Acts 17:23
For as I walked around and examined your objects of worship, I even found an altar with the inscription: To an unknown God. Therefore what you worship as something unknown, I now proclaim to you.
Athenian ReligionR. Tuck Acts 17:23
Before the Altar of the Unknown GodR. Koegel, D. D.Acts 17:23
Revelation and Nature: Their Witness to GodJ. Legge, M. A.Acts 17:23
The Unknown GodJ. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.Acts 17:23
The Unknown GodJ. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.Acts 17:23
The Unknown GodGeorge Sexton, LL. D.Acts 17:23
The Unknown GodW. Arnot, D. D.Acts 17:23
The Unknown GodLangbein.Acts 17:23
The Unknown GodR. Tuck Acts 17:23
The Unknown God RevealedJ. Parsons.Acts 17:23
The Worship of FaithR.A. Redford Acts 17:23
Three Books Relating to the Knowledge of GodK. Gerok.Acts 17:23
Christian Unconcern ExplainedJ. McFarlane.Acts 17:15-34
Moral Wretchedness of IdolatryD. Moore, M. A.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensExpository OutlinesActs 17:15-34
Paul At AthensSermons by the Monday ClubActs 17:15-34
Paul At AthensDean Vaughan.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensJ. Parker, D. D.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensH. J. Bevis.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensR. A. Bertram.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensBp. Stevens.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensA. Barnes, D. D.Acts 17:15-34
Paul's Estimate of the AtheniansEvangelical PreacherActs 17:15-34
Paul's Moral Survey of AthensD. Thomas, D. D.Acts 17:15-34
The Moral Versus the AestheticW. L. Alexander, D. D.Acts 17:15-34
Paul At AthensE. Johnson Acts 17:16-34
Paul At AthensR.A. Redford Acts 17:16-34
Novelties and How to Regard ThemC. H. Spurgeon.Acts 17:21-31
Novelty AttractiveC. H. Spurgeon.Acts 17:21-31
Paul At AthensD. Merson, B. D.Acts 17:21-31
Paul's Sermon on Mars' HillD. Thomas, D. D.Acts 17:21-31
Paul's Sermon on Mars' HillM. C. Hazard.Acts 17:21-31
Some New ThingA. J. Brown.Acts 17:21-31
God Revealed: His Nature and RelationW. Clarkson Acts 17:22-29
The Gospel's Kindly Encounter with Novel FoesP.C. Barker Acts 17:23-32

Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. Christianity aggressive. Insufficiency of all forms of religion apart from true knowledge. The true philanthropy of the missionary spirit.


1. Athens the representation of the moral helplessness of men without revelation. Knowledge which is ignorance.

2. The practical view of the Divine character. Indifference to righteousness, vain trust in benevolence, mere sentiment of dependence.


1. As a simple acceptance of Divine teaching.

2. As a growth of knowledge through experience and practical endeavor. "If any man will do his will," etc.

3. The actual fellowship of the spiritual life. Influence of the higher mind and larger soul upon the lower. Effect of loving self-sacrifice in opening the mind to larger views of the Divine character.

4. The opportunities of the world rightly used. Nature leading to God, not enslaving the soul. Culture lilting up the intellect and desires. "All things are ours." - R.

I found an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.
1. What was there in Athens to which Paul could appeal? To Jewish prophecy? No one held them in esteem. Should he begin with repentance, faith, Jesus, and judgment? No one would understand his message. Ought he now to overthrow these altars? But destruction is not construction. Ought the nothingness of the gods to be exposed to ridicule? Enlightenment that presents the stone of unbelief for the husks of superstition may train its subjects to doubt, but not to hope. To the apostle the heathen world seemed the groping of a man who is blind. But no man of feeling ever makes sport of a blind man's groping, or strikes the last coin out of a beggar's hand. Paul sought through the streets of Athens to see whether, somewhere, he could not still discover a trace of the footsteps of the living God, some pieces of the golden thread by which to lead these misled wanderers back into communion with God — and, behold, he has found something: here is an altar with the inscription, To the unknown God: a discovery which affords him as much joy as when he once picked up the words of the Greek poet we find him quoting here. That had seemed to him a feather which the angel, flying through heaven with the gospel, dropped into heathen lands. To the weak as weak, a Greek to the Greeks, the apostle explains this inscription to his hearers with most becoming deference.

