Sometime ago, while in the pulpit with the Bible opened to the 17th chapter of Acts, I began to read at the 16th verse. When I had read through the 26th verse I was carried by the Spirit to Mars Hill in Athens, Greece; and became a live listener as Paul preached this mighty sermon on the text, THE UNKNOWN GOD. I was one who had helped erect the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. I had to stop reading as I began to experience extraordinary visions and wonderful meditations relative to the actual setting and circumstance of this memorable occasion. I was so astonished at the sight of Athens, Mars Hill, and the many altars and inscriptions and gods made of stone and wood; and the people who worshiped them; that I have done research since then to see if it was a true picture. G. Frederick Owens says, “Athens, one of the greatest cultural centers of Paul’s day, grew up around a 520-foot-high rocky plateau called “the Acropolis”. Here, on this elevated area, stood the many-columned Parthenon, far famed architectural wonder, and so many other sacred edifices that the place was called, “the many templed Acropolis”. May God grant that you relive with me as I relate this.
I came to Athens because I had learned that the most wise of the earth were there. I had such a craving for wisdom because of my convictions that I was so ignorant and unlearned. I had itching ears to hear something that would satisfy my hunger for wisdom. I had a worshipful heart and a strange feeling that I must come to Athens in order to hear these great wise men talk of wisdom. I had a feeling that I would find unity there and that the wise men would all be agreed. I was disappointed upon my arrival when I found wise men in the Market Place disagreeing and quarreling. I learned that the wise men spoke constantly on Mars Hill. I attended the lectures and found that they disagreed. I began to venture out and behold the many altars and the constant flow of people. Some went to one altar; others went to another; while others formed in companies to go to the various images. I followed one company to an altar and while the people were bowing before this image I read a long inscription about this god. They knew so much about their god; yet the inscription meant nothing to me. It was empty and meaningless. I thought of how foolish it was to fall down and worship something that couldn’t see, feel, or even stretch forth his hands. I exclaimed in anguish, “Do all of you worship in reality this graven image whom you have to move and carry about?” Some raved against me, but a few walked to my side and one of them inquired, “Tell us about your god?” I answered, “I know nothing about a god, however, I feel there is but One - Who has more power than this god whom you worship.” We agreed to investigate all of the other shrines and altars. We read each and every inscription printed on the banners at the many edifices and a few from each company joined us as we proceeded from one place to another.
After investigating all these long inscriptions of the many gods we concluded that we had not found any that suited the feelings and convictions of any of us. What could we do? We were all anxious to worship together THE GOD whom we could not define. We talked freely one with another and found a relationship with each other that we could not explain. We reasoned that there were so many altars that surely we could erect one and worship together. We found that we could not match the long inscriptions found on the other altars. We all confessed to one another that we wanted to worship the God whom we knew nothing about. We thought we must put up an inscription as all of the others had. They wrote long inscriptions about their gods but we could write nothing because we all confessed our ignorance of Him. Finally we agreed on a short inscription of four little words: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. We did not know how to worship Him but we tried. How we wanted and wished that we could know more of Him.
One day a lone stranger passed our way and he paused long as he read the inscription. While he was standing there some men came hurriedly up and yanked him by the arm and said to him, “We are taking you before Areopagus that we may know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is.” Something drew us to follow him as there was something magnetic in the expressions of his eyes and manner. It had such a drawing effect upon us that we began to wonder, IS HE A GOD? We kept as close to him as possible as arrangements were made for him to speak, and our company was clustered together as Paul stood in the midst of Mars Hill and began to speak. Other companies were there too in that throng of people. His words rang loud and clear in powerful tones as he began, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” I thought of all the inscriptions that he read he called attention only to ours. It seemed he was speaking only to us. Is he ridiculing us for being wholly given to idolatry? was the question that came to my mind as he paused in this sermon. As I was thinking, Are we worse than they?, I really heard his words, “Whom ye ignorantly worship.” As he spoke, “Him declare I unto you”, I thought He is making known to us the God that we do not know. Our God sent him to us.
