by J. C. Ryle
"Now, while Paul waited for them at Athens, his
spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout
persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him." (Acts
Perhaps the reader of this paper lives in a town or city,
and sees more of bricks and mortar than of green fields. Perhaps you have
some relative or friend living in a town, about whom you naturally feel a
deep interest. In either case, the verses of Scripture which head this page
demand your best attention. Give me that attention for a few short minutes
while I try to show you the lessons which the passage contains.
You see face to face, in the verses before you, no common
city and no common man.
The city is the famous city Athens—Athens,
renowned to this very day for its statesmen, philosophers, historians,
poets, painters, and architects—Athens, the eye of ancient Greece, as
ancient Greece was the eye of the heathen world.
The man is the great Apostle of the Gentiles, Paul—Paul,
the most laborious and successful minister and missionary the world has ever
seen—Paul, who by pen and tongue has left a deeper mark on mankind than any
born of woman, except his Divine Master.
Athens and Paul, the great servant of Christ, and the
great stronghold of old heathenism—are brought before us face to face. The
result is told us—the interview is carefully described. The subject, I
venture to think, is eminently suited to the times in which we live, and to
the circumstances of many a dweller in London, Liverpool, Manchester, and
other great English towns in the present day.
Without further preface, I ask you to observe three
things in this passage—
I. What Paul SAW at Athens.
II. What Paul FELT at Athens.
III. What Paul DID at Athens.
I. What did Paul SEE at Athens?
The answer of the text is clear and unmistakable. He
saw a "city wholly given to idolatry." Idols met his eyes in every
street. The temples of idol gods and goddesses occupied every prominent
position. The magnificent statue of Minerva, at least forty feet high,
according to Pliny, towered above the Acropolis, and caught the eye from
every point. A vast system of idol-worship overspread the whole place, and
thrust itself everywhere on his notice. The ancient writer Pausanias
expressly says, that "the Athenians surpassed all states in the attention
which they paid to the worship of the gods." In short, the city, as the
marginal reading says, was "full of idols."
And yet this city, I would have you remember, was
probably the most favorable specimen of a heathen city which Paul could have
seen. In proportion to its size, it very likely contained the most learned,
civilized, philosophical, highly educated, artistic, intellectual population
on the face of the globe. But what was it in a religious point of view? The
city of wise men like Socrates and Plato—the city of Solon, and Pericles,
and Demosthenes-the city of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and
Thucydides—the city of mind, and intellect, and art, and taste—this city was
"wholly given to idolatry."
If the true God was unknown at Athens—what must He have
been in the darker places of the earth? If the eye of Greece was so
spiritually dim, what must have been the condition of such places as
Babylon, Ephesus, Tyre, Alexandria, Corinth, and even of Rome? If men were
so far gone from the light in a green tree, what must they have been in the
What shall we say to these things? What are the
conclusions to which we are irresistibly drawn by them?
1. Ought we not to learn, for one thing, the absolute
need of a Divine revelation, and of teaching from heaven? Leave man
without a Bible, and he will have a religion of some kind, for human nature,
corrupt as it is, must have a God. But it will be a religion without light,
or peace, or hope.
"The world by wisdom knew not God" (1Co. 1:21). Old
Athens is a standing lesson which we shall do well to observe. It is vain to
suppose that nature, unaided by revelation, will ever lead fallen man to
nature's God. Without a Bible, the Athenian bowed down to stocks and stones,
and worshiped the work of his own hands. Place a heathen philosopher, a
Stoic or an Epicurean—by the side of an open grave, and ask him about a
world to come, and he could have told you nothing certain, satisfactory, or
2. Ought we not to learn, for another thing, that the
highest intellectual training is no security against utter darkness in
religion? We cannot doubt that mind and reason were highly educated at
Athens, if anywhere in the heathen world. The students of Greek philosophy
were not unlearned and ignorant men. They were well versed in logic, ethics,
rhetoric, history, and poetry. But all this mental discipline did not
prevent their city being a "city wholly given to idolatry."