2. This altar is a testimony to a grave defection, a longing that impels to seek, a hope fulfilled in Christ. Let us ask —


1. The features have been almost obliterated, but whose image has been stamped upon the souls of men? — Not from the clod, nor from the ape — we are also of His offspring! "God hath made of one blood all nations of men," etc. One blood, therefore one family, one origin, one conscience, one hope: to seek God, everyone's mission; to find God, everyone's goal!

2. But if we live, and move, and have our being in Him, and if creation manifests His invisible power and Divinity — whence all this uncertain groping, until, brought to a stand, children of men cling to wood and stone? Whence the blindness that changes the clear mirror of nature into a thick veil, whence the insanity that desires to imprison the God over all heaven and earth within temples and images? Paul describes the lamentable process in Romans 1:21-24. Moral aberration always precedes the spiritual. Sinful inclinations in the heart are the fruitful lap of error. Doubt is a tendency of the character. Strange that amidst this jumble of rage, sensuality, love of money, etc., any room should remain for an altar dedicated even to the unknown God!

II. WHEN IS AN ALTAR ERECTED TO THE UNKNOWN GOD? Just as in an impoverished family some jewel is preserved as a reminder of better days, so, in Athens, this one altar was a testimony of impoverishment. Israel could erect an Ebenezer: but this altar is only a monument, confessing: "Hitherto have we gone astray." Its erection indicates home-sickness. According to a tradition, the Athenians built this altar when a plague seemed to threaten never to leave their walls: — there must, they concluded, be some other god whose anger is dangerous, whose favour of importance, to whom therefore it was necessary to rear an altar.

1. It is an hour of fatigue at midnight, the candle has burned down low, and an investigator is dipping into the depths and not finding the goodly pearl, and growing more and more weary, cries, "Boundless Nature, where shall I comprehend thee? Ye sources of all life, for which my withered breast so longs — ye flow, ye quench, and yet I thirst in vain!" Such imploring, outstretched arms — what are they but an altar erected to the unknown God?

2. Now enter yon brilliant room. Surely no sorrow can obtrude here. Nevertheless sighs from an inner chamber announce that "Death has no respect for riches." A child is lying here sick unto death. Why has the anxious father no eye for the pictures that look down from the walls? Why does he not open some of his favourite poets? Why does he avoid that book which convinced him yesterday that there is room for neither miracles nor prayer? The anguish-stricken father throws himself on his knees — before whom? Which god can support him to bear this threatened loss? Oh ye pictures, books, money piles, ye idols that have eyes but no pupils, arms but no help! — at this moment, an altar rises in a corner of the room, faintly traced, "To the unknown God!"

3. Stranger, you have strayed into this house of God — do you know to what end? Do you know that your wandering and your sojourning, your childhood and your manhood, your solitude and your society, your sorrows and your joys, have all been working together to lead you to seek the Lord if haply you might feel and find Him, and to make that dusty altar to the unknown God in the corner of your heart one of reminder and of prophecy?

III. IN WHOM DOES GOD MAKE HIMSELF KNOWN? Who shall win earth back to heaven, and reconcile and harmonise divinity with humanity? who is the man in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells, and whose body is a temple, the only one worthy of Divinity? Through Christ the weather-beaten inscription, "To the unknown God," is changed for "To the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." You are advancing to meet this unknown God as a revealed God in Christ Jesus. How? As a Saviour or a Judge?

(R. Koegel, D. D.)

1. Athens was a city illustrious for its learning. But during the century or two preceding the Christian era, intellectual decay had set in, and instead of investigating the true, the people were raving after the new. The distinction between true and false philosophy in every age consists mainly in this — the one loves the new more than the true, the other loves the true more than the new. At this time Paul went to Athens, and the everlasting gospel with him; and in it there is a perfect combination of the true and the new. He declares unto them the unknown God: —


1. As Creator of the universe. The Greek mind had often but ineffectually grappled with the mysterious problem of the origin of the world. Every school of ancient thought believed in the eternity of matter. Of a creation out of nothing the ancient heathen had not the crudest idea. Mankind seemed to be entirely indebted to Divine revelation for it. God created —(1) The matter of the world. Plato recognised God as the "Arranger of the Hyle." But whence issued the "Hyle"? Plato is mute. But St. Paul teaches that God not only built the world, but made the materials likewise. A child may learn more in five minutes in the first verse of the Bible than recondite sages in their protracted studies. "Through faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God."(2) Its laws. Laws are so many windows through which we can glance at God. But over these windows infidelity draws the blinds. Men praise each other for discovering these laws, but are slack to give glory to God for making them. But what is the discovery of a law compared with its invention?