I reasoned further that this man is taking special notice of us who confess our ignorance. We know that we are ignorant of Him and that we do not know how to properly worship Him. This man is recognizing us as the ones who truly worship Him even though it is an ignorant worship. This God Whom Paul preached had properly tuned our ears to hear and our hearts to understand and our minds to receive as Paul thundered, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of Heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands”. Again the speaker paused as my thoughts raced on. I thought, there is not a plurality of Gods each one having his own little dominion - JUST ONE! He is THE GOD! What a Being! One Supreme God! He IS sovereignly ruling NOW in both heaven and earth. All things are under His almighty supervision to such extent that He is Lord of all creatures. All things are held in the hollow of His hand instead of Him dwelling in temples made with men’s hands. I heard Paul’s voice become clearer as he continued, “Neither is worshipped with men’s hands as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to ALL life, and breath, and all things.”
As Paul paused I experienced a multitude of comforting thoughts. Our God owns all things, controls all things, and works all things and does not need our power to assist Him. He does not need our wealth to make Him richer. He does not need our wisdom to inform Him, neither our political ability to advance His cause. I began to fear and tremble as I was swallowed up in thoughts of God’s majesty and greatness. I felt His great hand swallow me and all the earth and fullness into its hollow with room to spare. I thought I had felt little but I had never felt so insignificant as this. Paul continued: “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” No nation could boast of being better than other nations because God made them all of ONE blood. The same blood that coursed through the arteries, heart, veins, and capillaries of Adam and Eve had come in a continual flow through the generations to follow uninterrupted to the present time. Even though seas of blood have been shed, this blood has been made to grow in volume until now. No person can estimate its volume now.
No one could say so much in so few words unless he had been sent of God: a time to be born, die, plant, harvest, mourn, dance, laugh, cry; - all times of persons, nations, days, nights, and events were before determined. Not only when but where of all events were before appointed and determined by THE GOD of the Heaven and of the earth. The time and the prescribed place of all beings from the smallest insect to the greatest creature that ever existed, or will exist, were all before appointed and determined by Him. If all the plants were pens; if all the seas were ink; if all outer space were paper; and every creature were a ready writer, I venture to say, that God’s sovereignty could never be fully told in this short duration of thousands of years of time . . . The subject becomes so great in its magnitude that I am lost in amazement and awe; while a multitude of thoughts flood my mind.
The question of WHY takes hold upon me as I hear Paul continue, “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, AND FIND HIM, though He be not far from EVERY one of US.” Seeking the Lord, feeling after Him, and finding Him: all this is the constant labor and glorious victory of every one whom God has touched with His eternal Spirit. Every one who knows his own weakness and dependence seeks the Lord, for they have found through sad experience that the wisdom of the world, the might of men, and the riches of the earth can never progress us one inch toward God nor satisfy our fainting souls. I must seek His guidance in prayer without ceasing. I must feel after Him if I am so fortunate to be an object of His care and providence. He cares for me, is the sweetest feeling a poor worm of the dust ever felt. He provides for me, is a sublime feeling for poor beggars to feel. He holds me in the hollow of His hand, is the most protective feeling experienced when confronted with the powers that be, who would take us and kill us if they could. Finding that He helps us, undertakes for us, and fights our battles in our stead, all this gives ease of mind, comforts the heart, and restores the soul. A question enters my mind which startles me: Where can I go to find Him? Who can I send into the heavens or across the sea?
