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SOME MOCKED AT THE DOCTRINE OF THE
Acts xvii. 32.
When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.
St. Paul, during his stay at Athens, had been invited by some of the learned and inquisitive inhabitants of that city, to explain to them the nature of the Christian doctrine, as something “new” and s strange.” He complied with their request, and entered upon topics more sublime and important than any others with which the human mind can be engaged.
ed. Those topics were,—the existence of one only Supreme Being,--the duty which man, as his creature, owes to that Being, -and the necessity of worshipping him, not in the ignorant belief that he can be represented by any thing of man's workmanship, but in the perception and acknowledgment, that he is far above all creatures, and that he must, therefore, be regarded with the purest devotion. To
these, the Apostle added the great Christian doctrine of a future judgment,--making it a motive to repentance. “ God,” he told them, “now commandeth all men every where to repent:- 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 to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” On all the other points, his audience listened to him attentively ; but when he came to speak of “the resurrection of the dead, some of them mocked :"they ridiculed him, as if his notions were whimsical and absurd.
We may fairly presume, that the persons who, in so indecorous a manner, received the Apostle's doctrine, were guilty of no little absurdity themselves ;for every one must admit, that the resurrection of man from the dead, is, to say the least of it, a serious subject; and that it accordingly deserves a serious examination.
Let us consider, then, what sort of persons they were, to whom this momentous doctrine was matter of ridicule.
And here it will be proper to examine the account, which St. Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles, has given us of this remarkable incident :-because whatever reception hitherto, and in other places, St. Paul's doctrine had met with, it had never heen made the subject of jesting and derision ;--and, of all the places in the known world, Athens, the seat of politeness, the abode of scientific and elegant literature, the metropolis of the arts, and the home of philosophy, was the very last where such a reception could be expected.
Bitter, indeed, were the checks, and violent the oppositions, with which the Apostle had, in almost every place, been beset. This, however, proves that his doctrine had hitherto been regarded as very serious and important in itself, or in its tendency ;otherwise we cannot account for the hostility that it excited. But though, by the rage of his opponents, he was driven from city to city, he left every where some fruits of his labour, which fruits afterward grew into a noble and abundant harvest. At length he arrived at Athens, and was surprised to find, what indeed was justly matter of surprise, that this spot, where learning and study had their principal residence, was quite overrun with idolatry and superstition. The circumstance made a deep impression on his mind, and sharpened his spirit with sorrow and resentinent. He must naturally have felt disappointment at finding, that, at the very place where human intellect boasted of its greatest achievements, reason itself should be so debased, and the Supreme Being so glaringly dishonoured.
It is a singular fact, that the spot which was most celebrated for its schools of wisdom, should be expressly noted down in Scripture as that where superstition was the most prevalent. One might almost conclude that it happened so, for the very purpose
shewing how futile is man's penetration, as compared with the discoveries which we owe to the revealed word of God, and how incomparably excellent the gospel is, above every thing of human research.
The Apostle's “spirit” being, as we have observed, “ stirred within him," he first communicated his sentiments to the Jews who were resident at Athens, and had a synagogue there, - and to such of the devout or respectable inhabitants as attended that synagogue, whom we may suppose to have possessed, amidst the general debasement and degeneracy some correct notions of God, and accordingly, to have acknowledged him as God. With these persons, the Apostle publickly discussed the subject of idolatry, and brought forward the superior and convincing claims of the Gospel. After this, he had frequent debates in the market, as our translation expresses it, --that is, in the agora, or place of the greatest public resort in the city,—with such persons as he thought proper to address. This behaviour soon attracted the attention of the curious and inquisitive, and drew upon him, as was likely, the kind of opposition which truth generally meets with from interested quarters. The pride of the two leading sects of philosophers caught the alarm. The Epicureans and the Stoics attacked him. They were desirous of knowing what this upstart philosopher, upheard of till now, and who, they knew, had never studied among them, could mean.
Some of them said that he was come to announce to them some strange or foreign gods ;
and they grounded this assertion upon his “ preaching Jesus, and the resurrection.” To obtain a full knowledge of his principles, and a thorough insight into his doctrines, they brought him before the Court of the Areopagus, to which the cognizance of such affairs belonged. This court was esteemed the most venerable and sacred tribunal in all Greece ; and before this solemn and august assembly St. Paul was brought, to declare his sentiments and explain his doctrines. His speech upon this occasion is given us in the chapter of the text; and though it is concise, it is so nervous and full of important matter, that it cannot be read too often, nor can it be sufficiently admired. The audience were attentive, till, in the close of his speech, he touched upon the doctrine of man's accountableness to his Creator, and upon the certainty of God's having appointed a Judge---a Judge raised purposely from the dead, --who was to preside at the righteous and awful tribunal, on the day determined in the secret counsels of heaven, for summoning the whole world to judgment. Upon this, some giddy and thoughtless persons, forgetting the gravity and importance of all the Apostle's doctrines, --forgetting the solemnity of the place where they were assembled, -- and, in short, forgetting every thing that was just and decent,-openly laughed at him, accompanying their laughter, as the original word intimates, with expressions of reproach and
These persons could not have been any of the judges of the court of Areopagus; for in them,