when the theoretical tactitian lectured on the art of war. We who remain in our homes in Europe, may be called the pretorian bands of Christianity. The missionary, like the legionary soldier, goes forth to the defence of the frontier, to combat with the barbarian enemy. Peace be with the ministers of God, and may the days of the kingdom of universal righteousness come! But the Scripture is the common charter, and it prescribes system, discipline, and regulation to the best, as well as conquest over the worst, feelings. The cause of missions would no longer be the source of misapprehension among many; if in the teaching of the missionary, they were all united in doing good in the appointed way. Happy too would it be for mankind, if every Christian society could be bound together, as one holy family, by one law of union-if they were subject to the same accountableness and discipline, as the best security against their own infirmities, and the errors as well as the vices of the world (c).
(a) Bishop Pearce, and the majority of commentators, support the general opinion, that St. Paul was taken violently (so they render the
ST. PAUL PREACHES AT ATHENS-CHAP. XII.
20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our Athens. ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
21 (For all the Athenians, and strangers which were there, spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.)
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' Hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 30 God that made the world, and all things therein,
word έwiλabóμevol, (ver. 19.) see Luke xxiii. 26. and Acts xx. 26.) to
30 Whether this altar at Athens was raised, as some have told us, to the unknown God, whom the philosophic Athenians invoked in the time of a pestilence, after they had uselessly paid their ado, rations to all the greater and lesser deities of their Pantheon; or whether it was raised to Pan, whom they had hitherto neglected, or to the God of the Jews, whom the Athenians thus described from the manner in which the Jews spoke of Jehovah, as unutterable and incomprehensible-is equally uncertain. Diogenes Laertius thus accounts for the erection of this and other altars, bearing the same inscription--"The Athenians being afflicted with pestilence, invited Epimenides to lustrate their city. The method adopted by him was to carry several sheep to the Areopagus, whence they were left to wander as they pleased, under the observation of persons sent to attend them. As each sheep lay down it was sacrificed on the spot to the propitious God. By this ceremony it is said the city was relieved; but as it was still unknown what deity was propitious, an altar was erected to the unknown God, on every spot where a sheep had been sacrificed (a)," Athens at this time was filled with
Jalian Pe- seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not Athens. in temples made with hands:
riod, 4762. Vulgar Æra,
idols; and Pausanias asserts it to have contained more than all
The doctrine of the existence of one God the Creator of the
A Creator, without a creation-a king, without subjects-a God, without an object either of his wisdom or his benevolence, his love or his power---a Δημιουργὸς ἄνευ τῶν δημιουργημάτων, and a Παντοκράτωρ ἄνευ τῶν κρατουμένων—is certainly a mystery which overwhelms the faculties of man. But the opposite difficulty, that this beautiful frame of the visible creation is eternal, and therefore self-existent; and by unavoidable consequence, independent of a Deity, is much more incomprehensible. Ignorant as we undoubtedly are, and limited as are the powers of our reason, the weakest understanding can discover the infinitely greater probability that this magnificent and beautiful world should have been created by some wise and powerful God; rather than its suns and stars should have kindled their own lamps, or the flower have formed its own fragrance, and every proof of design visible throughout the universe, should bo an effect without a first and adequate cause. If we deny the true origin of the world, that it was produced from nothing by the sovereign will of an omnipotent Being, we are reduced to the necessity of embracing one of the following hypotheses (b), each of which are alike repugnant to reason and revelation.
Either the world must have existed from eternity as it now is, or matter is eternal, though not in its present form, and the Deity has merely reduced it to order, and fashioned the creation from pre-existent substance. The great argument upon which this hypothesis rests, is the celebrated axiom, ex nihilo nihil fit. The difficulties involved by this hypothesis are greater than those of the other. The Deity thus introduced, as forming the visible universe from this eternal collection of matter, is limited in his power by 30mething which is independent of himself. Either the Deity must or must not be omnipotent; if he is omnipotent, pre-existent matter is not necessary to the formation of his worlds; if he is not omnipotent, he must be subject to, and inferior to that which he cannot control; and the intelligence which can frame a world, is indebted to the inert masses of which it is composed. His power must be infinite to enable him to govern, and at the same time it is not infinite, for he is dependant upon matter, and cannot execute his will.
If matter be eternal, it must be unproduced, and therefore of necessary existence; it must have caused itself, and be possessed therefore of infinite power: it compels God to be subject to its laws, instead of receiving its laws from God, with many other absurdities.
Another hypothesis which presents itself to our choice, is that the world arose from a fortuitous concourse of atoms; an idea which appears to me as absurd, as to suppose that many thousand alphabets might be fashioned by chance into an Iliad; yet this would be easier than that they should form one limb of an animal, or one blade of grass.