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Acts xvii. The more I study the life of Paul, the more I am filled with admiration at the ardour of his zeal, and the immensity of his labours. What multitudes of churches did he establish ! What numerous converts did he bring to the Redeemer ! Into what various and distant places did he bear the banner of the cross ! The most celebrated cities, Antioch, Athens, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, acknowledged him* as the herald of salvation. Countries most remote from each other, Arabia, Greece, lllyria, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Syria, Epirus, Italy, resounded with his preaching. All situations give him an opportunity of signalizing his zeal. He preaches Christ in the synagogues of the Jews, and the assemblies of believers; to the philosophers in the Areopagus at Athens, and to the courtiers in the pretorium, and in the palace of ero ; in prison to the family of the jailer; among the great, to Festus, Agrippa, Bernice, and all their train ; " in season and out of season," he every where testifies " the gospel of the grace of God ;" continual journeyings, and painful voyages, give him no ease or relaxation. The whole
486 SERMO LX1X. object of his life is to advance the kingdom of the Redeemer. And what is the recompense which he obtains from men for this anxious desire for their salvation ? Here, the populace insult him ; there, his country-
men endeavour to deprive him of life. At Caesarea, Festus accuses him of being a madman ; at Athens, the philosophers deride him and treat him with contempt. He restores to the use of his limbs the poor cripple of Lystra, and is stoned till apparently dead. He delivers the possessed damsel at Philippi, and notwithstanding his privileges as a Roman citizen, is cruelly scourged and imprisoned. Yet still undaunted and undisgusted by this base return, he continues his labours of love. A life so generous, so various, so full of persecutions, cannot fatigue us. Let us then still prosecute his history ; and oh ! that we may catch more of his spirit, and be inflamed with his zeal, and partake more of those divine consolations and supports which alone could have enabled him to persevere in his course. In our last lecture we beheld the apostle leaving Philippi in company with Silas and Timothy. Luke, as we judge from the change of his style in this part of his relation, remained behind them, probably visiting and confirming the churches in the vicinity, till the return of Paul thither, when he again joined him. The others passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, in which places however they did not remain, probably going further from the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, who directed them immediately in all their journeyings. They arrived then at Thessalonica, a city which derived its name from the victory which Philip of Macedon there gained over the Thessalians, which was the capital of Macedonia,
LIFE OF PAUL. 487 and the residence of the Roman governor of the province. Here was a large synagogue of the Jews, into which Paul, as was his custom, first entered ; and as they were principally assembled on the Sab-
bath, he, ever shunning privacy, but desirous that his doctrines should be brought to the light, for three successive weeks, on that day, reasoned with them from the Old Testament; proved to them from the prophecies, that the Messiah whom they expected, was not to be, as they fondly imagined, a haughty and victorious temporal prince, but was to suffer and die before he entered into that glory, whence he should govern the world and dispense blessings to his people : he proved to them that the traits which designated Messiah in the holy oracles, were al! united in Jesus of azareth, and that he therefore was the long-expected deliverer promised to their fathers. These points he illustrated with a fearlessness, unimpaired by his past sufferings from the prejudice and bigotry of his nation. This he asserts in the appeal which he afterwards made to that church : " After we were shamefully entreated at Philippi, yet we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God." (I Thess. ii. 2.) His addresses not only convinced the understandings, but were carried home to the consciences of some of the Jews, and of many of the proselyted Gentiles and women of distinction. From various circumstances, and from the whole tenor of the epistle to the Thessalonians, ii appears that, after thus offering salvation to the Jews, the apostle remained here some time, and directed his labours principally to the idolatrous Gentiles. His success was such as to animate his heart. Very many abandoned their false worship to serve the living God, This he himself testifies in his epistle to
188 SERMO LXIX. them : " Our gospel came unto you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance : having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, ye were ensamples