And are we to be told in the nineteenth century, that
reading, writing, arithmetic, mathematics, history, languages, and physical
science, without a knowledge of the Scriptures, are sufficient to constitute
education? God forbid! We have not so learned Christ. It may please some men
to idolize intellectual power, and to speak highly of the debt which the
world owes to the Greek mind. One thing, at any rate, is abundantly clear.
Without the knowledge which the Holy Spirit revealed to the Hebrew nation,
old Greece would have left the world buried in dark idolatry. A follower of
Socrates or Plato might have talked well and eloquently on many subjects,
but he could have never answered the jailor's question, "What must I do to
be saved?" (Act. 16:30). He could never have said in his last hour, "O
death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?"
3. Ought we not to learn, for another thing, that the
highest excellence in the arts is no preservative against the grossest
superstition? The perfection of Athenian architecture and sculpture is a
great and undeniable fact. The eyes of Paul at Athens beheld many a "thing
of beauty" which is still "a joy forever" to artistic minds. And yet the men
who conceived and executed the splendid buildings of Athens were utterly
ignorant of the one true God. The world nowadays is well-near drunk with
self conceit about our so-called progress in arts and sciences. Men talk and
write of machinery and manufactures, as if nothing were impossible. But let
it never be forgotten that the highest art or mechanical skill is consistent
with a state of spiritual death in religion. Athens, the city of Phidias,
was a "city wholly given to idolatry." An Athenian sculptor might have
designed a matchless tomb, but he could not have wiped a single tear from a
These things ought not to be forgotten. They ought to be
carefully pondered. They suit the times in which we live. We have fallen on
a skeptical and an unbelieving age. We meet on every side with doubts and
questionings about the truth and value of revelation. "Is not reason alone
sufficient?" "Is the Bible really needful to make men wise unto salvation?"
"Has not man a light within, a verifying power, able to guide him to truth
and God?" Such are the inquiries which fall as thick as hail around us. Such
are the speculations which disquiet many unstable minds.
One plain answer is an appeal to facts. The remains of
heathen Egypt, Greece, and Rome shall speak for us. They are preserved by
God's providence to this very day as monuments of what intellect and reason
can do without revelation. The minds which designed the temples of the
Parthenon or Coliseum, were not the minds of fools. The builders who
executed their designs did better and more lasting work than any contractor
can do in modern times. The men who conceived the sculptured friezes, which
we know as the Elgin Marbles, were trained and intellectual to the highest
degree. And yet in religion these men were darkness itself (Eph. 5:8). The
sight which Paul saw at Athens is an unanswerable proof that man knows
nothing which can do his soul good without a Divine revelation.
II. I ask you to notice, in the second place, what Paul
FELT at Athens. He saw a "city wholly given to idolatry." How did
the sight affect him? What did he feel?
It is instructive to observe how the same sight
affects different people. Place two men on the same spot; let them stand
side by side; let the same objects be presented to their eyes. The emotions
called forth in the one man will often be wholly different from those called
forth in the other. The thoughts which will be wakened up and brought to
birth will often be as far as the poles asunder.
A mere artist visiting Athens for the first time
would doubtless have been absorbed in the beauty of its buildings. A
statesman or orator would have called up the memory of Pericles or
Demosthenes. A literary man would have thought of Thucydides and
Sophocles and Plato. A merchant would have gazed on the Piraeus, its
harbor, and the sea. But an Apostle of Christ had far higher
thoughts. One thing, above all others, swallowed up his attention, and made
all else look small. That one thing was the spiritual condition of the
Athenian people, the state of their souls. The great Apostle of the Gentiles
was eminently a man of one thing. Like his Divine Master, he was always
thinking of his "Father's business" (Luke 2:49). He stood at Athens, and
thought of nothing so much as Athenian souls. Like Moses, Phinehas, and
Elijah, "his spirit was stirred within him when he saw the city wholly given
Of all sights on earth, I know none so impressive, none
so calculated to arouse thought in a reflecting mind—as the sight of a
great city. The daily interaction of man with man, which a city
naturally produces, seems to sharpen intellect, and stimulate mental
activity to an extent which dwellers in rural parishes, or other solitary
places, cannot realize. Rightly or wrongly, the inhabitant of a city thinks
twice as much, and twice as quickly, as the inhabitant of a rural village.
