Sketches From The Life of Paul
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 9: Paul at Berea and Athens.
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Thus, in the most impressive manner, with hand
outstretched toward the temple crowded with idols,
Paul poured out the burden of his soul, and ably
exposed the fallacies of the religion of the Athenians.
The wisest of his hearers were astonished as
they listened to his reasoning. His words could not
be controverted. He showed himself familiar with
their works of art, their literature, and their religion.
Pointing to their statuary and idols, he declared to
them that God could not be likened to forms of
man's device. The works of art could not, in the
faintest sense, represent the glory of the infinite
God. He reminded them that their images had no
breath nor life. They were controlled by human
power; they could move only as the hands of
men moved them; and those who worshiped them
were in every way superior to that which they
worshiped. Pointing to noble specimens of
manhood about him, he declared, "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."
Man was created in the image of this infinite [p. 95] God, blessed with intellectual power and a perfect
and symmetrical body. The heavens are not large
enough to contain God; how much less could
those temples made with hands contain him. Paul,
under the inspiration of his subject, soared above
the comprehension of the idolatrous assembly, and
sought to draw their minds beyond the limits of
their false religion to correct views of the true
Deity, whom they had styled the "Unknown God."
This Being, whom he now declared unto them,
was independent of man, needing nothing from
human hands to add to his power and glory.
The people were carried away with admiration
of Paul's eloquence. The Epicureans began to
breathe more freely, believing that he was strengthening
their position, that everything had its origin
in blind chance; and that certain ruling principles
controlled the universe. But his next
sentence brought a cloud to their brows. He asserted
the creative power of God, and the existence of
his overruling providence. He declared unto them
the true God, who is the living center of government.
This divine Ruler had, in the dark ages of the
world, passed lightly over heathen idolatry; but
now he had sent them the light of truth, through
his Son; and he exacted from all men repentance
unto salvation; not only from the poor and
humble, but from the proud philosopher, and the
princes of the earth. "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."
As Paul thus spoke of the resurrection from the
dead, his speech was interrupted. Some mocked; [p. 96] others put his words aside, saying, "We will hear
thee again of this matter." Thus closed the
labors of the apostle at Athens; for the Athenians
persistently clung to their idolatry, and
turned away from the light of a true and
reasonable religion. When a people are wholly satisfied
with their own attainments, little more need
be expected of them. Highly educated, and boasting
of their learning and refinement, the Athenians
were constantly becoming more corrupt, and
having less desire for anything better than the
vague mysteries of idolatry.
Many who listened to the words of Paul were
convinced of the truths presented, but they would
not humble themselves to acknowledge God, and
to accept the plan of salvation. No eloquence of
words, no force of argument, can convert the sinner.
The Spirit and power of God can alone apply the
truth to the heart of the impenitent. Of the
Athenians it may be said, "The preaching of the
the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to
them that are saved it is the power of God."
In their pride of intellect and human wisdom
may be found the reason why the gospel message
met with so little success among that people. Our
Saviour rejoiced that God had hid the things of
eternal interest from the wise and prudent, and
had revealed them unto babes in knowledge. All
worldly wise men who come to Christ as poor, lost
sinners, will become wise unto salvation; but those
who come as distinguished men, extolling their
own wisdom, will fail to receive the light and
knowledge which he alone can give.
The labors of Paul in Athens were not wholly
in vain. Dionysius, one of the most prominent [p. 97] citizens, and some others, became converts to
Christianity, and joined themselves to him. The
words of the apostle, and the description of his
attitude and surroundings, as traced by the pen of
inspiration, were to be handed down through all
coming generations, bearing witness of his
unshaken confidence, his courage in loneliness and
adversity, and the victory he gained for
Christianity, even in the very heart of paganism.
Inspiration has given us this glance at the life
of the Athenians, with all their knowledge, refinement,
and art, yet sunken in vice, that it might be
seen how God, through his servant, rebuked idolatry,
and the sins of a proud, self-sufficient people. The
words of Paul become a memorial of the occasion,
and give a treasure of knowledge to the church.
He was in a position where he might easily have
spoken that which would irritate his proud listeners,
and bring himself into difficulty. Had his oration
been a direct attack upon their gods, and the great
men of the city who were before him, he would
have been in danger of meeting the fate of
Socrates. But he carefully drew their minds away
from heathen deities, by revealing to them the
true God, whom they were endeavoring to worship,
but who was to them unknown, as they themselves
confessed by a public inscription.
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