corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Acts 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 2-3

THE PREPARATION FOR CHRIST

‘And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, Whom I preach unto you, is Christ.’

Acts 17:2-3

This passage records part of St. Paul’s second missionary journey. Obedient to the vision of the man of Macedonia, and responding to his call—‘Come over and help us’—he has passed through Philippi and arrived at the city of Thessalonica. According to his usual custom, he seeks out the members of his own nation in order to convey to them first the message of the Gospel which he preached. There is a synagogue in the city, and thither he betakes himself on three successive Sabbath days.

I. The method of St. Paul is simple and appropriate.—He is addressing an assembly of Jews. He takes their own sacred writings and he shows that from them the truths which he desires to put forward can be learnt. They were expecting the coming of the Messiah. He endeavours to put before them the true character of His coming. From their own Scriptures he opens and alleges that the Christ must suffer and must rise again. If they accept this truth he has yet another to impress upon them. Jesus of Nazareth, Whom he preached to them, fulfilled all the conditions of Messiahship. He was therefore the Christ. The distinguishing characteristics of St. Paul’s method are, we thus observe, his use of the Scriptures as they were received by the Jewish nation, and his deduction from them of the great fundamental truths of Christianity. The example of St. Paul has been followed by the Christian Church during past centuries in its use of the Old Testament. Christian teachers and apologists have turned to it for prophecy and type of the fuller revelation of God which was made in the Christ. More or less clearly in the events of the Old Testament record they have seen the foreshadowing of the events of the life of Christ. Some of the interpretations of the Christian fathers may have seemed fanciful and mystical, yet there was never any serious question that from the mention of the seed of the woman bruising the serpent’s head onward, there was a continuous and designed reference to the life and work of Christ. More direct and clear were the various meanings attached to the feasts and fasts, to the details of the sacrificial rites, and to the observance of such ceremonies as those ordered for the Day of Atonement. These were all regarded as having distinct reference to the redemptive work of Christ.

II. We are sometimes told the sense of sin is lost.—We can confidently affirm that, however much at times it may seem to lie dormant, it can never be lost. It is an essential part of our consciousness as enlightened by the Spirit of God. It is equally true that it leads men everywhere to seek, in the doing of something, to rid themselves of the weight of guilt. Mankind is slow to learn the lesson that he has no power of himself to remove either the punishment or power of sin. It is only in Christ that the great truth is realised, that the way to life is only through the gate of death—His death. This was the message for which mankind longed. This was the Gospel, the good news which St. Paul preached. It had its effect upon the world, because it answered the deepest needs of the human heart. The spread of Christianity among Jews and Gentiles alike was the best testimony to the truth and the power of the message. In bringing this message of a suffering Messiah to the Jews he was able to appeal to their own Scriptures and to show them that the whole system pointed to this fulfilment. The New Testament transcends the Old, but the value of the Old is that it is essentially true as leading men along the pathway God had arranged for them to the full knowledge of Himself in Christ.

III. So we can realise the unique position of the Jewish religion, and the value of the Old Testament as the record of God’s revelation of Himself to the chosen people; and we can see at the same time that each step in that process of revelation was in keeping with the human experience to which other and less noble religions bear their witness. And as St. Paul turned to those Scriptures for the enlightenment of those to whom he preached, so we can to-day, and increasingly in future ages the Church will be able to turn to them as the revelation of God which prepared the world for Christ, and instead of merely drawing help from the spiritual experiences of the Psalmists, as many are content to do to-day, it will be seen that the whole history has a special and peculiar spiritual value, of which we shall lose much if we do not make use of the Old Testament as we ought.

Rev. George F. Irwin.

Illustration

‘It is a commonplace now that in the history of the world different nations stand for different gifts and powers bestowed upon humanity. They have each been the channel through which some special addition to the world’s advance has come, just as in the future it will be seen that the nations of to-day, both of West and East, are contributing their particular share to human progress. In this way we attribute to Greece our art, to Rome our organisation, and to the Jews the best gift of all (because it is the one which controls all the others and renders them serviceable to men joined together in communities)—the gift of religion and morality. We do not mean to say that other nations had no art, no organisation, and no religion, but that these several nations possessed in a peculiarly high degree the genius for the purest and the best in their respective domains, and the human race was gifted with the capacity to recognise them as the highest. Who shall say, then, that both these gifts—the power itself and the capacity of recognising it—are not from God Himself?’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

PAUL AT THESSALONICA

Thessalonica was a grand sphere of apostolic enterprise, and St. Paul carried on his labours for three successive Sabbaths.