It is in the city—"where Satan's seat is" (Rev. 2:13). It
is in the city—where evil of every kind is most rapidly conceived, sown,
ripened, and brought to maturity. It is in the city—where the young man,
leaving home, and launching into life, becomes soonest hardened, and
conscience-seared by daily familiarity with the sight of sin. It is in the
city—where sensuality, intemperance, and worldly amusements of the vilest
kind flourish most rankly, and find a congenial atmosphere. It is in the
city—where ungodliness and irreligion meet with the greatest encouragement,
and the unhappy Sabbath-breaker, or neglecter of all means of grace, can
fortify himself behind the example of others, and enjoy the miserable
comfort of feeling that "he does not stand alone!" It is the city—which is
the chosen home of every form of superstition, ceremonialism, enthusiasm,
and fanaticism in religion. It is the city—which is the hotbed of every kind
of false philosophy—of Stoicism, Epicureanism, Agnosticism, Secularism,
Skepticism, Positivism, Infidelity, and Atheism. It is the city—where that
greatest of modern inventions, the printing-press, that mighty power for
good and evil, is ever working with unsleeping activity, and pouring forth
new matter for thought. It is the city—where the daily newspapers are
continually supplying food for minds, and molding and guiding public
opinion. It is the city—which is the center of all national business. The
banks, the law-courts, the Stock Exchange, the Parliament or Assembly, are
all bound up with the city. It is the city—which, by magnetic influence,
draws together the rank and fashion of the land, and gives the tone to the
tastes and ways of society. It is the city—which practically controls the
destiny of a nation.
Scattered millions, in rural districts, without habitual
interaction or contact, are powerless before the thousands who dwell side by
side and exchange thought every day. It is the towns which govern a land. I
pity the man who could stand on the top of Saint Paul's Cathedral, and look
down on London without some emotion, and not reflect that he sees the heart
whose pulsations are felt over the whole civilized globe. And shall I wonder
for a moment that the sight of Athens "stirred the spirit" of such a man as
the great Apostle of the Gentiles? I cannot wonder at all. It was just the
sight which was likely to move the heart of the converted man of Tarsus, the
man who wrote the Epistle to the Romans, and had seen Jesus Christ face to
He was stirred with holy compassion. It troubled
his heart to see so many myriads perishing for lack of knowledge, without
God, without Christ, having no hope, traveling in the broad road which leads
He was stirred with holy sorrow. It troubled his
heart to see so much talent misapplied. Here were hands capable of excellent
works, and minds capable of noble conceptions. And yet the God who gave life
and breath and power was not glorified.
He was stirred with holy indignation against sin
and the devil. He saw the god of this world blinding the eyes of multitudes
of his fellow-men, and leading them captive at his will. He saw the natural
corruption of man infecting the population of a vast city like one common
disease, and an utter absence of any spiritual medicine, antidote, or
He was stirred with holy zeal for His Master's
glory. He saw the "strong man armed" keeping a house which was not lawfully
his, and shutting out the rightful possessor. He saw his Divine Master
unknown and unrecognized by His own creatures, and idols receiving the
homage due to the King of kings.
Reader, these feelings which stirred the Apostle are a
leading characteristic of a man born of the Spirit. Do you know anything of
them? Where there is true grace, there will always be tender concern for the
souls of others. Where there is true sonship to God, there will always be
zeal for the Father's glory. It is written of the ungodly, that they not
only commit things worthy of death, but "have pleasure in those who do them"
(Rom. 1:32). It may be said with equal truth of the godly, that they not
only mourn over sin in their own hearts, but mourn over sin in others.
Hear what is written of Lot in Sodom—"He vexed his soul
from day to day with their unlawful deeds" (2Pe. 2:8). Hear what is written
of David—"Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not Your
law" (Psalm 119:136). Hear what is written of the godly in Ezekiel's
time—"They sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst
of the land" (Eze. 9:4). Hear what is written of our Lord and Savior
Himself—"He beheld the city, and wept over it" (Luke 19:41). Surely it may
be laid down as one of the first principles of Scriptural religion, that he
who can behold sin without sorrowful feelings has not the mind of the
Spirit. This is one of those things in which the children of God are
manifest, and are distinguished from the children of the devil.
