Brother F. A. Chick, of Maine, has desired us to give our views through the “Signs” on Acts 17:30. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.”
Reply: In reading this text and its immediate connection, we are sensibly impressed with the striking analogy which the circumstances here presented bear to the time, place and circumstances occupied at the present day by those few who contend for the truth, and against the superstition and idolatry of the present hour in our own country and throughout the world.
Paul was a stranger and sojourner at Athens, waiting the arrival of Silas and Timothy. Driven by persecution, he came to Athens, and found that whole city was given to idolatry, and his spirit was stirred in him, and he disputed with the Jews and in the market daily with them that came to him. God’s ministers and witnesses are now strangers and pilgrims in the world, driven about at this time by persecution, and shocked at the abominable idolatry which they encounter at every hand. Their testimony, like that of Paul, is in direct contradiction of that which is popular, involving them continually in disputation with legalists and idolaters. The doctrine of God our Savior, as preached then by Paul, was new and strange to that people: and their curiosity was excited, and they brought him to Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine whereof thou speakest is? For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear some new thing. Perhaps from that to the present time there has never been a greater disposition manifested in the religious circles for telling and hearing new things: but with all their relish for new things, the gospel which was both new and strange to their ears, had no attraction for them, as the sequel will show. None can deny that in the present time in which the invention of human ingen4ity has been upon the rack to forge new theories of divinity and new machinery for what they profanely call evangelizing the world, while everything of human invention has its admirers and advocates; the simple truth as it is in Jesus is today about as unpopular in the world as it was in Paul’s time at Athens.
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ Hill. Let us notice and compare his stand-point with that of the servants of God who preach the same doctrine which Paul preached then. Mars, in pagan mythology, was the imaginary god of war, which was worshipped and relied upon to give success to human butchery, and Mars’ Hill was an eminence probably which was so named and consecrated in honor of that idol. Among the thousands of heathen deities to whom they had built altars and offered sacrifices, none seemed to be more popular than Mars.
Brother Chick, ascend the hill of Mars, and look around you, and report what you see. There stands an altar inscribed, Missionism; or the god of missions, calling loud and pathetically for men and money to save a sinking world. Millions have been offered upon this Missionary altar, and yet its avarice is not satisfied. No soul has ever yet been saved by it; no soul ever will or can be saved by it, for there is salvation no where else but in the name of Jesus. Hence all the men, and all the money offered upon this idol’s altar is offered in vain. Yonder, yet near the first, towers up another; go read its superscription. The Sabbath School, as a means of grace, is chiseled upon its front. Like Moloch of old, it has received its hundreds of thousands of children which have been offered upon it, and although its flaming claws have not consumed the bodies of the victims which have been offered, they have consumed in them all that respect for the truth of divine revelation and reverence for the God which made the heavens and earth that they naturally possessed, and has seared their consciences as with a hot iron, and fostered in them the spirit of delusion, infidelity and bitter persecution.
Hard by, your eyes rest upon another magnificent altar, on which is inscribed Tract Society; its god is made of paper daubed with ink. Costly sacrifices are laid in grand profusion upon it, and the salvation of souls is accredited to it.
Turn yet again, and you gaze upon an altar bearing the title Theological Seminary, and on the other side the engraving reads Educational Society. This idol is by all the modern Athenian worshipers regarded as the lord of their harvest, to whom they cry for all the ministerial laborers they desire. From this altar proceed such flattering titles as Reverends, Doctors of Divinity, Right Reverends, Holy Fathers, Popes, Cardinals and Bishops, Chaplains, Deans, Monks, Friars, Colporteurs, and numerous others which are forbidden to be used in the church and kingdom of our God and of his Christ.
We are told that the pagans had some thirty thousand gods canonized, and held in sacred veneration; but how the number will compare with those of modern times, we will not presume to say; for time would fail us to speak of all the sculptured altars that may be distinctly seen and read from the summit of Mars’ Hill.
Stained with the blood of millions, we shudder as we behold the altar of the god of war, who from the days of Cain has crimsoned the earth with human gore: yet this detestable monster has in all ages had his votaries; but never in our own beloved country so many, so violent and so cruel as in the last few years. Pile up the mangled ghastly bodies of two millions who have been slain in the late war with our sister States, and heap on that frightful pile one million Negroes who have perished since the war began in consequence of being forced or allured away from comfortable homes, and you will have a hill for Mars which will suffer nothing by comparison with that Mars’ Hill on which the holy apostle stood. Let any one who fears God rise to the summit of this hill of Mars, and we doubt not that his spirit will be stirred as was the spirit of Paul, to protest in the name of the Lord against the abominable idolatry and superstition of the present times.
But we will not now stop to institute a further comparison between the number or qualities of the ancient and modern imaginary gods which are made and worshipped by what our apostle calls art or man’s device. Seeing that they are all alike condemned by divine authority as superstitious and idolatrous, we will pass to notice more particularly the verse on which our views are solicited.