I. The sermon.—St. Paul set Jesus the Messiah as the absolute need of the congregation before him. The same vital truth must be declared, for the same reason, to all congregations now, wherever assembled. All other preaching beside Him is beside the theme. He is the very foundation of all preaching, and all other preaching is only building castles in the air; He is the soul of preaching, and all other preaching is like a body without a soul; He is the end of preaching, and all other preaching is sure to miss the mark. St. Paul reasoned with his audience, and asserted that Jesus must be the Messiah, and that, being the Messiah, He must suffer and die and rise again. He, doubtless, based his leading arguments and averments on the fact that all the Messianic prophecies had been fulfilled in and by Jesus; His birthplace (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1); His descent from Jesse and the royal line of David (Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 11:10; Luke 2:4); and His appearance, character, and work (Isaiah 53; Matthew 26-28).

II. And its results.—Many received the Gospel—a goodly number of Jews, of Greeks, and of Thessalonian females. What a harvest of precious souls to gather at the close of the third Sabbath! Jews convinced in spite of their prejudices; Greeks who, having renounced idolatry, were now Jewish proselytes; and not a few of the chief women of the city—women of high rank and great influence. How came this to pass? The almighty power of the Holy Spirit accompanied and crowned the teaching and preaching of the ambassador of Christ Jesus. Hence the wonderful success on this occasion. Such success may be obtained now, but it must be in the same way, and through the same agency and blessing. But some rejected the Gospel. Because so many converts had been made to the faith, certain Jews, who disbelieved the Messiahship of Jesus, were filled with envy, and their envy took a desperate form. They engaged some of those bands hanging about the forum or market-place—the scum and refuse of the city—to insult and injure St. Paul and St. Silas. How true it is that the same sun which softens some things hardens others! So the Gospel softens some hearts and saves them, while it hardens others and leaves them tenfold more the prey of Satan (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Illustration

‘In the light of modern knowledge we see that we need have no hesitation in using the religious experiences recorded in the Old Testament as unique in character and of special value to us Christians. It is somewhat in this way that many scholars are now asking us to look upon the observances of the Jews. The Epistle to the Hebrews is an example of the interpretation of the Old Testament in the New, and the latest commentator (Dr. Du Bose) on it tells us “The New Testament as absolutely transcends the Old as it fulfils it; but, on the other hand, it is as actually the culmination and completion of the Old Testament as it transcends it.” And again, “The new Testament too far transcends the possible meaning of the Old to be ever a mere interpretation of it. Even the writer of the Hebrews is not so much trying to interpret to them their Scriptures as seeking to find in them, in their ideas and hopes and figures, warrant and expression for the transcending fact and facts of Christianity. In them the mind, the needs, the very language has been moulded and prepared for the reception of a truth infinitely greater than they themselves could have ever meant or expected.”’


Verse 11-12

THE STORY OF THE BEREANS

‘These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.’

Acts 17:11-12

The same sun that hardens clay, melts wax. The same truth which aroused the tumult in Thessalonica met with a loving reception at Berea. These men were accounted noble because they ‘searched the Scriptures.’

I. The object of their search.—Why did they take this pains with the Scripture? Well, not to cavil at the truth they found in it. There is such a thing as searching the Scriptures to discover, if possible, some flaw in them. The Bereans were not seekers of this order. They searched the Scriptures, but it was—

(a) To ascertain the truth through them. In their eyes the Scriptures constituted the final Court of Appeal. ‘What is Truth?’ asks one; ‘where shall we find it?’ The Bereans could have informed him—you will find it in the Scriptures. The Scriptures for them were the source and fountain of truth.

(b) That they might ascertain the truth about Christ. St. Paul and the Apostles brought certain strange things to their ears. They had been accustomed to hear of Christ in the Old Testament Scripture, but they had not thought of Him as a suffering, but as a reigning Messiah. St. Paul’s theme was a Suffering Christ. ‘Christ must needs have suffered’ was his constant cry. This was new doctrine to them. That He must needs reign, they all understood. Had not Jeremiah said: ‘A King shall reign in righteousness’? But that He must be numbered with the transgressors—that they had overlooked.