to all that believe in Macedonia and Asia." The consolations resulting from this source were enough to support him under the persecutions which followed. Those Jews who still remained unbelieving, irritated at the success of the gospel, collecting the most violent and profligate of the people, proceeded together to the house of Jason, a converted Jew, who appears from Rom. xvi. 21. to have been a kinsman of the apostle, and with whom Paul and his companions lodged. This they furiously assailed, intending to seize these holy men, and deliver them to the rage of the populace. Providence, however guarded the apostle ; but not finding him, they dragged Jason and some other believers who were with him before the magistrates, declaring that Jason had received and encouraged some incendiaries and seditious persons, who, after disturbing the peace of the world, had dared to come even to that capital, and who had treasonably opposed the Roman emperor, in declaring that there was another king, one Jesus, to whom they owed unreserved allegiance. Their malice and art were shown in this accusation. They do not declare that it is a question concerning their religion for which they detest these disciples. This, they knew, would not have answered their end, since the Romans, in their provinces, allowed a tolerance of all religions. They therefore represent the apostle and his associates as state criminals. Precisely thus it was with those who accused our Redeemer before Pilate, crying, " If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend. He that maketh
LIFE OF PAUL. 189 himself a king, is an enemy to Caesar." Besides, this accusation was doubly malicious in those persons, who execrated the Roman government, and
rejected the gospel, because it did not, according to their wishes, present them with a Messiah who would act as a temporal prince, and deliver them from their servitude to this empire. The magistrates, however, unlike to those of Philippi, appear to have acted with firmness and prudence. Having examined into the accusations, and found that " the kingdom of Jesus was not of this world," and did not interfere with the authority or privileges of Caesar, they dismissed Jason and the brethren. The Christians, however, solicitous for the safety of Paul and his companions, sent them away by night to Berea, a neighbouring city. From intended evil Providence ever brings good to the church. The gospel had been sufficiently established in Thessalonica to flourish without the presence of Paul. He is therefore sent by the malice of the ungodly to plant it in a place where it was unknown. The apostle, far from abandoning the Jews, who had treated him with so much unkindness, entered immediately into the synagogue at Berea. The Jews here listened to him with an attention, a candour, and a seriousness, that he had not ye ibund among them, acknowledging the importance of the subjects on which he addressed them, and hearing him without prepossession, and with minds open to conviction. As men, they were willing to be instructed in truth connected with their dearest interests. As sinful men, they felt that the tidings which the apostle announced, that there was a Redeemer who could deliver them from sin and misery, deserved their examination. As Jews, they were disposed VOL. II. fi2
4i*tf " SERMO LXIX.
diligently to inquire whether, according to the declaration of these teachers, that Messiah, promised to their nation, had actually appeared. And while they showed this honest disposition of mind, they also proved their wisdom by " searching daily the scriptures, whether these things were so." Interesting as were the tidings brought to them, they would not receive them till they had carefully examined into their truth, and diligently compared the predictions of the Old Testament with the character and conduct of Jesus of azareth. All that Christianity requires is a candid and faithful examination ; it dreads no scrutiny ; it challenges inquiry ; it esteems those its best disciples who search into it most deeply. The persons who reject it are never those who, like the Bereans, candidly and carefully study it; but those who, through bigotry or indolence, refuse honestly and profoundly to try it. o wonder then that many in this place believed, both of the Jews and proselytes, and honourable women, now become far more honourable than they were by birth or descent. Ah, brethren ! why do we not more closely imitate these Bereans, when we come to hear the word of God; and, laying aside prejudices and prepossessions, test all doctrines by the scriptures ? Why do we not with them daily study the holy volume, that our knowledge, our graces, and our consolations, may be augmented ? How implacable is malice ! how furious that hatred which masks itself under the cloak of religion! The Jews of Thessalonica, hearing of this success, pursued the apostle hither. They succeeded in inflaming the minds of so many, that the brethren, apprehensive for the life of Paul, conducted him to Athens. Timothy and Silas, against whom less en-