“And the times of this ignorance.” What times? And what ignorance? Observe, the apostle does not confine the application of his remarks to any one particular time, but speaks of the times, as though they were many; and then contrasting all former times when this abominable idolatry has prevailed, with its prevalence in subsequent ages, says that the former he had winked at; but henceforth a righteous judgment should mete due recompense to the offenders.
Under the former ages, especially while national Israel stood the type of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, while Israel was sorely punished for the sin of idolatry, the heathen nations of the earth were allowed to worship their idols without rebuke. The punishments inflicted upon Israel for worshipping idols were all temporal judgments, such as sword, pestilence and famine, captivity, and final extinction as a nation; but no such punishments were visited upon any but that typical people. It was thus that God had winked at the idolatry of the Gentiles. But now commandeth all men everywhere to repent. Now, or from the time the separating partition between Jews and Gentiles was removed. Now that the Jewish organization and Jewish rites were abolished, from that time the apostle has taught that there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles; all were alike to be judged and punished for the sins of idolatry.
Here, lest our views be misapprehended, we will observe that we do not understand that it was in point of guilt before God, or exposure to everlasting damnation any less criminal for the Gentiles to worship the works of their own hands before than subsequently to the abolition of Judaism; nor in the sense any more abominable for Jews, than for the heathens to worship idols. But Israel, as a covenant and typical people, were called in distinction from all other nations to be a peculiar people, and were held under a conditional covenant, which required that they should maintain the character of a peculiar people, consequently their special obedience to the law, and the severe chastisements for their disobedience were specially provided in the law of a carnal commandment.
But now, as Paul stands addressing the Atheneans, and in all subsequent ages of the world, a just and righteous retribution for idolatry shall be inflicted alike upon Jews and Gentiles without discrimination.
The times of this ignorance included the time in which the giving of the law, the prophets, the priesthood, etc., were all confined to Israel, giving them instructions, line upon line, and precept upon precept: but no law nor prophets were sent to the Gentiles, consequently these were times of ignorance to them. But now that the authorized apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, by divine authority, were sent forth to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, the plea of ignorance could no longer be made nor admitted. The repentance now commanded is to desist from the worshipping of idols: from paying their devotions to gods which are like unto gold or silver, or stone graven by art and men’s device. Of course, it is not that repentance which Christ as a Prince and Savior is exalted to give unto Israel, with the remission of sins: for that they have no power to obtain; for it requires the same display of the divine power of the exalted Savior to give it as to forgive their sins. But as rational and intelligent beings, creatures or offspring of God, now that the gospel is preached unto the Gentiles, and light has come into the world, they have no cloak for their persistent adhesion to the worship of dumb idols. Christ said, on one occasion, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father (John 15:22-24).” The light which they then had beyond what they had in former ages is expressed by the apostle in connection with our subject. “Because he hath 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.” The resurrection of Christ from the dead afforded incontestable evidence of the supreme power and government of the God which raised him up and set him far above all principalities and powers, thrones and dominions, giving him a name which is above every name in this world or in the world to come; so that at his name every knee shall bow, both of things in heaven and things in earth, and of things under the earth. Thus fully demonstrated that God would hold all men answerable to him for their transgressions, and that he would judge them at the day appointed by that man whom he hath ordained. In the day appointed “he will judge the world in righteousness.” That is, he will execute the judgments as already recorded in his word, against all unrighteousness. The righteousness of his judgment and of the final execution of his judgments will be measured by his law as the righteous standard of righteousness, which law forbids the worshipping or having any other God than the true and living God. The proclamation in all the world, to every creature, that the Lord is God, and beside him there is no other, implies a command of God that men should no longer bow down to idols, or worship the work of their own hands.
The judgment of God against idolatry is now already pronounced: the irrevocable sentence which was before published to Israel is now proclaimed to earth’s remotest bounds, that “they shall all go to confusion together who are makers of idols.” That “the wicked shall be turned into hell with all the nations that forget God.”
This fearful judgment and sentence applies as well to those who at this day ascribe salvation to imaginary gods, or to the works of men’s hands, as to those who gave form and shape to masses of gold, silver or stone, and called them gods, or ascribed the works or attributes of God to them in former times. Those who are today worshipping Mars, the god of war, and ascribing salvation to the bloody works of their own hands, and exulting in what they have accomplished by the spirit of Mars, will not be found guiltless when arraigned before him whose Spirit proclaims peace on earth and good will to men. “Their judgment now of a long time lingereth not and their damnation slumbereth not.”
The idolaters of the present time, as well as those of former ages, ignorantly worship the God who is to them unknown, when they presumptuously call on him to assist them in doing the very things which he has forbidden them to do. They pray to him who has said “Thou shalt not steal,” or “covet,” to prosper them in dispossessing their neighbors of their men-servants and their maid-servants, their oxen, asses, and every other description of property. Such worship is idolatrous and vain: for it is written, “In vain do ye worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Like the too superstitious Atheneans, modern idolaters all perform their religious service as though they believed that God needs something which can be supplied by them, and can be worshipped with men’s hands. May God preserve his children in these dark and trying times from all evil, and make them valiant for the truth. His word says to them, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
August 1, 1866.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 359 - 365