II. The manner of their search.—How did they conduct it?

(a) Candidly. They had their difficulties, but they were willing to be convinced. Prejudice was laid aside. What a hindrance is prejudice!

(b) Cordially. By which I mean their hearts as well as their heads were interested in the result. They did not regard the study merely as an intellectual exercise; they were not about to look upon the verification of St. Paul’s statements as merely a new view of truth, something which would interest the mind without affecting the heart or the life. It is clear from the whole tenor of the narrative that their hearts were profoundly touched, that they felt that this might be a turning-point in their history.

(c) Critically. Interested as they were, they were not credulous. They resolved to know the truth. They would exercise their private judgment. Notice that the Apostles did—

(d) Continually. They felt that not much could be done by a hasty or a cursory perusal. No certain results could be obtained at a single sitting; they must come again and again, until the truth began to dawn on their minds. The hurried, careless reader will never gain much knowledge of the truth. You cannot know a country, it has been well said, by driving through it on the highways. ways. You must sojourn in it, you must explore its hills and valleys. It takes time to enter into its treasures and scenes of beauty. So it is with the Scriptures. How few there are who really know their Bibles.

III. What were the results of this searching the Scriptures?—‘Therefore many of them believed.’

(a) The results were faith. ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’ If you want faith, occupy yourself with truth. Truth will make you believe before you are aware.

(b) Fellowship. A society was formed, a little church gathered—a church in which Jew and Greek, rich and poor, united. Honourable women threw in their lot with the despised and poor. Here is a true Christian revolution—worked not by compulsion from without but by inspiration from within—Christian love rising above all barriers and uniting in common worship and in common interest. ‘All one in Christ Jesus.’

(c) Fortitude. There are some, said our Lord, who receive the Word, but when troubles or persecutions arise, presently, they are offended. But that was not the case with the little Church at Berea. Persecution followed hard upon their profession of faith in Christ. The Jews at Thessalonica, when they learnt what Paul was doing, sent men to Berea to stir up the people, but the little Church stood firm. The children stood by their spiritual father, and stood by the truth. Paul was conveyed away to a place of safety, and in later days was accompanied by one of the converts of Berea—Sosipater—who is mentioned in the twentieth of Acts, and again in the list of helpers at the close of the Epistle to the Romans.

—Rev. E. W. Moore.

Illustration

‘What a confession was that of Tom Paine, the infidel, who admitted that while he was writing against the New Testament, he had not a copy of it in his possession, nor ever referred to it! The majority of the unbelievers in the Bible never read it. If they did, their unbelief would be untenable.’


Verse 16

THE GREAT UNIVERSITY CITY OF THE WORLD

‘How while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him, as he beheld the city full of idols.’

Acts 17:16 (R.V.)

St. Paul was too sensitive to history and too loyal to learning to remain indifferent to the proud memories of this city into which his missionary travel has brought him. It was “the great university city of the world.” His feelings, therefore, must have been akin to those which rise in the soul of an ardent American scholar when he visits England and sees Oxford or Cambridge for the first time.

I. It was not the fame of Athens which affected the Apostle most.—It was not its magnificent monuments, nor its picturesque situation, nor even the fact that the streets which he was treading, and the market which he had passed through were places where Socrates had taught, and Plato had written, and Demosthenes had spoken, and Phidias had worked. These things, we may believe, had their interest for St. Paul, but they did not move him profoundly. That which brought heat to his soul, that which made the Apostle burn, was the number and the nature of the city’s idols. Look which way he would in that great city there was idolatry. And not an idolatry of a refined and pardonable sort; not an idolatry which is picturesque without being gross, and which is content with personifying the powers of Nature after the best patterns of human things. It was not such an idolatry; but an idolatry which destroyed the very sense of modesty, which appealed to the animal passions of man, which deified evil and said to it: ‘Be thou my good.’