LIFE OF PAUL. 49^ mity was excited, continued for a time in Berea, that they might be useful in confirming the disciples that remained. Athens was the most learned city then in the world, and the resort of thousands who came thither from all parts of the Roman empire, for the cultivation of the arts and sciences. By these, even after its subjugation to Rome, it acquired as much celebrity as it had formerly done by its arms and valour, It was noted for its temples, its statues, and other works of art. But Paul came for far more important objects than the cultivation of human science, or the examination of those exquisite productions of art, which have extorted praise from so many. He came to instruct the inhabitants in divine knowledge, in the science of salvation; to make their souls the temples of the Holy Spirit, and to prepare them for 4he temple in the heavens, and to re-impress upon them the image of the Highest. His heart was moved within him with sorrow and indignation when he looked around him, and everywhere beheld such striking proofs that the highest cultivation of the human mind was consistent with the grossest idolatry ; that " the world by wisdom knew not God." He therefore, not only addressed the Jews in the synagogues, attempting to lead them to the Redeemer, but also all those whom he met in the chief places of public resort. Some philosophers of very opposite sects, the Epicurean and the Stoic, endeavoured to hold him up to the public ridicule and contempt. The former sect supposed that the world was made by chance, that Providence was a fiction, that there was no distinction between good and evil, that futurity was a dream, and that pleasure was the chief good : the latter taught that
492 SERMO LXIX all things were regulated by fate and a blind necessity; were filled with the most insupportable pride, while they affected an austere morality. But though thus different, they united their efforts against Paul, as Pilate and Herod, though formerly at enmity, concurred for the death of the Redeemer. Finding that the apostle was not to be silenced by their scoffs, they brought him to the Areopagus, or Mars' Hill, a place frequented by the Athenian philosophers and poets, by travellers and strangers. This was also a place of judgment, where the Areopagites decided the causes that were brought before them. To them was especially committed the care of religion, that the national worship might not be impaired, and no new gods introduced, without the public permission. Their severity in executing this part of their office is proved by their condemning to death Protagoras, Anaxagoras, Diagoras, and Socrates. Hither Paul was led, probably that he might have a greater number of hearers, and that the Areopagites might be nigh to inquire into his doctrine, if it should prove contrary to the national faith. Paul immediately addressed the assembled multitude in a speech admirably adapted to their sentiments and character. In speaking to the Jews, he always took for granted the creation of the world by God, his unity, his superintending providence, our need of a deliverer, and the other great truths acknowledged by that nation. But in speaking to the idolatrous Gentiles here and at Lystra, he was obliged first to establish these fundamental points of all religion. As it was a capital crime to introduce any new
god without the consent of the state, Paul, with much prudence and address, referred to an inscrip-
LIFE OF PAUL.
tion which he had observed, " To the unknown God," which proved that they were much devoted to the worship of invisible beings ; for thus the word which we render " too superstitious," should be translated. Thus the word is used by the ancients, and thus it is used by the apostle, since his address is conciliatory, as far as it could be in consistence with truth. This altar is mentioned by many of the pagan writers. To whom it was dedicated is disputed ; for reasons, the complete development of which would be more suited to a critical disquisition, than to these lectures. I suppose it was to Jehovah, the God of the Jews. The apostle declares, that it was this God, confessedly unknown to them, although they had erected an altar to his honour, whose nature, will, and perfections, he came to announce to them; that it was he who made the world and all things in it; and that therefore, this system did not, as the Epicureans among them imagined, spring from chance ; nor was it eternal, as the Peripatetics, some of whom were undoubtedly present, taught ; that being the universal Creator, he could not, as was the popular belief of the pagans, be confined to temples made with hands, nor need for his happiness the services of mortals: these being required, not for the preservation
of his beatitude, but because they are our duty, and contribute to our felicity; that he had made of onr blood all nations, causing them to descend from a single man, and therefore, that proud and frequent Athenian boast, that they were children of the earth, and derived from no other people, was unfounded : that he had created them that they should seek after him ; that their false sentiments respecting him did not proceed from their distance from him. sinco hr
494 SERMO LX1\. gave and preserved to them life, movement, and being, and continually exercised his providence over them, instead of being confined to heaven, as the Epicureans taught ; that the representations even of their own poets, showed the absurdity of pretending to represent him by statues; that though he had hitherto borne with this false worship, he now called upon all to repent, and had appointed a day in which he would judge them in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, whose divine commission he had confirmed, by his resurrection from the dead. Hitherto they had heard him with attention ; but as soon as this doctrine was mentioned, he was interrupted by the mockery and sneers of some; while others, perhaps doubting, declared that they would hear him again on these subjects. He was dismissed, however, without punishment. Few appear to have been converted ; but among these few was Dionysius, a member of this august court, and Dama ris, with whose history we are unacquainted. Let us conclude this lecture, by merely hinting at a few practical inferences : 1. We see that enmity which, from the introduc-
