“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, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.”
The apostles were scattered in different parts of the world, in their day, for the purpose of preaching the gospel to all nations. In some places they were received gladly as the servants of God, but more often affliction and persecution were their lot, which was to show them that the servant is not greater than his Lord. The loadings of the Spirit were marvelous in those days. Often the apostles would determine to visit some special place or country, and the Spirit would direct them into some other field where the ground had been prepared for the reception of the word. In the case before us Paul found himself in this strange place, Athens, and while he waited for Silas and Timotheus his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. The Lord worked in him a desire that at least some of that city might know the truth that had so wonderfully comforted and strengthened him; hence he disputed with the Jews in the synagogue and with devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. To all these he preached Jesus and his resurrection from the dead, and through his preaching the way was opened for him to reach higher classes of men. They, hearing of him, and of the “strange things” set forth by him, desired to hear him, but seemed to have, at that time, little respect for him, the philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics saying, “What will this babbler say?” Others said, He seemeth to he a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached Jesus, and the resurrection. The matter of respect, however, did not trouble Paul in the least. To glorify God and magnify his grace seemed his one desire, and he having been a persecutor of the saints of God, and receiving the assurance from the Lord that he should suffer for his name’s sake, expected nothing else but hardship, and nothing turned him away from the service and worship of Jesus. The city being given wholly to idolatry, many thought Paul a setter forth of strange gods, or idols unknown to them, because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. They supposed that Jesus was the name of one god, and the resurrection the name of another, and being anxious to learn about these new things Paul was brought before the noble and great men of the city, that he might explain to them what his preaching meant; and as he stood in the midst of Mars’ hill his boldness was discovered, for with rebuke and insult he began his great and wonderful sermon, saying, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.” Under ordinary circumstances this would have ended any man’s explanation of his position or views, but the Lord had brought Paul to that place and hour for the defence of his everlasting truth, and on the other hand had brought the learned and great to hear it, hence no offence was taken at his boldness. Paul had witnessed some of their devotions, and noticed an altar with the inscription, “To the unknown God,” and these words he used as a text, and began by saying, “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” in the inscription was confession of an incomprehensible God, and that altar was erected unto him. We have sometimes felt fellowship with them, in that we are frank to confess God is unknown to us, so far as grasping his infinite Being and attributes is concerned. He is so high and so deep and so infinitely glorious that even “the earnest of the Spirit” fails to understand him and trace his path in the sea. Often no language is more expressive of our feeling toward God than the words, “The unknown God.” There seems something very strange about this, for Paul said the whole city was given to idolatry, yet he declares “the unknown God” is the God of glory, creation and mercy, and further that those addressed worshiped him ignorantly. The worship of God, even though “ignorantly,” is not the worship of an idol, hence it seems that God had worshipers at Athens, reckoned as heathen, who needed to be instructed in righteousness, and Paul was there for that purpose. And he said, The unknown God, whom ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. “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; neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” In this is shown the difference between the living, unknown God, and the gods of gold, silver, brass and wood. All these needed the help of man, their maker, to set them up and take them down, carry them from one place to another, &c. Those gods had feet, but could not walk, eyes, but could not see, ears, but could not hear, mouths, but could not speak, nor could they, dead themselves, give life and breath. But “the unknown God” could do all these things, and all these things were necessary to be done for man, the creature of God. The same “unknown God “ made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. This shows that by nature all men are alike, and that God intended that they should dwell upon the face of the earth, and also that the bounds of their habitation were set, and not one can ever pass the mark set for him. Another purpose of “the unknown God” in the creation of men is that they should seek after him and find him, though he he not far from every one of us; for in him we live and move and have our being. Even the poets of Athens said, “We are also his offspring.” Here Paul took advantage of the expression of the learned to make the everlasting point: If 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. Nothing void of life can have offspring, hence if the men of Athens said, We are God’s offspring, they should not associate “the unknown God” with gods of gold, silver and such like. It would seem that by this time the philosophers and Stoics were beginning to find out what the “babbler” would say.
“The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” This part of the text shows that there was a time of ignorance of God and his eternal purpose, and that he suffered it, or winked at it; but now that Christ had come, accomplished the work of salvation, risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, all men, or all nations, everywhere were commanded to repent; that is, turn away from the worship of gods of gold, silver, stone, &c., to worship the “Lord of heaven and earth.” The command of God is not wooing, persuading sinners to give their hearts to the Lord, but there is power in his word; he speaks and it is done, he commands and it stands fast. Therefore wherever the Lord begins a good work in man he will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins are given to Israel, or, in other words, to all the family of God. Certain men clave unto Paul and believed; thus is shown the working of God with them, and every one that felt the influence of “the unknown God” believed on him and his blessed Son, whom Paul had preached, and his resurrection. Because I live, ye shall live also.
May each subject of divine grace have this blessed assurance of life eternal through Christ, the Head of the church. K.
Elder H. C. Ker
Signs of the Times
Volume 82, No. 18
September 15, 1914