II. The idol worship which had got hold of Athens provoked St. Paul’s Christian spirit as he looked at it and took in its terrible significance. Had the Apostle been a cynic, he might have been satisfied with a less consuming feeling than hot indignation. As he took in the situation, feature by feature, he might have contented himself with the sarcastic reflection that ‘in this centre of the world’s education, amid the lecture rooms where the philosophers had taught for centuries that it was mere superstition to confuse an idol with the Divine nature which it represented—the idols were probably in greater number than anywhere else in St. Paul’s experience’ (Ramsey’s St. Paul: the Citizen and the Traveller). But the Apostle was never cool enough in the presence of great sin to play the cynic. He loved humanity too well to sneer with cold blood at the degrading results of its best philosophy. And, besides, was he not the missionary of Jesus Christ?

III. Who was Jesus Christ to St. Paul?—More than Socrates had ever been to his almost worshipping pupils in that very city of Athens. More than a great teacher, that is, whose personality is charming and whose principles are wise and good. Jesus Christ to St. Paul was, as he afterwards told these Athenian people, ‘the One Whom God had ordained to judge the world in righteousness.’ That was what Jesus Christ was to St. Paul. He was one who stood for the weal or woe of the human race. He was one against whom all baseness, all degradation of high things to low uses, all putting forward of darkness for light were abominations. He was one who alone could fill up the large measure of the claim ‘All souls are mine.’ Jesus Christ was this and more to St. Paul. And therefore it was that ‘his spirit was provoked within him as he beheld’ ‘the truth of God exchanged for a lie’ in this philosophic city of Athens.

IV. Jealousy for the Lord was working in St. Paul.—It was the same emotion which burnt in Elijah when he cried out that he had been ‘very jealous’ for the Lord of Hosts. The Apostle could not bear to see wickedness on the throne of culture. He could not assent to the animal in man enslaving the intellect and stifling the soul of man. And therefore it was that his spirit chafed and fretted as he looked around in Athens, and saw the shameful things before which the best-educated people of antiquity bowed themselves.

—Rev. Canon Lewis.

Illustration

‘One of our weekly reviews in its notice of a book on the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius says: “We do not believe in any special pruriency of imagination having infected the Italian mind in the first century. The material remains of Pompeii, surprised by ashes without a moment’s notice of preparation, show, as a whole, less of that side of human nature than any equal section of London or Paris, if surprised in the same way” (Athenæum, June 21, 1902). The Christian Church in its authoritative utterances has not gone so far as that. She has never been so bold as to say that London at the present moment exceeds Pompeii in wickedness. Whether it be so or not, it is not for us on the present occasion to decide. But after such plain speaking from the Athenæum on the subject of London’s moral condition, it is surely the duty of the Christian Church in the Metropolis to examine herself, and to see whether she has not been too lenient to London’s sins—and whether she has not often been dumb when she ought to have cried aloud and spared not.’


Verse 18

HISTORICAL CERTAINTY OF THE RESURRECTION

‘Jesus and the Resurrection.’

Acts 17:18

It is of vital importance, and especially at a time such as the present, to realise that the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ can be shown to be an historical fact as certain and indisputable as any event that holds a place in the annals of the past. When, then, plainly asked why we believe that the Lord rose from the tomb in which human hands had laid Him, we reply thus:—

I. Because this Resurrection was proclaimed from the very first by men who had not only seen the Lord with their own eyes, but on one occasion (unless we are prepared to reject every attempt to reconcile the narrative of St. Paul with the narrative of Matthew) had seen very many others see Him, and testify by their outward act of adoration that they did see Him, and did realise His veritable presence, even though there were some then present who doubted it.

II. Because though confessedly an incredible story, and though confronted on the part of the Jews by a counter-story, it was nevertheless believed in from the very first.

III. Because the proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection was made the basis of the whole evangelical message.

IV. So persuasively and so widely was the Gospel preached, that we may be shown by four Epistles of St. Paul about the genuineness of which no reasonable doubt can be entertained, the belief in the Lord’s Resurrection as a fact, and as that to which after the death of the Founder the Church owed its continued existence, had spread, within thirty years, to all the great centres of learning and civilisation in the ancient world. And of this universality of belief two abiding witnesses have come to us from those earliest ages down to the present time.

(a) The one, the fact that the day of the week on which the Lord rose is the pre-eminently holy day of the Christian week.