Paul continues, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.” It is because of Him that we live. Any time He should withdraw Himself from us we would die naturally. Even the natural life within us Is GOD. It is through Him that we move a finger, foot, tongue, or eye. We could not naturally see without Him. We can not write, think, nor speak without Him. We cannot retain things in our memory without Him. We owe Him our lives for creating us and numbering our days, as well as providing all things necessary for our natural existence. He owns us. We can never repay Him with praise for what He is to us as natural human beings. If He be in us ALL, as surely He is, then, to partially understand ourselves is a lesson toward understanding God. I cannot analyze my mind, neither can I understand my thoughts. Even the study of my own physical anatomy becomes so complex, or complicated, that I cannot understand the functionings of my natural body. What makes my heart beat? What induces the thoughts that enter my mind? How is the food digested that I put into my mouth? How are these digestive juices distributed to the various parts of the body? Surely I am a complicated mechanism that only God can run! Paul interrupts my thoughts again as he says: “Forasmuch then we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” Such foolishness, I reasoned, that man who is so wonderfully made should want to worship something far less than he himself is. What folly to try to help God when man can’t, without God, help himself? I thought, vain is the help of man. I vowed, Never again will I worship a creature but the ONE Who created all things.
Paul had stood so dignified and spoke with such power and authority until now that I was startled at the emotions that softened the tone of his voice as he made a step forward with a gesture of his hands and proclaimed; “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; BUT NOW COMMANDETH ALL MEN EVERYWHERE TO REPENT”. I thought, Paul is not commanding us to repent; he is telling us that GOD commands it. The fullness of the time of this ignorance had really come to its end. The time of this ignorance God winked at. This time of ignorance was included in the time before appointed. Of course He winked at it because it needs be that we go through this time of ignorance in order to teach us that we cannot be wise of our own volition; but that ALL wisdom comes down as a free gift from Him who made us. His command to repent from this ignorant worship is certainly effectual and will cause the least to turn from their own ignorant ways of worship and to praise Him rightly. This command which is NOW being proclaimed exercises the minds, hearts, and souls of each and every one of His people in every nation, kindred, and tongue under Heaven. I heard Paul proclaim it. I felt the power of it in my soul. I prayed, “Turn me, Lord, and I shall be turned.” He was turning me then. How anxious I was to hear the next words that Paul spoke: “Because He has APPOINTED a Day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that MAN whom He HATH ORDAINED: whereof HE hath given assurance unto all men in that HE HATH RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.” Paul gave the proper gesture that he had finished speaking and paused for a moment before leaving the rostrum. As he paused I thought, I want to know more about that man whom God hath Ordained; I want to know more about that Appointed Day in which He would judge the world in righteousness; and, I want to know more of this Assurance given unto all men. In short, I want to read over and over again this mighty heart-stirring sermon on the GREATNESS OF GOD.
By this time Paul was leaving the rostrum, and all of our company as well as some from other companies met together at the exit that we might be closer to the man, and say a word to him. I heard some say, “We will hear thee again on this matter.” Some from out in the audience mocked him. I was one of those who clave to him. I said to Paul, I want a copy of this. He answered, “There is a man with me who wrote my sermon out word by word while I was speaking. I not only paused in order that the words have time to grow in your own minds, but another purpose was that the one who is preparing a treatise for Theophilus could have time to write every word of it. You shall have a copy to read over and over again.” I thanked God for having led me to this place to hear this mighty sermon. I am awakening from my trance and have a few observations to make before closing this article. I have read all of the sermons and letters delivered and written by Paul as published in the New Testament; but none holds me more spellbound than the one delivered on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece. If I ever become doubtful of God’s sovereignty and almighty ruling and working of all things I turn to that sermon again to remove the doubts. When I question His right and authority to take vengeance and render severe judgments; I read again this sermon.
Paul reached the climax of this sermon in his last words, “Whereof He hath given assurance unto all men that HE HATH RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.” Paul had disputed daily in the Market Place and had “Preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection”. Dionysius, the Areopagite - a very wise man of literature was one who clave to Paul after hearing this sermon.
It would be a good idea when confronted with those who affirm the might of man and deny the sovereignty of God in all things, to just quote to them the full text of Paul on Mars Hill. If this will not shut the mouth of those who argue that God needs our help - nothing can be said that will close their mouths from speaking blasphemy. Dear reader: will you please turn again to the 17th chapter of ACTS and begin reading the 22nd verse, slowly read through the 31st verse as the conclusion of this article. Thanks. - E.J.L.
Elder E.J. Lambert
Signs of the Times - Editorial
Vol. 134, No. 1 – January, 1966