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Bible Commentaries

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

Acts 17

 

 

Verse 1

CONTENTS

Paul and Silas prosecute their Circuit of preaching the Word through Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. We have an awful Account of the latter.


Verses 1-9

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: (2) And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, (3) 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. (4) And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. (5) But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. (6) And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; (7) Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. (8) And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. (9) And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.

It doth not appear that Paul, or any of his company, preached in the two first places noticed in this Chapter. Neither have we any mention made of them anymore than here, in all scripture. And what a striking consideration is it, that both those places are now, and for many a generation have been, in the hands of the Turks! I leave the Reader to his own reflections upon the subject.

Thessalonica was the chief city of Macedonia, larger than Philippi. The Jews, it should seem, were very numerous here, and had a Synagogue. And the Apostle, with Silas, and Timotheus, his companions, (see Acts 17:15) during their abode among the Thessalonians, attended the worship in the Synagogues, and most ably preached to them Jesus. I say most ably, for we have full proof of it in both Epistles to the Thessalonians, which Paul afterwards sent to the Church there. I need not make quotations from those blessed writings, for it would swell my Poor Man's Commentary to too large a size. Neither is it necessary, as the Reader can refer to both Epistles in proof. Indeed he would do well to read those Epistles, and this history together. But, of the Apostle's success, the first Chapter of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, fully proves. And of his labors among them night and day, the second Chapter of the same Epistle very sweetly testifies.

But while we notice with delight and thankfulness the work of the Lord prospering under the hand of his servants, in the call of the Redeemer's people in Thessalonica, I pray the Reader no less to notice with myself the rejection made by the unbelieving Jews. Yes! The word of God so points out the solemn truth: and the earth in every age bears testimony in confirmation. As Paul said, so daily experience, both then and now, proves. We are, (said he,) where we make manifest the savor of his knowledge in every place, a sweet savor of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one, we are the savor of death unto death: and to the other, the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. Oh! the wonders of distinguishing grace!


Verses 10-15

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. (11) 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. (12) Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. (13) But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people. (14) And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timothy abode there still. (15) And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timothy for to come to him with all speed, they departed.

I admire the scripture sense of nobility, in the account here given of the people of Berea. The word of God defines what it is to be truly noble, in both receiving with all readiness of mind the scriptures, and searching them daily. Reader! behold an honorable testimony the Holy Ghost hath himself given to those who do receive, and daily search his sacred word. He saith elsewhere, them that honor me, I will honor: and they that despise me, shall be lightly esteemed, 1 Samuel 2:30. Oh! how will the word of God arise in judgment at the last day, to silence in everlasting confusion thousands, in whose houses the Bible indeed may be found, but so little used by them, that their condemnation may be written in letters upon the dust which covers it? Yea, strange to say, but by a contradiction in terms peculiarly known in the present hour, numbers profess great earnestness to send the Bible abroad to others, while thrown aside and never studied by themselves! Oh! ye noble Bereans! I bless God the Holy Ghost for the high honor the Lord of hosts himself hath here conferred upon you, in thus recording your true nobility in the word of his grace, and transmitting it to endless generations of the Church to be noticed by his people!

It may be proper for the Reader to observe, that when the Apostle speaks of the Bereans, as more noble than the people of Thessalonica, is meant the Jews of that place. And the commendation given the one, to the reproach of the other, is wholly in that; while the one searched the scriptures daily, and examined concerning what Paul and his companions said, whether those things were so; the other made no enquiry in the word of God, but condemned their doctrine without seeking any proof. But that this comparison did not refer to the Gentiles in Thessalonica is very certain, for before Paul and Silas left the Thessalonians to go to Berea, we are told, that among the devout Greeks which were believers, there was a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few, Acts 17:4. Indeed the Church planted in Thessalonica before Paul left it, and the two blessed Epistles afterwards sent to it by him, very plainly shew how God the Holy Ghost had opened a door among them for their ministry, and given testimony to their labors by the word of his grace.


Verses 16-21

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. (17) 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. (18) Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. (19) And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? (20) For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (21) (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.)

We shall be better able to form our conclusions of the Apostle's ministry among the Athenians, if we previously take a short view of this people; and, under divine teaching, from what is here said of them, behold the wretched blindness, in respect to the true knowledge of God, in which this famous city was then covered.

Athens, at the time Paul was there, stood high in repute for learning and philosophy, and all human sciences then in esteem in the schools. It prided itself also upon religion. And from the intercourse with the Jews at Jerusalem in trade, they had acquired some knowledge of the scriptures of God. And as a free toleration was granted to everyone to exercise whatever profession he thought proper of religion, the Jews had a Synagogue for worship in Athens. But the leading part of the people were divided, (as appears from this Chapter,) into those two great sects, the Epicureans, and the Stoicks. The former sprung from a certain philosopher (falsely so called) of the name of Epicurus, who lived about three hundred and forty years before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. His doctrine was, that there was no first cause; no God; but that the world came by chance. And that a man's own pleasure was the only object of pursuit. The Stoicks were the followers of a philosopher called Zeno. They took the name of Stoic from the Greek word Stoa, which signifies a Porch. And as it is said that under a Porch Zeno used to walk, and teach his pupils his notion of things, they were called Stoic philosophers on that account. The tenets of this class of people differed from that of the Epicureans, in acknowledging a first cause. But they held that so much natural goodness was in every man, he had a power over his own passions; and he might, if he pleased, undergo the greatest pain with indifference. Such were the different characters of the Gentile philosophers with whom Paul had to contend; beside the blindness and prejudice of the ignorant Jews. No wonder so deeply distressed in soul the Apostle must have been, when he beheld the whole city sunk in idolatry, that his spirit could not refrain! Jeremiah 20:9. Reader! pause, if but for a moment, and contemplate, the awful effects of the fall! Oh! what an universal ruin was induced thereby, to our whole nature! The Church of God, as well as the whole mass of men, all involved in one common calamity: darkness covering the earth, and gross darkness the people, Isaiah 62:2.