2. Having created the world, God is still present in it as its Sovereign Lord and Director. "Seeing He giveth to all life and breath and all things." The Stoics did not theoretically deny the Divine existence, but they did deny the Divine government. They believed in fate; hence their reckless indifference to all the ills and favours of life. In our day also, law does everything, God nothing. Ancients and moderns alike, after putting the extinguisher on the sun, feel constrained to light a candle. The Bible teaching, however, is clear and unambiguous. Whilst we must insist upon the radical distinction between God and the world, we must beware lest we make this distinction separation. From these truths two valuable lessons are deduced —(1) That "God dwelleth not in temples made with hands."(2) That "He is not worshipped or served with men's hands as though He needed anything." We do not give to Him, He gives to us. "Every good gift and every perfect gift," etc.


1. God made man — a truth strikingly new to the Greeks. The Greeks thought that they had grown from the soil. The idea of God cannot be degraded without at the same time debasing the idea of man. The same theory practically is advocated now. God is involved in nature according to the fashionable Pantheism of the age; and man is evolved out of nature according to its anthropology. The apostle further proclaims the unity of the human race. The Greeks viewed themselves as the aristocracy of the world, separated even in origin from all other nations, whom they contemptuously treated as barbarians.

2. God rules men. He did not fling them upon the world to be the sport of chance, but "determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation." The one object, however, was that men "might seek the Lord, if haply they might find Him." All events were so disposed as to be helpful to mankind in their search after God. We imagine that were the circumstances arranged a little differently, it would result in the spiritual advantage of the nations. But St. Paul declares otherwise.

3. God is the Father of man (ver. 28). God is only the Maker of nature. The white man carries about him God's image in ivory, and the coloured man in ebony, but none the less an image for that. How striking the genealogy in Luke 3 the son of David the Son of God. From this homogeneity of nature between man and God the apostle makes a practical inference (ver. 29). Athens abounded in idols, but none of them properly represented God. The Divine likeness cannot be stamped on gross matter, it must have intelligence for its canvas. Consequently man's fault has always been in seeking God among material objects. But inasmuch as we are partakers of His nature, it cannot be that "He is far from any one of us."(1) As to place. There is a sense in which the sun is over ninety millions of miles distant; but there is a sense in which it is nearer us than any other created object. Its beams pierce our frame, its light enters the eye, its warmth pervades the body. "In it we live and move and have our being." In like manner God may be affirmed to be infinitely removed from us; but there is a sense in which He is nearer every one of us than any other being can possibly be (vers. 27, 28).(2) As to His nature. His spirituality and not His omnipresence is the leading idea. In our own spirituality can we best understand the nature of the Deity.

4. God is the Redeemer of men. From the Fatherhood to the Redeemership the stride is not so very great. "And the times of this ignorance God overlooked" — i.e., did not directly interfere. Not that He entirely disregarded the heathen world. That would be a flat contradiction of ver. 26. God often interposed in their geographical and political history, but He left them to work out their religious problems for themselves. The "now" is significant of a change of policy. It is not a matter of no consequence whether you embrace Christianity or not. "He commandeth you." The gospel comes with all the authority of law. You have broken other commandments, will you persist in breaking this also? Paul's hearers had been all their lifetime endeavouring to atone for sin; now, however, they are bidden not to atone but to repent. "Every man everywhere." The gospel embraces every human being. None are too high to need repentance; none are too low to have it.

5. God is the Judge of men (ver. 31). Paul was now standing on the site of the most venerable court in the whole world. Here Mars and Orestes were tried, and here Socrates was unjustly condemned. What therefore more natural than that Paul should wind up his oration by a solemn reference to the judgment seat of Christ? Yes, there is an awful hereafter, notwithstanding the creed of Epicureans. Oh, the madness of those who spend their day of grace in reckless indifference, saying, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!"

(J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)

In this paragraph we have a graphic though brief description of the character of the men of Athens. "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." And when the love of the new gains ascendancy over the love of the true, degeneration is inevitable. The distinction between true and false philosophy, in every age, consists mainly in this: the one loves the new more than the true, the other loves the true rather than the new. But the religious aspect of the city is depicted in more lamentable colours still "the city was wholly given to idolatry" (on the margin, "full of idols"). Idolatry was also flourishing in this city; but it seemed now as though it had received a new impulse. Why? Because their faith in idols was stronger? No; but because it was weaker. What if they are only the creation of my own over-heated imagination? The suspicion was so humiliating, so blasting in its effects, so awfully barren and withering, that he strenuously attempted to conceal it from himself; he tried to forget his religious bankruptcy in spiritual intoxication. That motto awakes a distinct echo in the heart of every unregenerate man; there also is an altar with the inscription To the unknown God! At this time Paul went to Athens, and the everlasting gospel with him; and in it there is a perfect combination of the true and the new. Glad tidings, true news, is its distinctive appellation. He declares unto them the unknown God —

1. In His relation to nature.

2. In His relation to man.These two relations exhaust our knowledge of God; we know Him in none other. These were the topics held in dispute by the philosophers, and to which the Athenians now listen with abated breath.


1. He is the Creator of nature. "God made the world and all things therein." On this point he directs his remarks more especially against the Epicureans — they denied creation. "God made the world." As we look around us we observe that nature is divisible into matter and laws, matter and truths. The Athenian mind had been often grappling with the mysterious problem touching the origin of all things; but notwithstanding all the energy and time expended to solve it, it continued to be shrouded in as much darkness as ever. History, indeed, seems to testify that the human mind, left to its own resources, could never grasp the idea of creation, properly so called. The Epicureans denied creation, and looked upon the world as the effect of the fortuitous concourse of atoms, and these atoms they believed to be uncreated and eternal. Of a creation out of nothing, the ancient heathens had not the crudest idea. Indeed, mankind are indebted to the Bible entirely for it. Not only the work but the idea of creation is Divine. And the truth with which Paul encountered the Epicurean philosophers of old, in the market and on the hill, requires to be reiterated again and again. There is a theory afloat, vindicated by men of unquestionable repute, that sets creation out of nothing among the impossibilities. According to this theory, everything is born. The sun is born, the moon is born, the earth is born. It is averred "We cannot conceive, either on the one hand, nothing becoming something, or on the other, something becoming nothing" (Sir W. Hamilton). The world, therefore, is a Divine evolution? No: says the Bible, it is not an evolution, but a creation. We cannot conceive such an act, say they. Man's conceptions are not God's boundary lines, says the Bible. We cannot explain the process, say they. Then believe the act, says the Bible. "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things that are seen were not made of things which do appear." "God made the world." It existed nowhere before, nor in God, nor in space; it existed in no shape before, nor in germ, nor in development. It is an act of pure creation. As already hinted laws form another important division of nature. Not only God made the matter of the universe, but also its laws.

2. He is the Lord of nature. "He is Lord of heaven and earth." This truth is addressed more especially to the Stoics — they denied Divine government. They did not deny the existence of the gods; "but they held that all human affairs were governed by fate. Neither did they believe that any good was received from the hands of their gods." This atheistic view the apostle refutes by the heart-inspiring truth that God is the Lord of nature and providence. As the servant is dependent on his master, so is nature on her Lord. What does this imply? That she is not her own governess. Not her own will, but His she follows. Not her own thoughts, but His she expresses. Everything in nature is a manifestation of some thought; but who is it that thinks? Nature herself? No. Fate? No. Who then? God. The sun rises every day to the right moment — who is the thinker? The sun? No; but God. Nature has no thought, no will of her own; she is entirely under the control of God. Neither is she her own support. She lives on the bounty of God, as a child on the table of its father. Nature can originate nothing; she must receive all. Left to her own resources, she would reduce herself to penury in one day. But these truths had a more practical end in view than the refutation of the fallacious theories of philosophers; they were calculated to undermine the idolatrous practices of the populace. "He dwelleth not in temples made with hands." He is the Creator and Lord of nature. What is there in a temple of stones for Him to covet? Were He a forlorn fugitive, an impoverished God, He might be glad of a shelter anywhere. But this is not His condition. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and has the resources of both at His command. "He is not worshipped with men's hands as though He needed anything." The Athenians, in common with all idolaters, supposed religious rites to be established and enacted for God and not for man — for His advantage and not for our benefit. The mistake of the Stoics about God, in respect to nature, was that of all idolaters in respect to religion. They thought it was His prerogative to receive; the apostle teaches it was His property and function to give. "Neither is He worshipped with men's hands as though He needed anything." No; it is not giving, but receiving. As a creature you receive; as a worshipper you receive too. What is your sin? Is it giving too little? No; but receiving too little.


