« PreviousContinue »
ACTS xvii. 31.
Because he hath appointed a day in the 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.
To know Jesus and him crucified was, to St. Paul, a matter of the utmost importance ; and it can be no less important and necessary to have a true knowledge of God; this being the corner stone of religion, the chief motive and support of moral virtue.
To know God is not barely to know that he exists, but to conceive of him as a righteous and merciful, just and impartial, powerful and unchangeable Being: and not only to consent to these truths, but to give all his attributes their just weight and scope, and retrench them of nothing that is essentially in them.
To endeavour to reconcile an arbitrary and oppressive proceeding, with the attributes of justice and impartiality, is plainly to set the divine nature and attributes at variance; it is to affirm that the Deity is all goodness within, though nothing but evil and malignity appear without; that God is merciful, kind and compassionate, though outwardly he is ill-natured, captious and contentious; assertions that combat with and destroy each other.
To treat our friends or fellow creatures with good words and good manners, is prudent and decent, since they have no way of judging of us but by our outward behaviour. "But to what purpose do we make use of compliments and fine words to an omnicient Being, when, either for want of knowing what is implied in those words, or else, for want of giving them their full force and meaning, we throw the most glaring affront and palpable indignity upon him.
This was an error the Athenians, the wisest of Pagan nations, were infected with. They acscribed to God the attributes of wisdom, purity, and compassion; and, at the same time, their divine worship consisted in ceremonies so ridiculous, so impure, and so inhuman, that, instead of honouring the Deity, they tended to paint him in the most mean, despicable, and horrible light, such as (one would now think) had been the contrivance of premeditated malice in order to reproach and defame him.
In this state it was that St. Paul found the people of Athens, to whom this discourse, from whence my text is taken, was directed.
This city was a place of learning, liberty, and superstition; and, as the chapter informs us, curiosity; for we are told, that not only the Athenians themselves, but the strangers which were there, spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing; a disposition whieh it were to be wished had ended with themselves. But be that as it is, these people had been so bewildered with the variety and multiplicity of strange gods, which philosophers and magicians (taking advantage, no doubt, of their fickle and curious disposition) had introduced amongst them, had. fixed, at .last, upon some supreme Being whom they worshipped under the character of the unknown God. This, the Apostle observing, took occasion to make the same full discovery of this unknown God; the same display of his awful and amiable attributes, which had been communicated to himself at his miraculous conversion.
Ye men of Athens, says he, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription : To the unknown God. Whom therefore 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, divelleth not in temples made with hands : neither is worshipped with mens hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life and breath, and all things.
From this refined and spiritual description of the divine nature, the Apostle infers the folly