Verses 22-34

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. (23) 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. (24) God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; (25) Neither is worshiped with men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; (26) And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; (27) That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from everyone of us: (28) For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (29) Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. (30) And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: (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. (32) And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. (33) So Paul departed from among them. (34) Howbeit certain men cleaved unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

It appears, from what is here said, that this meeting was by appointment. The dispute which Paul had occasionally entered into, with those different sects of Philosophers, as he met them in the market place; as well as with the Jews on the holy days in their Synagogue; had excited great curiosity among a set of people of whom we are told, that they spent their time in nothing else but an enquiry after novelty. They therefore took Paul to their public Court, called Areopagus; and then desired that he would deliver his opinion more fully, upon what he had before occasionally spoken of, Jesus and the Resurrection.

I do not think it necessary to go over the several parts of the Apostle's discourse, by way of illustration. Indeed this service is rendered needless, from the plain language Paul adopted. everyone must perceive, that in condemning the idolatry and superstition of this people, he hath fully shewn, the importance and necessity of the Gospel of Christ, But, for Readers of that class of persons for whom this Poor Man's Commentary is designed, I shall be doing a more acceptable service, if from the whole of the Apostle's sermon, I endeavour to raise such improvement, as under the Lord's blessing, may be rendered profitable. And, in doing this, I venture to believe, We shall be acting in correspondence to the gracious design of God the Holy Ghost, when the Lord caused this account of Paul's preaching at Athens to be recorded.

And here, at the very entrance on the subject of Paul's sermon, those two great points are discoverable, as though marked with a sun-beam. The Apostle's spirit was stirred within him, when he saw the whole city given to idolatry. But, in the close of the preaching, we discover the cause. Certain men clave unto him, and believed. Hence we learn here, as in the former instance at Berea, the Lord had a people at Athens, for whom Paul's spirit was stirred to speak. And here also, as there, mockers were found, to whom Paul's sermon became the ministry of condemnation. See Luke 10:5-16.

I know full well, by long experience, that the mind of every man by nature, is apt to revolt at this: neither, till grace hath entered the heart, can such truths be received. But, the approval or rejection of God's sovereignty, leaves the subject just where it found it. The Lord hath said, and who shall gainsay it: My counsel shall stand, And I will do all my pleasure, Isaiah 46:10. So that, while the potsherd may, and will, strive with the potsherds of the earth; and if the blows be violent against each other, like earthen vessels, both may break: Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Isaiah 45:9.

That the Lord hath a Church in the world, whose recovery from the Adam-nature fall, all the ordinances and means of grace under the Lord, are directed to accomplish, is a truth, too fully, and too plainly revealed in the word of God, to require any further arguments to prove. And, that there are others of mankind, not included in this dispensation, the prayer of Jesus in his Mediator-office, as decidedly shews. I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me. The world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Yea, the Lord, when speaking of God's decrees, in relation to discriminating grace, in separating the precious from the vile, makes use of the name righteous, as if (and which must be the case,) the very act resulted, from this divine perfection. 0 righteous Father! the world hath not known thee! John 17:9; Joh_14:25. And, after the review of this part of Christ's prayer, who will venture to arraign God's justice? Who will assume the confidence of being more merciful than Christ? Who will impeach the divine sovereignty, when despisers of God, like those Athenian philosophers, are left to their scorn: and the cause in this instance, as in ten thousand others, is permitted to bring forth its natural effect? But, I pursue the subject no further. To the Lord I bring it. And with the Lord I leave it. Sweet and satisfying is that delightful scripture, though the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah followed it: Shall not the judge of all the earth do right, Genesis 18:25.

I beg the Reader not to overlook, how blessedly the Chapter is closed. While some mocked, and others proposed to themselves another hearing, before the Apostle departed from them, certain men clave unto him and believed. And, the Holy Ghost hath handed down the names of two of them with honorable testimony, to the latest generations. Dionysius the Areopagite, by which it is probable is meant the judge of the Court: and Damaris it is also likely, was a woman of some distinction. And the account adds, and others with them. How many, or how few, is not said. But we may safely conclude all within that promise, Acts 2:39. See also John 6:37.


Verse 34

REFLECTIONS

Reader! do not fail to observe, how highly Paul was taught, so as to adapt his discourse to the different hearers among whom he exercised his ministry. To the Jews he preached Christ crucified, in all his fulness, suitableness, and all-sufficiency. To the Bereans, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free, still Jesus Christ became the one text, sum, and substance of the Apostle's sermons, in declaring to every hearer, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of, for salvation to everyone that believeth. To Philosophers, falsely so called, (for, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,) who erected an altar to an Unknown God, Paul preached Jesus, and the Resurrection. He, and He alone, as the New Testament Altar, the High Priest, and the Sacrifice. In short, so highly taught was Paul, and so divinely commissioned by God the Spirit, that he became all things to all men, that by all means he might save some. And, what a sweet testimony the Lord gave to the word of his grace, when, even in Athens, the called out his own, and manifested the Savor of his name in every place!

Reader! let you and I learn, rightly to value our mercies. Oh! the blessedness of having the glorious Gospel of the blessed God made known, and proclaimed in his Churches. Lord! grant thy people grace to know the truth, and the truth to make them free. Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, 0 Lord, in the light of thy countenance!

 


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Bibliography Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Acts 17:4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/acts-17.html. 1828.

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