Moral Wretchedness of Idolatry
Acts 17:15-34
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 great argument for missionary exertion, next to its being the plain command of God, is the spiritual helplessness of those who live under the power of idolatry. This paroxysm of grief which the apostle felt would be excited by —

I. THE DISHONOURING VIEWS OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER AND GOVERNMENT NECESSARILY ASSOCIATED WITH SUCH A SYSTEM. Those who think lightly of idolatry speak as if it afforded the same outlet for the religious affections as true religion; that the religious element in man's nature is as effectually cultivated, whether men called the being they worshipped Vishnu, or Juggernaut, or God, seeing the same honour in all cases is intended to the Great Author of the universe. But now, even if this monstrous impiety were conceded, it is sufficient to observe that the attributes with which these gods are commonly invested must for ever forbid the acceptableness of the worship. So far otherwise, God must regard it as worship by which His character is debased, and everything which could inspire filial and reverential sentiments is taken away.

II. THE SANCTIONED AND PERMITTED DISREGARD OF THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY. The religion of Greece was chiefly a religion of festivals; and some of these extended to seven days. True, some were simply absurd; but at the majority things were performed of which it were a shame even to speak. With similar accounts our own missionaries are obliged to stain their reports unto this day. Now, it is easy to see that morality can have no existence under such a state of things, because all morals must have as their foundation the will of God. "Be ye holy, because I am holy," appeals to a universal moral instinct; flee from iniquity, because God hateth iniquity — these are the safeguards of all that is pure in our social system. In the case of idolatry, however, this safeguard is removed. It were in vain that the law should forbid a thing as unholy which religion has declared to be acceptable in the sight of God.

III. THE UTTER ABSENCE OF ALL RELIGIOUS PEACE OR TRANQUILLITY OF CONSCIENCE. The consideration may address itself, first, to our feelings of humanity. In some respects we know that the worship of the idolater must be a miserable worship. His self-inflicted torture must make existence to be a burden to him. But this belongs less to Athenian than to Asiatic idolatry. We may suppose the mind of the apostle to have been exercised by the absence of religious peace. They know not God; they know not the mercifulness of His nature, the wisdom of His ways, the gentleness of His yoke, the goodness of His laws. I am speaking to men who know something of the comforts of religion. What is the source of it? You feel that a propitiation has been found for your offences; that an exhaustless fund of holy influences is opened to meet every remaining infirmity; and that there is the power of a covenant keeping God to keep you faithful unto the end. You have troubles; but are not these among those things which work together for the believer's good? But what knows the poor heathen of such consolations?

IV. PAINFUL MISGIVINGS AS TO THE FINAL SALVATION OF THESE PEOPLE. Our chief guide upon such a subject must he the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. There does not seem to be an important distinction in that chapter; for though the apostle does seem to leave some hope of salvation for the mere heathen who is without the knowledge of God, is it quite so clear that it leaves a hope of salvation to the idolater? The heathen, it seems to be supposed, will be a law unto himself, and has a power to discern from the things which are seen and made the Almighty's eternal power and Godhead. But suppose, instead of this, he should change the image of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible man, etc., are we then prepared to say that an idolater hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God? We limit no mercies; but everywhere, as we look on the vast outspread of idolatry, the stern and withering sentence meets us, "Without God, without hope." Oh! must not every heart be stirred up within us at such a spectacle? Conclusion: And now, in applying my remarks to the cause of missions, I must remind you of our three great wants and your three correlative duties. First, we want the means. But not only do we want your money — we want your sons. And then we want your prayers.

(D. Moore, M. A.)

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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