I call the special attention of my readers to this point.
The times demand that we look it fully in the face. The feelings with
which we regard sin, heathenism, and false religion are a subject of vast
importance in the present day.
I ask you, first, to look outside our own country, and
consider the state of the heathen world. At least six hundred million
immortal beings are at this moment sunk in ignorance, superstition, and
idolatry. They live and die without God, without Christ, and without hope.
In sickness and sorrow they have no comfort. In old age and death they have
no life beyond the grave. Of the true way of peace through a Redeemer, of
God's love in Christ, of free grace, of complete absolution from guilt, of a
resurrection to life eternal, they have no knowledge. For long weary
centuries they have been waiting for the tardy movements of the Church of
Christ, while Christians have been asleep, or wasting their energies on
useless controversies, and squabbling and wrangling about forms and
ceremonies. Is not this a sight which ought to "stir the spirit?"
I ask you, next, to turn back to our own land, and
consider the state of our great cities. There are districts in our great
metropolis, in Liverpool, in Manchester, in Birmingham, in the Black
Country, where Christianity seems practically unknown. Examine the religious
condition of East London, or of Southwark, or Lambeth. Walk through the
north end of Liverpool on Saturday evening, or Sunday, or on a holiday, and
see how Sabbath-breaking, intemperance, and general ungodliness appear to
rule and reign uncontrolled. "When the strong man armed keeps his palace,
his goods are in peace" (Luke 11:21). And then remember that this state of
things exists in a professedly Christian country, in a land where there is
an Established Church, and within a few hours of Oxford and Cambridge! Once
more I say, ought not these things to "stir" our hearts?
It is a sorrowful fact, that there is around us in the
present day a generation of men who regard heathenism, infidelity, and false
religion with apathy, coolness, and indifference. They care nothing for
Christian missions either at home or abroad. They see no necessity for them.
They take no interest in the Evangelistic work of any Church or society.
They treat all alike with undisguised contempt. They despise Exeter Hall.
They never give subscriptions. They never attend meetings. They never read a
missionary report. They seem to think that every man shall be saved by his
own law or sect, if he is only sincere; and that one religion is as good as
another, if those who profess it are only in earnest. They are fond of
decrying and running down all spiritual machinery or missionary operations.
They are constantly asserting that modern missions at home or abroad do
nothing, and that those who support them are little better than weak
enthusiasts. Judging by their language, they appear to think that the world
receives no benefit from missions and aggressive Christian movements, and
that it would be a better way to leave the world alone. What shall we say to
these men? They meet us on every side. They are to be heard in every
society. To sit by, and sneer, and criticize, and do nothing—this is
apparently their delight and vocation. What shall we say to them?
Let us tell them plainly, if they will only hear us, that
they are utterly opposed to the Apostle Paul. Let us show them that mighty
model of a Christian missionary walking the streets of Athens, and "stirred"
in spirit at the sight of a "city wholly given to idolatry." Let us ask them
why they do not feel as he felt, about the idolatry of China and Hindustan,
of Africa and the South Seas, or about the semi-heathen districts of London,
Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and the Black Country. Let us ask them
whether 1800 years have made any difference in the nature of God, the
necessities of fallen man, the sinfulness of idol-worship, and the duty of
Christians. We shall ask in vain for a reasonable answer—we shall get none.
Sneers at our weakness are no argument against our principles. Jests at our
infirmities and failures are no proof that our aims are wrong.
Yes—they may have the wit and wisdom of this world upon
their side; but the eternal principles of the New Testament are written
clearly, plainly, and unmistakably. So long as the Bible is the Bible,
charity to souls is one of the first of Christian graces, and it is a solemn
duty to feel for the souls of the heathen, and of all unconverted people. He
who knows nothing of this feeling has yet to become a learner in Christ's
school. He who despises this feeling is not a successor of Paul, but a
follower of him who said, "Am I my brother's keeper?"—even of Cain.
III. I ask my readers to observe, in the last place, what
Paul DID at Athens. What he saw you have heard; what he
felt you have been told; but how did he act?