tion of sin, ever has subsisted between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, the ungodly, and the pious. Wherever Paul went, he was persecuted by those who were not converted. This enmity still subsists; wonder not then, believer, if you are exposed to the reproaches and insults of the enemies of religion. You tread in no new path ; but in that which was traversed by all the pious. You experience no peculiar trials ; but those that have been felt by patriarchs and prophets, by apostles and martyrs, by all the redeemed. 2. We spe in this chapter, the different effects of
LIFE OF PALL. 490 the word of God. " It will not return void :*" w It will be either the savour oflife unto life, or of death unr to death."" Like the same fire which melts the wa\. but hardens the clay, it will either soften the soul, or render it more obdurate. The probability of the salvation of those who were not brought to the Saviour by the preaching of Paul, was far less than before they listened to him. 3. The situation of Athens, sunk in the grossest idolatry, notwithstanding the refinements of science, teaches us our obligations to divine revelation. The meanest and most illiterate peasant in a Christian land, has far more sublime and correct ideas of the nature and perfections of God, than the profoundest philosopher who ever existed, and who was left to the lights of unassisted reason. Tins is a fact which cannot be denied by any, who are only moderately acquainted with the writings of antiquity. And to what is this owing ? Why are we, in these respects, so much better informed than the sublime Platos, the wise Socrateses, the acute Aristotles of
antiquity? It is owing only to the gospel of the blessed Jesus. And will we not then prize and love this gospel ? In vain does the infidel say, that w ithout the scriptures he can form a correct system of religion. His doctrines are derived from those scriptures which he rejects. This is proved by the undeniable fact, which I repeat, that there never was a rational scheme of religion formed in any single nation, unenlightened by the gospel. When, therefore, rejecting the scriptures, he would substitute for them another plan, "he is a dwarf mounted on the shoulders of a giant ; and vaunting that he can see further than a man of ordinary stature. He is a thief, impudently pretending to rival or eclipse the spleri-
496 SERMO LXIX. dour of another man, by a display of those riches which he had previously purloined from him."* 4. The self-sufficient philosophers, elated with a conceit of their talents, laughed at the doctrines of the cross. The same spectacle we have seen in every age. For though many, of the highest intellectual powers, have esteemed it their glory to lay all their literary laurels at the feet of Jesus, many others have, with these Athenians, scoffed at the truths of religion. either is this wonderful ; there is something in the pride of talents that as much indisposes the heart to the humble and self-abasing doctrines of the gospel, as the pride of wealth, or of office. It is hard for one, eulogized by his fellowmen, to confess that he knows nothing of divine things, and to sit as an ignorant learner at the feet of Jesus. 5. Yet do not, on this account, suppose that Christianity is inconsistent with science. Paul him-
self is a proof to the contrary. His is a name that the ranks of infidelity would be proud to enrol among its votaries ; he every where, as well as in this address, shows his acquaintance with the literature of his age. Like him, improve your minds; but like him, bring the treasures of Egypt to adorn the tabernacle of God. 6. The philosophers looked down with supreme pity and scorn upon Paul, as one unworthy their regard. But their names have long since been swept into oblivion by the lapse of ages, and the systems which they advocated have sunk into merited contempt; while millions have pronounced and will ever pronounce his with joy, and nation after nation shall receive the gospel which he preached, till it be * Dick's Essay, page 208.
LIFE OP PAULi 497 adopted by the whole world. Would you have, then, permanent glory ? " Seek that honour which cometh of God only ;" Seek to have your name enrolled in the Lamb's book of life, and it shall survive the ruins of the world. 7. But, alas! though the gospel is worthy of" honourable women," and of Areopagites, is not the Lord to many an " unknown God :" are there not thousands who have no practical, saving knowledge of him ? Oh ! let such at last awake ; though the past years have been times "of ignorance" when God has borne with you, yet the day is coming when Jesus shall judge you in righteousness. Oh ! do not, like the Athenian philosophers, dismiss these truths with a sneer, or defer the consideration of them to a future period ; but, like the Bereans, examine, be-
lieve, and be saved.
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