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Sketches From The Life of Paul

by Ellen G. White

Chapter 9: Paul at Berea and Athens.

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Part:  A  B  C

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.

Part:  A  B  C

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