(b) The other, the fact that the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and the showing forth of the Lord’s death until He come, has stood in close and uninterrupted connection with the first day of the week from the very first Easter Day down to the present time.

Bishop Ellicott.

Illustration

‘The two scenes before the Sanhedrim have ever seemed to me to indicate with unmistakable clearness that many of those seventy-two men, though they might not have definitely believed that the blessed fact was a fact, were, so to say, standing at gaze. The miracle performed on the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, which they plainly said they could not deny, had shaken them, and left in the background of the mind the feeling of the possibility of the mightier miracle being true after all. Their action on this occasion, and still more so on the second occasion of the Apostles being brought before them, when they ultimately accepted the counsel of Gamaliel, though at first they had all but come to the resolution of stopping the story of the Apostles by killing them, has never seemed to me in harmony with any clear conviction on the part of the whole of the Council that the declaration of St. Peter and the Apostles was utterly and absolutely unworthy of belief.’


Verse 20

‘STRANGE THINGS’

‘Thou bringest certain strange things to our ears.’

Acts 17:20

When St. Paul was speaking to the bystanders in the agora, the learned men of the Stoics and Epicureans sects, observing the gathering, asked what it meant. ‘What will this babbler say?’ was the question of some of them. ‘He seems to be a setter forth of strange [foreign] gods,’ was the answer of others. And they answered thus because in listening they had heard St. Paul preaching Jesus and the Resurrection.

I. The message of the Apostle has guided countless lives, comforted countless sorrows, and crowned countless death-beds with a sure and certain hope. The philosophies have faded long ago like the dead leaves of autumn, and the roots of self-pleasing and pride of heart which they spring from have had to reproduce fresh theories in fresh forms, but the Gospel still advances with the same message in the same words, a growing power over the width of the world. Yet see how lightly, in the day of small things, it was taken up, looked at, and thrown aside as ‘babble.’ What a lesson for the listener now! God has allowed us our day in which we weigh and judge His Word, but He has kept for Himself His own day, in which His Word will judge us.

II. The Athenians gave this word a hearing—set it aside as absurd, and not worthy of consideration; some set it aside to be considered by-and-by—‘We will hear thee again of this matter.’ Corinth, the luxurious town; Thessalonica, the flourishing seaport; Philippi, the political centre of a province—all these had their Churches, and to all Epistles were written: but what Luke can record of the success at learned Athens only amounts to, so St. Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, among them which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.’ This was the result; and yet Athens was so feverishly interested in all sorts of religious novelties, that the saying ran, ‘It was more easy to find a god there than a man.’ It seems, then, that fussiness about religious controversies is not the frame of mind which most helps us to a real personal receiving of the Gospel.

III. The holy truth of God wants a quiet, modest soil to grow in.—It was the character of the Saviour, not to strive or cry, or seek publicity; the waters of Siloam run softly, and the home of the Holy Spirit is a meek and contrite heart. If the temptation of fractious questionings assail us—and few can hope to be quite exempt from it—let us humble human pride before the greatness of God; let us be content to be as our Divine Master was, and to be patient learners of our patient Teacher. ‘Take my yoke upon you,’ He said, ‘and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and I will give you rest’: rest from man, rest from self, rest from pride, rest from doubt, rest from the heavy burden of religious uncertainty and worldly care; rest from sorrows which have not found their true consolation, and anxieties which have not been set at rest by their true assurance; rest from the heavy, heavy yoke of self alone; rest for our souls in the docile service of Christ, Whose yoke alone is easy, and His burden light.

—Rev. Canon F. T. Crosse.

Illustration

‘Athens was a great and celebrated city, full of clever, learned people interested in all questions of religion, tolerant of all forms of it—full of altars, full of idols; intellectual, artistic, dilettanti, controversial; ready and craving for any novelty, “for all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Athens was, in fact, the mental metropolis of the world. All that mind could achieve had been achieved there; but this one thing they had not done, they had not achieved the discovery of religious truth. That door does not open to experiment or to logic: “from the beginning of the world,” to that time, and to this, the heart of man, unaided by grace, has failed to fathom the beginning, middle, or end of what “God has prepared for them that love Him”’ (Isaiah 64:4).


Verse 23

‘THE UNKNOWN GOD’

‘The unknown God.’