1. "He is the Father of man." "We are His offspring." God is the Maker of nature, He is the Father of man; He is the Creator of the brute, He is the Father of man. The popular opinion among the Athenians was, that they were the aboriginals of mankind. But where did they come from? They grew from the earth. According to one of their own writers, "the first men sprung up in Attica, like radishes." And some moderns cherish the opinion, forsooth, that mankind are developed from a tribe of monkeys! Our ancestry has its root in Godhead. Adam is not our first nor our best father, but God. Based on man's Divine sonship are two very important considerations. The first is the universal brotherhood of man. "God hath made of one blood all nations of men." The second truth is the nature of God. "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone." There is a certain resemblance between parent and child; therefore God must be more like men, His children, than any other created object whatsoever. Man possesses reason, will, and intelligence; therefore God must have them in infinite perfection.

2. God is the Saviour of man. "And the times of this ignorance God winked at (overlooked, passed by); but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent."

3. He is the judge of man. "For He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained."

(J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)

When he saw that the city was "wholly given to idolatry," i.e., literally covered with idols — κατείδωλον refer. ring to the place, not to the people — his spirit was roused; he could no longer keep silence and refrain from proclaiming the message he had come to deliver. Then it chanced that some of the members of the two great philosophic sects, the Epicureans and Stoics, encountered him. Part of these called him a babbler (σπερμολόγος), literally a picker-up of small seeds, like a bird, i.e., a collector and retailer of insignificant scraps of information; and others charged him with setting forth strange gods, foreign divinities.

I. THE UNKNOWN GOD. There is an unknown God today, as certainly as there was in Paul's time; and it is the business of the Christian teacher to declare Him, or set Him forth. In one sense God must always be unknown. The mind of man is finite, and can therefore never comprehend the Infinite.

1. The unknown god of the ancients. It is by no means clear how this altar came to be erected at Athens. By some, it is supposed that Polytheism had made so many gods by the deification of every human passion, that no more could be thought of; and hence, to cover the whole ground, an additional altar was erected to an unknown god at the shrine of which the worship should ascend to any possible deity that might have been overlooked. Others suppose that some special benefits had been received by the people, which could not be traced to any of the known gods — hence an altar to the unknown. More probably, however, it arose from some dim conception of a Supreme Being higher than all the gods of mythology, who, while He satisfied a yearning want of the heart, took no hold on the intellect. This would seem to be apparent from Paul's words, that he would declare the very God thus worshipped. In any case, that altar was a tacit but terrible confession of the failure of heathendom. Nowhere perhaps had the intellect risen so high as at Athens.

2. The unknown God of the moderns. Herbert Spencer prates most glibly of the Unknowable, and Huxley worships at its shrine. Tyndal calls religions "forms of force" which must not be permitted to "intrude on the region of knowledge." Matthew Arnold terms God a "stream of tendency by which all things fulfil the law of their being," as though there could be a stream without a source, or things could fulfil any purpose where there was no plan.

II. THE RELATION OF THE UNKNOWN GOD TO MAN. It is difficult to understand what relationship we can sustain to the unknown, or at least to learn what the relationship is, if any such there be. Yet those who teach that God is unknown and unknowable recognise some sort of relationship to this unknown Being. The possible relationship may be considered under three distinct heads.

1. Worship. This, in some form or other, is universal. In all ages men have worshipped something. In fact it is difficult to find a stronger instinct in human nature than this one. We have —(1) Worship in ignorance. This is what the Athenians were guilty of. They worshipped without ascribing to the object any definite qualities whatever.(2) Worship of nature. An atheist writing recently in one of the Secularistic journals proposed verbal prayer to nature, and says, "May we not pray or invoke the powers of nature for aid, without any reference to a personal God, calling that power the unconditioned, unknowable Absolute, or what you will; or no name at all? I think so." It is difficult to see what is the object of this prayer, since it is clear that blind forces can neither hear nor answer. But it proves the tendency to worship, even in the atheist. A more mystic form of worship, of an atheistic character, was proposed by the late Professor Clifford, under the name of Cosmic Emotion. The term originated with Mr. Henry Sedgwick; but Professor Clifford used it as a sort of substitute for religion. By it he simply meant the emotion which is called up in the soul when contemplating itself and its moral nature on the one hand, and the mysteries of the universe on the other. But such a worship as this — if worship it can be called — has no cult, and therefore cannot meet the condition required. It is a hollow semblance, nothing more.(3) Worship of abstractions. The Positivists profess to worship humanity in the abstract. What this is, it is difficult very clearly to understand. Humanity in the concrete we know something of, and it is neither exalted enough nor pure enough to satisfy, as an object of worship, the religious nature of man. This form of worship professes to find a cultus in dead heroes and sages. But, to say the least of it, this is a miserable substitute for an Almighty and loving Father in heaven. The worship of nature, or of abstractions, is, after all, but idolatry. Men do not now make their idols of wood or stone, but cut of their own wild imaginings.

2. Responsibility. The moral law needs a personal God for its basis. The unknown is no foundation on which to raise a superstructure of ethics.

3. Immortality. Most of those, however, who assert that God is unknown do not believe in a personal immortality at all, but speak of the immortality of the race or of a man's reputation that he may leave behind him. There is no guarantee that the race will remain forever, if God be taken away; and if there were, such a fact would not meet the wants of humanity. We long for, and aspire after, an eternal personal conscious existence, and nothing less than that can satisfy the soul.

III. THE REVELATION OF THE UNKNOWN GOD. "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you," or set forth unto you. This was Paul's work, to reveal or make known the unknown God. This he was enabled to do by means of —

1. The Scriptures. God's real character can only be learnt from the Bible.

2. The Incarnation. This is the only means by which God can be really and truly known. "No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." He hath declared Him in such a manner that the simplest may understand. Do you want to know what God is like? I point you to Christ. There is the revelation and the Revealer blended in one.

(George Sexton, LL. D.)

The astronomers Le Verrier and Adams, in separate countries at the same time, observing certain motions among the spheres which could not be accounted for by any known cause, concluded that there must be a body not yet discovered somewhere in the regions of space in which the disturbances were observed. Seeking in the direction thus indicated they found the far distant and hitherto unknown world. So Greek philosophy was able, from the appetites and vacancies of the human mind, which all the idols could not satisfy, to determine that there must be some God hitherto from them concealed, to whom these appetites pointed, and without whom they could not be satisfied. Their skill could discover in a general way their need, but they could not by their searching find the missing portion for a human soul.

(W. Arnot, D. D.)

God is unknown —

1. To those who think themselves wise.

2. To those who perform the external acts of worship without seeking God Himself.

3. To those who do not live in Him, but in the world and its lusts.

4. To those who do not desire to find God in Christ.


Observe —

I. THAT MAN, WHEN LEFT TO THE EFFORTS OF HIS OWN REASON, NEVER DISCOVERS THE CHARACTER OF THE TRUE GOD. The most probable explanation of the inscription is the carefulness of the Athenians not to exclude any God.

1. That there was originally an adequate revelation of God is not properly to be doubted (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1, 2). In addition to the silent testimony of nature were direct and verbal communications to patriarchs, etc.

2. Nevertheless, the knowledge of God became beclouded, and errors encrouched with fearful rapidity and success. There was a depraved principle in the heart of man urging him to devices, whereby God might be banished from his mind, and his passions set free from control. From this source sprang up idolatry. "They did not like to retain God," etc. (Romans 1:21-23, 25).

3. This fatal principle which led to the loss of the knowledge of God, prevented it from being restored. Having extinguished the light, it perpetuated the darkness. There were many centuries during which the human intellect was able to open all its resources, and to practise all its powers, but none retraced their steps to the Divine Being. "The world by wisdom knew not God"; "the age of reason" was an age of idolatry, pollution, and despair.

4. With reference to subsequent ages, and our own, the fact and its explanation are the same, as India, China, Africa, etc., testify. If, however, we are pointed to the writings of Deistical philosophers who have professed to argue the existence of God from the light of reason, we are not to be misled by the pretensions of unprincipled plagiarists who have but borrowed the guidance of revelation, without having had the honour to acknowledge it.

II. THAT IT IS THE OFFICE OF CHRISTIANITY TO PLACE THE CHARACTER OF THE TRUE GOD IN FULL AND DISTINCT REVELATION. The circumstances just illustrated constituted a necessity for a revelation. Proceeding on this necessity manifestations were given to the patriarchs of the supremacy and grace of the Most High. Then followed the calling of the Jews, the giving of their law, the solemn warnings against idolatry, institutions designed to preserve them from the infection of surrounding nations, and the ministry of the prophets. At length, "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son," and then came the ministry of the apostles. Recognising all this, note —

1. That the revelations of God in Christianity are furnished in connection with a method of redemption, from which their clearness and lustre are derived. The purpose of the gospel is to explain and apply a scheme of sovereign mercy by which man is to be redeemed from his apostasy. The existence of such a scheme had been announced immediately after the fall, and was shadowed forth in type and prophecy, and employed, harmonised, and displayed the perfections of God. Hence our Saviour frequently spoke of His work as "glorifying the Father." In the Cross Mercy and Truth meet together, Righteousness and Peace kiss each other, and in that Cross we see that "God is love."

2. That these revelations are designed for diffusion through the world. The earlier dispensations were systems rather of defence than attack, of conservation than conquest. But the gospel was "good all people." Prophecy announced it as such, the "propitiation for the sins of the whole world" made it such, and the apostles were sent to preach it as such.

III. THAT IT BECOMES THE DISCIPLES OF CHRISTIANITY TO EXERT THEMSELVES FOR THE PROMULGATION AND TRIUMPH OF THEIR RELIGION. The conduct of Paul, whose "spirit was stirred within him" not only to indignation but to service, is an example to all. Consider —

1. Reasons which are uniform and permanent in their appeals. The work of promulgating the truth —

(1)Has been committed by Christ to His Church as its specific duty.

(2)Vindicates and in the highest measure secures the Divine honour.

(3)Imparts exalted happiness to mankind.

2. Reasons which are derived from the peculiarities of our own times — the extraordinary facilities which are now provided for the dissemination of Christian truth.

(J. Parsons.)

I. The book of THE WORLD with its two parts — nature and history (vers. 24-26).

II. The book of THE HEART with its two parts — reason and conscience (vers. 27, 28).

III. The book of SCRIPTURE with its two parts — reason and conscience (vers. 30, 31).

(K. Gerok.)

Suppose a scholar searching in some old library were to discover two MSS., which had lain unknown for generations on different shelves. The discoverer examines their contents and is struck with certain peculiarities in the handwriting, which are common to both documents. He also finds that in both there are words and phrases — such as seem the expression of a writer's individuality. Still further, he discovers that many ideas are common to the two pamphlets, and that though different in subject, there is a substratum of thought identical in both. Could he do other than infer that they were the products of the same author? Mere coincidence might account for one or two of these resemblances, but could never explain the great variety and number that are found here. Now the object we have in view is somewhat similar.


1. The unity of God.(1) This doctrine runs through the pages of Scripture like a stream of light illumining all things else. Now —(2) Judging from the many religions in the world, one might suppose that nature leads to the conception of many gods. But Polytheism betrays as profound an ignorance of nature as it does of the Divine Being. Let us turn from pagan conceptions to the interpretations of science. All recent discovery is tending to set up one conception of the universe, and that is that one plan is to be discovered, and that one power is working under divers forms.(a) See how the two kingdoms, animal and vegetable, correspond, meet each the other's needs, and are evidently parts of one plan. With every breath that we exhale we pour into the atmosphere a gas destructive of animal life. With every inspiration we consume a portion of that element of the atmosphere which is vital to us. But then every vegetable — tree, grass, flower — is absorbing from the air the poisonous carbonic acid and breathing out the vital oxygen.(b) But not alone within terrestrial limits is this unity discernible. The spectroscopist has caught the fleeting rays of light from stars and suns, and has wrung from them the confession that these worlds are built up of much the same materials as our own.(c) Formerly the various natural forces were regarded as distinct. But experiment has shown that they are one, and are convertible. Electricity can be converted into light, and the light into heat, and heat into motion, or they can be resolved back again, motion into heat, heat into light, light into electricity. What a marvel is this! It is the same power that works everywhere in nature, taking a thousand different shapes; and what is that power but the power of the one God?

2. Every fresh discovery confirms the belief that Infinite Wisdom conceived, executed, and presides over all created things. And the power manifestly pervading the boundless universe is a power so vast that we may well yield to it the title of Omnipotence.

3. When we consider the moral attributes of God, nature yields a feebler testimony than revelation. Nevertheless, though nature needs to be supplemented, its witness coincides with that of Scripture. Take, e.g., the righteousness of God.(1) Though conscience has not always power to compel obedience, it yet sits on the seat of judgment undisputed, and is a convincing evidence of the righteousness of God. For how came man to possess this faculty, which has created a universally prevalent idea of moral obligation? How came man to feel that good is intrinsically superior to evil? The secularist affirms that expediency or the general weal of society has dictated certain courses of action as the wisest and safest, and has dissuaded from others as hurtful to the community. Thus by the power of habit strengthened through the generations, certain actions have come to be regarded as right, others as evil and vicious. And we may grant to this theory a measure of truth. But there is a question farther back. Why has universal experience proved virtue to be conducive to happiness and vice the opposite? The only answer to this must be, that it is in the nature of things, impressed on them by their Creator.(2) And man's inner nature accords with external nature. Wherever we look we find evidence of "a power, not ourselves, making for righteousness." The fail of empires through the corruption of luxury and evil; the prosperity of states whose citizens are virtuous, brave, and true; every life prematurely closed by the ravages of vicious habits, and every good man's life attests an eternal moral order. Whence, then, this moral constitution? For every effect there must be a cause, and what is in the effect must first have been in the cause. Therefore He who made the world is a Moral Being, and has transferred to His works this moral order, which first existed in Himself. Whatever quality you discover in the work must have been first in the worker.

II. THE SAME MODES OF DIVINE OPERATION ARE CLEARLY DISCERNIBLE BOTH IN SCRIPTURE AND NATURE. There is something in a man's work distinguishing it from that of all others, and which is manifest more or less in all he does. "The style is the man." By his style you recognise an artist's pictures or a writer's articles, though no name be appended to the work. Now there is a style about the Divine works, and this style can be traced both in nature and revelation. Modern science has clearly established that in creation a strict order has been observed. There can be traced a gradual development from lower to higher types of being. And the Bible presents us with a remarkably similar process. In the spiritual education of men a development can be traced. The truths of religion were gradually disclosed, and the world was led on step by step in spiritual culture and enlightenment. Here, then, we have a resemblance of a peculiar kind, which stands out as a distinct evidence of a common origin for both nature and revelation.

III. MANY OF THE DIFFICULTIES WITH WHICH SCRIPTURE CONFRONTS US ARE MET ALSO IN NATURE. Take an illustration. The election of the Jewish people to be the recipients of Divine revelation, while the other nations were left in darkness, has often appeared a strange procedure on God's part. Was this consistent with justice and love? The reply to this is that the selection of the Jewish people was not for their own sakes alone, but that through them all families of the earth might be blessed; and that men were not rejected by God simply because they were not Jews. Among all peoples there was light enough to save sincere seekers. A similar election of nations has always characterised God's government of the world. He fixes the bounds of one people on a generous soil, and plants another amid barren snows. He confides to one people to work out some problem on which the world's welfare and progress depend. And for a time that people stand out distinguished by Heaven's favour above all others. To the ancient Greek was given the highest culture of art, to the Roman the highest development of government. To the English race today is committed the problem of combining the largest liberty with order and security.

(J. Legge, M. A.)

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