A Saddening Spectacle: a Missionary Sermon
Acts 17:15-17
And they that conducted Paul brought him to Athens: and receiving a commandment to Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed…

The spirit of Paul was "stirred in him" (ver. 16) by the statues which crowded the city of Athens. That which would yield intense gratification to any modern traveler plunged the apostle into deep melancholy and gloom. But there is a vast difference between then and now. Then idolatry was regnant; now it is dethroned. Then the worship of the living God had but one representative in that populous city; now there is not one idolater to be discovered there. To Paul those statues, meeting him at every turn and almost at every step, were abominable idols; to us they are interesting relics of a distant age.

I. THE SADNESS OF THIS SPECTACLE AS IT APPEARED TO PAUL. The aspect which Athens wore to the apostle is expressed by the sacred historian. It was a "city wholly given to idolatry," or filled with idols. He would have discovered on inquiry if he did not already know, that these statues were not worshipped as gods themselves by their devotees. Nevertheless, he would have called them "idols;" for they were distinctly condemned by the commandments of the Lord (Exodus 20:4, 5); they were prohibited by the Law of God as idolatrous. Though the intelligence of Athens saved its citizens from idolatry in its last and worst stage, the identification of the image with the deity, it had not saved it from the idolatry of an earlier stage, the association of the image with the deity it represented. Against this form of sin, so severely denounced in Scripture, so offensive to God, so dangerous and delusive to man, the spirit of Paul rose in strong rebellion. The sight of its outward manifestation filled him with inexpressible sadness; his "spirit was embittered."

II. THE ASPECT WHICH THIS ATHENIAN STATUARY WEARS TO US. TO US it is a sad proof that the world by wisdom does not know God. Human wisdom can never hope to go further than it went in Athens. If ever, anywhere, human philosophy, human art, the human imagination could have reached truth and found God, it would have triumphed at Athens. But there was the melancholy exhibition of error and immorality. The utmost exertion of human thought had ended in

(1) the worship of many gods;

(2) the worship of gods to whom lust and cruelty were ascribed;

(3) the worship of these gods with debasing rites.

No city in the world gives surer or sadder proof that sin so injures and disables us that our unaided manhood cannot rise to the sacred heights of truth and purity.

III. THE SAD SPECTACLE IT SUGGESTS TO US NOW'. If Athens needed the ministry of Paul so terribly then, how much must all heathen cities require the gospel of Christ today! In the vast populations of the Asiatic and African continents, and among the hundred "islands of the sea," where human intelligence has never attempted to scale the heights which Grecian philosophers tried to reach, what awful degradations must exist and do exist! If Athens was an idol-covered city, what must be the condition of the barbarous towns and villages of an unevangelized world? What sights are there to stir our spirits now! What idolatry, what superstition, what cruelty, what lasciviousness, what falsehood, what dishonesty! what utter absence of piety, holiness, and love! what an absolute reversal of God's first thought of human nature and human life! What infinite reason to address ourselves to -

IV. THE SACRED DUTY TO WHICH IT CALLS US. "Therefore disputed he... daily" (ver. 17). The Christian Church must gird itself to the work of meeting pagan error with Divine truth. It is a great task to undertake. But as the lonely apostle went on, single-handed, with his mission, trusting in him "to whom all power is given in heaven and in earth," and knowing that "the foolishness of God is wiser than man," and that "the weak things of the world can confound the things which are mighty," even so must we. If only the Church went forth to this its work with half the zeal with which the spirit-stilled apostle wrought out his life-work, the time would not be counted by centuries when the idols would be utterly abolished, and the Lord Jesus Christ would alone be exalted. - C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.

WEB: But those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens. Receiving a commandment to Silas and Timothy that they should come to him very quickly, they departed.

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