Acts 17:23

Let us pass from the streets of ancient Athens to the streets, and houses, and churches of modern England. What lessons have we brought with us? The Athenians loved to hear some new thing, especially in religion. So it is with many of us now. There are people who think the faith of their fathers is worn out, and that the old path to Heaven is too common. These are ever clamouring for some new thing. And the reason of this is that to them, as to the Athenians, God is an unknown God.

I. He is unknown to many who read the Bible.—They read His Word without interest, as a task. The Bible is not a living book to them, but a museum of fossil remains, a collection of antiquities. These will read a work of fiction with breathless interest, and fall asleep over the eternal truths of God.

II. God is an unknown God to those who do not realise His constant Presence.—You all believe that God is everywhere, omnipresent, but have you ever realised this, that He is about your path and about your bed, spying out all your ways? In church you feel God’s presence, perhaps, and hence you bow your knee reverently; but do you remember that this same God is with you out in the world, in your business, in your pleasures, in the sunshine of mid-day and its busy life, and in the quiet hours of darkness when you are alone with God? If we fully realised this fact, surely some of us would be more careful in our way of life, more guarded in our words, and works, and thoughts; in the employment undertaken, in the pleasure indulged in, and the society frequented.

III. God is an unknown God to many who say their prayers.—There are many persons who are enthusiastic enough about their work or amusements, who are languid and spiritless in their prayers. They ask God for the greatest blessings, or speak to Him concerning the most tremendous issues of life, with words which are often as the idle wind that bloweth.

Illustration

‘A clergyman, whilst travelling in Scotland, was struck by the appearance of a Highland maid, whose bright face seemed to indicate that she had never known cave. He questioned her, and found that she had never thought seriously on any subject, or looked beyond her present careless, happy life. As he was leaving the place the clergyman asked the Scotch girl if she would promise to say a short prayer daily till they met again, and the prayer which he taught was in four words, “Lord, show me myself.” After a time he came to the neighbourhood again, and found the Highland maid still there, but utterly changed. She was no longer the light-hearted, careless being of old times, and she assured her friend that her prayer had been answered, and now that she saw herself she was miserable. The clergyman taught her a second prayer, “Lord, show me Thyself,” and when they next met the face of the Highland girl was once more bright and happy. “What can I do,” said she, “to show my gratitude to Jesus, Who has done so much for me?” “Learn yet another prayer,” was the answer; “it is this: ‘Lord, make me like unto Thyself.’”’


Verse 27

THE NEARNESS OF GOD

‘He is not far from each one of us.’

Acts 17:27 (R.V.)

The words are taken from the great speech of St. Paul to the ‘men of Athens.’ Standing on Mars’ hill, in the metropolis of earthly wisdom, the Apostle discourses of the eternal wisdom, of the beginning of all real wisdom, the knowledge of the living and true God. God is not far off, sitting on high Olympus, holding Himself aloof from men and their affairs, as they vainly believed, but is nigh to each one of us.

I. He is near to us in His essential Presence.—As the Eternal Spirit, we believe His presence pervades all space. This essential presence of God is recognised by every true believer, and is a sustaining power in His life as a Christian man.

II. He is near to us in the workings of His providence.—How God draws near to us in those daily mercies which are gifts of His love His children bear witness to with a joy unspeakable. His fatherly hand is ever over us, His fatherly heart is ever bestowing upon us the necessaries of life, the comforts of our home, and all the blessings which we so richly enjoy. We confess with shame that too often we have received good at the hand of our God without one thought of the Giver.

III. He is near to us in the manifestation of His Divine pity.—The text embodies the great truth of the Nativity, ‘God with us.’ When there was no eye to pity, no arm outstretched to save, God stooped in His eternal pity from the throne of the universe to the manger at Bethlehem.

IV. He is near to us in His spiritual provision.—We know that He is present in the midst, where two or three are gathered together in His name. In the ‘sweet hour of prayer’ He draws nigh to His people, and His ear is open unto their cry. This is the highest privilege of prayer—communion of spirit with Spirit, and of us as children with God Who is our Father. We know, too, that He is not far from each one of us in the Holy Sacrament—the sacrament of His dying love. There, at the feast Divine, we see Him face to face; there we feed upon Him in our hearts by faith. Remember all that this full realisation of this nearness of God means to your soul, to your whole life.

