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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Acts 15:35–18:18]

SOME time after, Paul set out on his second apostolic journey, taking with him Silas instead of Barnabas, who with Mark sailed to Cyprus. Paul published the decree of the Council and preached with great zeal in Syria, Cilicia, Phrygia, Lycaonia, Galatia, Mysia, and nearly all Asia Minor. At last he came to Troas. There he doubted where he should go next; but God made it known to him in a vision. During the night he saw, as it were, a man of Macedonia, who said to him: “Pass over into Macedonia, and help us!”

Immediately Paul set out for Europe, with three companions, Silas, Luke, and Timothy, and landed safely in Philippi, the capital of Macedonia. On the Sabbath-day Paul preached the Gospel of Christ. Among his hearers was a God-fearing woman named Lydia, a seller of purple. Opening her ears and her heart to the divine word, she received it with joy and was baptized with her whole family.

Very soon, however, a storm was raised against the apostle. As Paul and Silas were going, as usual, to the place of prayer, they were met by a certain girl who had a spirit of divination, and was, therefore, a source of great gain to her masters. She persisted in following the apostles, crying out: “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who show to you the way of salvation.” Paul, turning round, said to the spirit that possessed her: “I command thee in the Name of Jesus Christ to go out of her.” And the spirit left her. Then her masters, seeing that the hope of their gain was gone, seized Paul and Silas, and brought them into the market-place before the magistrates, saying: “These men, being Jews, disturb our city.”

Then the people rose against them, their garments were torn off, and the magistrates commanded them to be beaten with rods, and then to be thrown into prison. At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and praising God, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the walls of the prison were shaken to their foundations. Immediately the doors flew open, and the bonds of the prisoners were rent asunder.

The keeper of the prison, awaking in terror from his sleep, and seeing the doors open, drew his sword to kill himself, because he thought that the prisoners had fled. But Paul cried out to him: “Do thyself no harm, for we are all here!” Upon this the jailer, calling for a light, went in trembling, and fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out, and said to them: “Masters, what must I do that I may be saved?” They answered: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved!” That same hour he took them and washed their wounds, and he and all his household were baptized.

Next morning the magistrates sent orders to the jailer to release Paul and Silas, but when they learnt that the two apostles were Roman citizens, they came themselves to ask pardon for having ill-treated them.

After this, Paul and his companion visited many cities of Macedonia.

From there Paul went to Athens (Fig. 96, p. 792), the most celebrated city of Greece. Seeing that city wholly given up to idolatry, his heart was stirred within him; he disputed publicly in the synagogues with the Jews, and in the market-place every day with all who were present.

There came to Paul certain philosophers, who conducted him to the Areopagus, saying: “May we know what this new doctrine is, which thou speakest of?” And Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said:

“Ye men of Athens, passing and seeing your idols, I found an altar on which was written: ‘To the unknown God.’ What, therefore, you worship without knowing it, this I preach to you—God who made the world and all things therein. He, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is He served with men’s hands, as if He needed anything, seeing it is He who giveth to all life and breath and all things. He hath made of one, all mankind to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, that they should seek God, if happily they may feel after Him and find Him, although He be not far from every one of us: for in Him we live and move and be: as some also of your own poets said: ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Being, therefore, the offspring of God, we must not suppose the divinity to be like gold and silver, or stone, the graving of art and device of man. And God, indeed, having winked at the times of ignorance, now declareth unto men that they should everywhere do penance. Because He hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in equity by the Man whom He hath appointed, giving faith to all by raising Him up from the dead.” St. Paul wished to teach them more about our Lord, but he was interrupted and could proceed no further.

 

Fig. 96. View of Athens.

The result was that only a few of them believed. Among these few was Dionysius the Areopagite, one of the most learned men of his time. After Paul had preached the Gospel at Athens, he went to Corinth.

There he preached first to the Jews, but they would not hear him, but rather blasphemed and contradicted all he said. Then Paul, filled with a holy indignation, spoke to them: “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From henceforth I will go to the Gentiles.” He then preached to the pagans of Corinth, many of whom were converted. Having remained in Corinth a year and six months, teaching and preaching, he returned to Antioch via Cæsarea and Jerusalem.

The necessity of revelation. Athens was the most cultured city of the ancient pagan world. All arts and sciences flourished there to a high degree, but in religious matters there reigned the grossest superstition and most senseless idolatry, the inhabitants paying divine honour to images made by themselves. This shows us that even those among the pagans of the old world who were most advanced in civilization had fallen very far short of the knowledge of the True God, and that, in spite of their progress in art and science, they would never have arrived at knowing God, had He not, in an extraordinary and supernatural way, revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. Without this supernatural revelation, the world would have sunk deeper and deeper into the abyss of superstition, impiety, and immorality.

Sorrow for the sins of others. “The spirit of Paul was stirred within him” when he saw that Athens was wholly given over to idolatry. His feeling of grief proceeded from his love both of God and of his neighbour (see the holy anger of Moses. Old Test. XXXVII). “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted!” At this moment there are many millions of heathens who do not know God. Let us pray for their conversion.

The causes of unbelief. Most of those who heard St. Paul’s words at Athens remained in their unbelief. They had neither the will to believe, nor any earnest desire to know the truth. They invited the apostle to speak, out of a mere spirit of curiosity (Acts 17:21); but as soon as he entered on the great doctrines of the Resurrection and the Judgment, they refused to listen to him any more. Some of them, instead of examining his words, simply mocked at them, while the rest put him off with the excuse that they would hear him some other time. Frivolity, superficiality and religious indifference were then, as they are now, the principal causes of unbelief.

In his discourse to the Athenians St. Paul taught them 1. about God; 2. about men; 3. about Jesus Christ.

1. “God”, he said, “dwelleth not in temples”, in the sense that He can be shut in a temple. He is an infinite, immeasurable Spirit, to whom no limits of space can be allotted. He is “the Lord of heaven and earth”!

“He is not served with men’s hands, as though He needed anything.” He is infinitely perfect of Himself, so that He needs nothing and depends on nothing.

“He is not far from every one of us”, being near to each person, “for in Him we live and move and be.” He is in us, and about us, and everywhere present.

He “hath made the world and all things therein”. He “giveth to all life and breath and all things”. Without Him we could not be, nor live, nor move; for our being, our life, and our movement depend entirely on Him, who is the First Cause of all things.

He is indulgent and patient, and did not at once punish the errors of the pagans, but invited them to do penance. He is, however, just, and will one day “judge the world in equity”.

2. St. Paul proclaims the origin, dignity, and end of man.

Man, he says, was created by God, and in such a way that all men were made from one, that is, from Adam, and that all men are, therefore, brethren.

Man is far above all other visible creatures. He is, so to speak, “the offspring of God”, having an immortal soul made to the image of God.

God is the end of man, for He created him “that he should seek Him”. Man, therefore, is made to know God, to love God, and to be happy for ever with God in heaven.

3. Of our Lord Jesus Christ St. Paul says that God “raised Him up from the dead”, and that thereby He hath “given faith to all”, because by that miracle He has furnished a solid ground of belief for all men; and that on a day fore-ordained and known to God, He will judge all men in equity.

APPLICATION. God is never far from you! He is always with you! Remember His holy Presence, especially when you are tempted to sin, and do not dare to do wrong in His sight. Remind yourself of His holy Presence during the day, and often make the ejaculation: “O my God, I love Thee with my whole heart!”








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