He did something. He was not the man to stand still, and
"confer with flesh and blood" in the face of a city full of idols. He might
have reasoned with himself that he stood alone—that he was a Jew by birth,
that he was a stranger in a strange land—that he had to oppose the rooted
prejudices and old associations of learned men, that to attack the old
religion of a whole city was to beard a lion in his den—that the doctrines
of the gospel were little likely to be effective on minds steeped in Greek
philosophy. But none of these thoughts seem to have crossed the mind of
Paul. He saw souls perishing; he felt that life was short, and time passing
away; he had confidence in the power of his Master's message to meet every
man's soul; he had received mercy himself, and knew not how to hold his
peace. He acted at once; and what his hand found to do, he did with his
might. Oh that we had more men of action in these days!
And he did what he did with holy wisdom as well as holy
boldness. He commenced aggressive measures alone, and waited not for
companions and helpers. But he commenced them with consummate skill, and in
a manner most likely to obtain a footing for the gospel. First, we are told,
he disputed "with the Jews" in the synagogue, and the "devout persons" or
proselytes who attended the Jewish worship. Afterwards he went on to
"dispute," or hold discussions, "in the market daily with those who met with
him." He advanced step by step like an experienced general. Here, as
elsewhere, Paul is a model to us—he combined fiery zeal and boldness—with
judicious tact and sanctified common sense. Oh that we had more men of
wisdom in these days!
But what did the Apostle teach? What was the grand
subject which he argued, and reasoned out, and discussed, both with Jew and
Greek, in synagogue and street? That he exposed the folly of idolatry to the
ignorant multitudes—that he showed the true nature of God to the worshipers
of images made with hands—that he asserted the nearness of God to us all,
and the certainty of a solemn reckoning with God at the judgment day, to
Epicureans and Stoics—these are facts which we have recorded fully in his
address on Mars' Hill.
But is there nothing more than this to be learned about
the Apostle's dealings with the idolatrous city? Is there nothing more
distinctive and peculiar to Christianity which Paul brought forward at
Athens? There is indeed more. There is a sentence in the 18th verse of the
chapter we are looking at, which ought to be written in letters of gold—a
sentence which ought to silence forever the impudent assertion, which some
have dared to make, that the great Apostle of the Gentiles was sometimes
content to be a mere teacher of deism or natural theology! We are told in
the 18th verse that one thing which arrested the attention of the Athenians
was the fact, that Paul "preached Jesus and the resurrection."
Jesus and the resurrection! What a mine of matter that
sentence contained! What a complete summary of the Christian faith might be
drawn from those words! That they are only meant to be a summary, I have no
doubt. I pity those who would cramp and pare down their meaning, and
interpret them as nothing more than Christ's prophetical office and example.
I think it incredible that the very Apostle who a few days after went to
Corinth, "determined to know nothing but Christ crucified," or the doctrine
of the cross, would keep back the cross from Athenian ears. I believe that
"Jesus and the resurrection" is a sentence which stands for the whole
gospel. The Founder's name, and one of the foundation facts of the gospel,
stand before us for the whole of Christianity.
What, then, does this sentence mean? What are we to
understand Paul preached?
(a) Paul at Athens preached the person of the Lord
Jesus—His divinity, His incarnation, His mission into the world to save
sinners, His life, and death, and ascension up to heaven, His character, His
teaching, His amazing love to the souls of men.
(b) Paul at Athens preached the work of the Lord
Jesus—His sacrifice upon the cross, His vicarious satisfaction for sin, His
substitution as the just for the unjust, the full redemption He has procured
for all, and specially effected for all who believe, the complete victory He
has obtained for lost man over sin, death, and hell.
(c) Paul at Athens preached the offices of the
Lord Jesus—as the one Mediator between God and all mankind, as the great
Physician for all sin-sick souls, as the Rest-giver and Peace-maker for all
heavy-laden hearts, as the Friend of the friendless, the High Priest and
Advocate of all who commit their souls into His hands, the Ransom-payer of
captives, the Light and Guide of all wandering from God.
(d) Paul at Athens preached the message which the
Lord Jesus had commanded His servants to proclaim to all the world—His
readiness and willingness to receive at once the chief of sinners; His
ability to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him; the full,
present, and immediate forgiveness which He offers to all who believe; the
complete cleansing in His blood from all manner of sin; faith, or simple
trust of heart, the one thing required of all who feel their sins and desire
to be saved; entire justification without works, or doing, or deeds of law
for all who believe.
(e) Last, but not least, Paul preached at Athens the
resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He preached it as the miraculous fact on
which Jesus Himself staked the whole credibility of His mission, and as a
fact proved by such abounding evidence that no caviler at miracles has ever
yet honestly dared to meets—He preached it as a fact, which was the very
top-stone of the whole work of redemption, proving that what Christ
undertook He fully accomplished, that the ransom was accepted, the atonement
completed, and the prison doors thrown open forever. He preached it as a
fact, proving beyond doubt the possibility and certainty of our own
resurrection in the flesh, and settling forever the great question, "Can God
raise the dead?"
These things and many like them, I cannot doubt, Paul
preached at Athens. I cannot for one moment suppose that he taught one thing
at one place and one at another. The Holy Spirit supplies the substance of
his preaching in that rich sentence, "Jesus and the resurrection." The same
Holy Spirit has told us fully how he handled these subjects at Antioch in
Pisidia, at Philippi, at Corinth, and Ephesus. The Acts and the Epistles
speak out on this point with no uncertain sound. I believe that "Jesus and
the resurrection" means—Jesus and the redemption He effected by His death
and rising from the grave, His atoning blood, His cross, His substitution,
His mediation, His triumphant entrance into heaven, and the consequent full
and complete salvation of all sinners who believe in Him. This is the
doctrine Paul preached. This is the work Paul did when he was at Athens.
Now, have we nothing to learn from these doings of the
great Apostle of the Gentiles? There are lessons of deep importance
to which I venture briefly to invite the attention of all who read this
paper. I say briefly. I only throw them out—as seeds for private thought.
(a) Learn, for one thing, a doctrinal lesson from Paul's
doings at Athens. The grand subject of our teaching, in every place,
ought to be Jesus Christ. However learned or however unlearned, however
high-born or however humble our audience, Christ
crucified—Christ—Christ—Christ—crucified, rising, interceding, redeeming,
pardoning, receiving, saving—Christ must be the grand theme of our teaching.
We shall never improve this gospel. We shall never find any other subject
which will do so much good. We must sow as Paul sowed, if we would reap as
(b) Learn, for another thing, a practical lesson from
Paul's doings at Athens. We must never be afraid to stand alone and be
solitary witnesses for Christ, if need be, alone in a vast ungodly
parish, in our own land—alone in East London, in Liverpool, in
Manchester—alone in Delhi, or Benares, or Pekin—it matters not. We need not
hold our peace, if God's truth be on our side. One Paul at Athens, one
Athanasius against the world, one Wycliffe against a host of Romish
prelates, one Luther at Worms, these, these, are lighthouses before our
eyes. God sees not as man sees. We must not stand still to count heads and
number the people. One man, with Christ in his heart and the Bible in his
hands, is stronger than a myriad of idolaters!
(c) Learn for another thing, the importance, let me
rather say the necessity, of asserting boldly the supernatural element as an
essential part of the Christian religion. I need not tell many who read
these pages that unbelievers and skeptics abound in these days, who make a
mockery at the miracles of the Bible, and are incessantly trying to throw
them overboard as useless lumber, or to prove by ingenious explanations that
they are fables and no miracles at all. Let us never be afraid to resist
such teaching steadily, and to take our stand by the side of Paul. Like him,
let us point to the resurrection of Christ, and confidently challenge all
fair and reasonable men to refute the evidence by which it is supported. The
enemies of supernatural religion have never refuted that evidence, and they
never will. If Christ was not raised from the dead, the conduct and teaching
of the Apostles after He left the world is an unsolved problem and a total
mystery, which no man in his senses can account for. But if, as we believe,
the resurrection of Christ is an undeniable fact which cannot be disproved,
the whole fabric of skeptical arguments against supernatural religion is
undermined, and must fall to the ground. The stupendous miracle of the
resurrection of Christ once admitted, it is sheer nonsense to tell us that
any other smaller miracle in the Bible is incredible or impossible.
(d) Learn, for one thing more, a lesson of encouragement
to faith from Paul's doings at Athens. If we preach the gospel, we may
preach with perfect confidence that it will do good. That solitary Jew of
Tarsus who stood up alone on Mars' Hill appeared at the time to do little or
nothing. He passed on his way, and seemed to have been a failure. The Stoics
and Epicureans probably laughed and sneered as if they had won the dispute.
But that solitary Jew was lighting a candle that has never since been put
out. The Word that he proclaimed in Athens grew and multiplied, and became a
great tree. That little leaven ultimately leavened the whole of Greece. The
gospel that Paul preached triumphed over idolatry. The empty Parthenon
stands, to this day, a proof that Athenian theology is dead and gone. Yes;
if we sow good seed, we may sow it in tears, but we shall yet "come again
with joy, bringing our sheaves with us" (Psalm 126:6).
I draw towards a CONCLUSION. I pass from the
consideration of what Paul saw, and felt, and did at
Athens, to points of practical importance. I ask every reader of this paper
what ought we to see, to feel, and to do?
(1) What ought we to SEE? It is an age of
sightseeing and excitement. "The eye is not satisfied with seeing" (Ecc.
1:8). The world is mad after running to and fro, and the increase of
knowledge. The wealth, the arts, the inventions of man are continually
gathering myriads into great Exhibitions. Thousands and tens of thousands
are annually rushing about and gazing at the work of men's hands.
But ought not the Christian to look at the map of the
world? Ought not the man who believes the Bible to gaze with solemn thoughts
on the vast spaces in that map which are yet spiritually black, dead, and
without the gospel? Ought not our eyes to look at the fact that half the
population of the earth is yet ignorant of God and Christ, and yet sitting
still in sin and idolatry, and that myriads of our own fellow-countrymen in
our great cities are practically little better than heathen, because
Christians do so little for souls?
The eyes of God see these things, and our eyes ought to
see them too.
(2) What anything we to FEEL? Our hearts, if
they are right in the sight of God, ought to be affected by the sight of
false religion and heathenism. Many indeed are the feelings which the aspect
of the world ought to call up in our hearts.
Thankfulness we ought to feel for our own countless
privileges. Little indeed do the bulk of English people know the amount of
their own daily unpaid debt to Christianity. Well would it be for some if
they could be compelled to dwell for a few weeks every year in a heathen
Shame and humiliation we ought to feel when we reflect
how little the Church of England has done for the spread of Christianity
hitherto. God has indeed done great things for us since the days when
Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer went to the stake—has preserved us through many
trials, has enriched us with many blessings. But how little return we have
made Him! How few of our 15,000 parishes do anything worthy of the cause of
missions at home or abroad! How little zeal some congregations show for the
salvation of souls! These things ought not so to be!
We ought to feel compassion when we think of the wretched
state of unconverted souls, and the misery of all men and women who live and
die without Christ. No poverty like this poverty! No disease like this
disease! No slavery like this slavery! No death like this, death in
idolatry, false religion, and sin! Well may we ask ourselves, Where is the
mind of Christ, if we do not feel for the lost? I lay it down boldly, as a
great principle, that the Christianity which does not make a man feel for
the state of unconverted people is not the Christianity which came down from
heaven 1800 years ago, and is embalmed in the New Testament. It is a mere
empty name. It is not the Christianity of Paul.
(3) Finally, what ought we to DO? This, after
all, is the point to which I want to bring your mind. Seeing and
feeling are good. But doing is the life of religion. Passive
impressions which do not lead to action have a tendency to harden the
conscience, and do us positive harm. What ought we to do? We ought to do
much more than we have ever done yet. We might all probably do more. The
honor of the gospel, the state of the missionary field abroad, the condition
of our overgrown cities at home, all call upon us to do more.
Need we stand still, and be ashamed of the weapons of our
warfare? Is the gospel, the old Evangelical creed, unequal to the wants of
our day? I assert boldly that we have no cause to be ashamed of the gospel
at all. It is not worn out. It is not effete. It is not behind the times. We
need nothing new, nothing added to the gospel, nothing taken away. We need
nothing but "the old paths," the old truths fully, boldly, affectionately
proclaimed. Only preach the gospel fully, the same gospel which Paul
preached, and it is still "the power of God unto salvation to every one who
believes," and nothing else called religion has any real power at all. (Rom.
Need we stand still and be ashamed of the results of
preaching the gospel? Shall we hang down our heads, and complain that "the
faith once delivered to the saints" has lost its power, and does no good? We
have no cause to be ashamed at all. I am bold to say that no religious
teaching on earth can point to any results worth mentioning except that
which is called doctrinal, dogmatic theology. What deliverance on earth have
all the modern schools—which scorn dogmatic teaching—what deliverance have
they wrought? What overgrown and semi-heathen parishes in the metropolis, in
our great seaports, our manufacturing towns, our colliery districts, have
they evangelized and civilized? What New Zealand, what Red River, what
Sierra-Leone, what Tinnevelly can the high-sounding systems of this latter
day point to as a fruit of their system?
No! if the question, "What is truth?" is to be solved by
reference to results and fruits, the religion of the New Testament, the
religion whose principles are summarized, condensed, and embalmed in our
Articles, Creeds, and Prayer Book, has no cause to be ashamed.
What can we do now but humble ourselves for the past, and
endeavor, by God's help, to do more for time to come? Let us open our eyes
more, and see. Let us open our hearts more, and feel. Let us stir up
ourselves to do more work ruby self-denying gifts, by zealous co-operation,
by bold advocacy, by fervent prayer. Let us do something worthy of our
cause. The cause for which Jesus left heaven and came down to earth,
deserves the best that we can do.
And now, let me close this paper by returning to the
thought with which it began. Perhaps your lot is cast in a city or town. The
population of our rural districts is annually decreasing. The dwellers in
towns are rapidly outnumbering the dwellers in country parishes. If you are
a dweller in a town, accept the parting words of advice which I am about to
offer. Give me, your best attention while I speak to you about your soul.
(1) Remember, for one thing, that
you are placed in a position of peculiar spiritual DANGER.
From the days of Babel downwards, wherever Adam's children have been
assembled in large numbers, they have always drawn one another to the utmost
extremities of sin and wickedness. The great towns have always been Satan's
seat. It is the town where the young man sees abounding examples of
ungodliness; and, if he is determined to live in sin, will always find
plenty of companions. It is the town where the theater and the casino, the
dancing room and the drinking bar, are continually crowded. It is the town
where the love of money, or the love of amusement, or the love of sensual
indulgence, lead captive myriads of slaves. It is the town where a man will
always find hundreds to encourage him in breaking the Sabbath, despising the
means of grace, neglecting the Bible, leaving off the habit of prayer.
Reader, consider these things. If you live in a town, take care. Know your
danger. Feel your weakness and sinfulness. Flee to Christ, and commit your
soul to His keeping. Ask Him to hold you up, and you will be safe. Stand on
your guard. Resist the devil Watch and pray.
(2) Remember, on the other hand, if you live in a town,
you will probably have some special HELPS which you
cannot always find in the country. There are few English towns in
which you will not find a few faithful servants of Christ, who will gladly
assist you and aid you in your journey towards heaven. Few indeed are the
English towns in which you will not find some minister who preaches the
gospel, and some pilgrims in the narrow way who are ready to welcome any
addition to their number.
Reader, be of good courage, and never give way to the
despairing thought that it is impossible to serve Christ in a town. Think
rather that with God nothing is impossible. Think of the long list of
witnesses who have carried the cross, and been faithful unto death in the
midst of the greatest temptations. Think of Daniel and the three children in
Babylon. Think of the saints in Nero's household at Rome. Think of the
multitudes of believers at Corinth and Ephesus and Antioch in the days of
the Apostles. It is not place but grace that makes the Christian. The
holiest and most useful servants of God who have ever lived were not hermits
in the wilderness but dwellers in towns.
Remember these things, and be of good cheer. Your lot may
be cast in a city like Athens, "wholly given to idolatry." You may have to
stand alone in the bank, the counting-house, the place of business, or the
But you are not really alone, if Christ is with you. Be
strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Be bold, thorough,
decided, and patient. The day will come when you will find that even hi a
great city a man may be a happy, useful Christian, respected while he lives,
and honored when he dies.