—Archdeacon Madden.

Illustration

‘The inscription on Ruskin’s monument near Derwentwater runs as follows: “The Spirit of God is around us in the air we breathe; His glory in the light we see, and in the fruitfulness of the earth and the joy of His creatures.”’


Verse 28

‘IN HIM’

‘In Him we live, and move, and have our being.’

Acts 17:28

The subject is a very deep and very mysterious one. The words exceed all comprehension—this wonderful union—this almost identity of Christ and the Christian.

I. Living.—When did you first begin to feel the power, the privilege, the whole meaning of that word ‘life’? Was not it when you ceased to live for self, for the world, for sin? When you concentrated yourself unto one focus? And now see the security! Have you life, the very strength of life, the very essence of life? Is it not to you Christ? You who love Christ, you never, never die. ‘In Him I live.’ The moment I give up Him, I die. Now mark well the little word. Do not be content to say, ‘I live by Him’; do not be content to say, ‘I live for Him.’ Say, (I feel it, I feel it, I know it, I lay the emphasis on the right word, I live in Him. I live in Him.’ It means, He must die before I die! He must be lost before I can be lost! He must be condemned before I can be condemned! I am bound up in Him; I live with Him. So long as He lives, I live; it is the true necessary consequence, I live in Him, and I shall never, never die!

II. Moving.—It may be wherever we go, whatever change may happen to me in this changing world, in whatever place my lot may be cast, I carry Him with me. I may move up or down; be very low in the world, or very high, as the world calls high; in poverty or wealth; in sickness or health; somewhere near, or somewhere far off; separated from all I hold dearest to me in this world, even down to that paasage of death which leads to another world; but I move with Him, with Him. Not only by Him; it is more than that, I move in Him. He and I can never be divided. It is like the atmosphere which I am breathing. Therefore I cannot be greatly moved.

III. Being.—What is ‘my being’? A compound of body, soul, and spirit. The body has been worn by that Son of Man Who has endowed it. And that soul and spirit were also His. And He is in sympathy with all those weaknesses I feel. He knows exactly what each needs for its purification, and holiness, and strength, and victory. And though my whole being is subject to the attack of the most subtle and cruel enemy, that same enemy is His enemy and mine, but He has spoiled all his wiles, He has destroyed his power, and He has come out in the conflict with him ‘more than conqueror.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘All is of God that is, and is to be;

And God is good; let this suffice us still,

Resting in child-like trust upon His will,

Who moves to His great ends unthwarted by the ill.’


Verse 30

AN UNIVERSAL COMMAND

‘And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.’

Acts 17:30

The time of ignorance, during which there had been merciful Divine forbearance, had come to an end. There was much that was startling to an Athenian audience in the Apostle’s representation of their past condition as one of ignorance. Were they not the wisest and most cultured of mankind? Yet in that chosen seat of human learning ignorance on the highest subjects, and of the grossest kind, had for ages darkened the mind of man. With St. Paul’s preaching ignorance passed away. Forbearance, so long exercised, could no longer be claimed. With the passing of the darkness God required that life with them should take a new and better shape. A time of light and grace had visited them, in which, and because of which, God demanded of them repentance. Let us remember that repentance is the instant and universal duty of man under the Gospel.

I. The Gospel furnishes the highest reason and motive to repentance.—It is the crowning revelation of God, the supreme manifestation of the Divine love, the strongest expression of the Divine mind concerning sin.

II. The Gospel allows no exemption from the duty of repentance.—It makes the same demand upon all men, everywhere—at Jerusalem, at Antioch, and now at Athens. The ancestry and privileges of the Jew, the learning of the Greek, the natural virtues of the barbarian could not render repentance unnecessary.

III. The Gospel grants no delay for the duty of repentance.—God has done so much for man, stooped to such unspeakable depths of mercy and compassion in the Gospel, that He allows no further trifling and delay.

Illustration

‘Grieve not so much that sin

Hath found a stealthy passage to thy heart,

As now rejoice that Penitence hath tracked

Its subtle footsteps there.’


Verse 31

THE RESURRECTION AND THE JUDGMENT

‘Whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.’

Acts 17:31

On two thoughts—righteousness in God and responsibility in man—the judgment to come may be said to hinge. And it is to these two thoughts that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives the most striking emphasis, and in this way contributes an assurance of a judgment to come.

I. It gives emphasis to the righteousness of God.—There are many arguments and illustrations by which we try to assure ourselves of a life to come. But the one thought which seems more than any other to have laid hold upon the minds of men is the spectacle of the inequalities and injustices of the world as it now is. It is felt that we cannot be looking upon a complete scene. Justice so often miscarries; wrong is so often triumphant; merit is not always rewarded; evil seems to have a premium of success, and Fortune to distribute her emoluments with careless hand and blinded eyes. Yet God has told us in the Resurrection of Christ that our faith in the ultimate victory of holiness is not wrong; that our belief that the innocent and pure would yet be vindicated is no hallucination; that our confidence in the righteous character of our Creator is not misplaced; that the coming age will supply the defects, remedy the faults, rectify the judgments, and avenge the wrongs of the present, that He has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness.

II. The Resurrection of Christ gives emphasis to the responsibility of man.—The second element essential to this idea of a judgment hereafter is to be found in the responsibility of man; without this, the judgment would be but a fiction and a mere mockery of justice. And to this responsibility the Resurrection of Christ gives emphasis. It is the proclamation of the possibility of the spiritual Resurrection which has been the dream of the ages.

Bishop W. Boyd Carpenter.


Verse 32

THREE CLASSES OF HEARERS

‘Some mocked: and others said, We will hear Thee again of this matter.… Howbeit certain men clave unto Him, and believed.’

Acts 17:32; Acts 17:34

Since Christ spoke, this address of St. Paul’s at Athens is the most skilful utterance in the history of religious pleading. There was no anger, no scorn, no contempt. In Acts 17:28 he even quotes Aratus, one of their own poets, though he were a heathen. To put the matter in a sentence—St. Paul preaches Jesus and the Resurrection to this cultured audience of Athenian philosophers.

He went so far as to praise the men of Athens—he said they were ‘very religious.’ They had built among their many altars one to an Unknown God in the pious fear they might omit one. Does this not plainly show it is not religion we want: it is the Living Christ.

Now note the result. Athens was the most unpromising place—from a human standpoint—to preach the Gospel, but there are saints in Cæsar’s household.

I. Some mocked.—So it is now. They have no reverence for sacred things. They say there is no heavenly vision because they have never seen it themselves.

II. Others procrastinated.—They do not say they will never obey the Gospel, but not now. As Shakespeare says—“Now I, to comfort him, bid him a’ should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts as yet.’ But God has given us to-day and not to-morrow.

III. Some believed.—Nothing is done unless men are led to make the great venture and trust in Christ alone. It is faith which purifies the heart, and overcomes the world, and works by love.

—Rev. F. Harper.


Verse 34

THREE CLASSES OF HEARERS

‘Some mocked: and others said, We will hear Thee again of this matter.… Howbeit certain men clave unto Him, and believed.’

Acts 17:32; Acts 17:34

Since Christ spoke, this address of St. Paul’s at Athens is the most skilful utterance in the history of religious pleading. There was no anger, no scorn, no contempt. In Acts 17:28 he even quotes Aratus, one of their own poets, though he were a heathen. To put the matter in a sentence—St. Paul preaches Jesus and the Resurrection to this cultured audience of Athenian philosophers.

He went so far as to praise the men of Athens—he said they were ‘very religious.’ They had built among their many altars one to an Unknown God in the pious fear they might omit one. Does this not plainly show it is not religion we want: it is the Living Christ.

Now note the result. Athens was the most unpromising place—from a human standpoint—to preach the Gospel, but there are saints in Cæsar’s household.

I. Some mocked.—So it is now. They have no reverence for sacred things. They say there is no heavenly vision because they have never seen it themselves.

II. Others procrastinated.—They do not say they will never obey the Gospel, but not now. As Shakespeare says—“Now I, to comfort him, bid him a’ should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts as yet.’ But God has given us to-day and not to-morrow.

III. Some believed.—Nothing is done unless men are led to make the great venture and trust in Christ alone. It is faith which purifies the heart, and overcomes the world, and works by love.

—Rev. F. Harper.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 17:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/acts-17.html. 1876.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology