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of his hearers. He does not begin a regular and detailed account of the great truths contained in the records of Revelation; he does not set himself to explain how a long train of prophecy, minutely particular as to circumstance and time, had been wonderfully fulfilled in the person and the ministry of that Jesus, whom he came to preach; how He spake as never man before Him spake; how He wrought what power less than divine could never work; how, more than all, He rose triumphant from the grave. St. Paul was addressing himself, he well remembered, to hearers who were by no means prepared for this information; he was addressing himself to the heathen and the polytheist; to persons who had attained to no adequate or distinct knowledge of that great Being, who ought to be the sole object of man's adoration; whose feelings and practices of religion were tainted with the most degrading superstition; who, by referring miracles and prophecy to a wrong source, would not have felt the weight of that evidence which they afford; and who, if they had been brought to believe in Jesus as God, or as having performed many great and astonishing deeds, might have been content, under the continuance of their misguided feelings, to associate Him with their Jupiter or their Apollo, and raise an altar to His name. Such persons were to be instructed in correcter principles of all religion, before they could be pre
pared to receive that knowledge, which is peculiar to Revelation. They were to learn that there is one only God, before they could understand that this God has redeemed the world by his Son. They were to be taught that this Being is a pure Spirit; that He is not to be shaped into any likeness of man's device; that He dwelleth not in temples made with hands; that He is the Lord of universal nature, and governs all things by his providence; that He fills all space, and embraces all knowledge; before they could be prepared to exchange their gross ideas of heathen mythology, for the more refined feelings of Christian devotion, and the purer rites of Christian worship.
In proceeding then to convey to them the much-needed knowledge of the one true God, the Apostle does not enter on a train of abstract reasoning to prove the necessity of a great First Cause, from whom the universe is derived. Neither set he himself, in the first instance, to expose the senseless absurdity of paying adoration to supposed gods, subject to earthly passions and vices, and fashioned after the likeness of men. By adopting the first plan, he would, at the outset of his discourse, have involved himself in immediate disputation with his hearers, who had long and fiercely discussed amongst their different sects the subjects of the eternity or non-eternity of the world, of the manner of
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its formation, of the existence or non-existence of good and evil principles. And, by adopting the 'second plan, he would at once have excited the anger and opposition of the more popular portion of his hearers, and have indisposed them to listen further to what he had to say. But he most skilfully took advantage of a small approach, which he perceived they had made towards this important truth, to draw them on to a fuller knowledge, to pour into their darkened minds a clearer and a broader light. “ Ye men of Athens,” he says, ceive that ye are in all things too superstitious : for, as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found also an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God. Whom ye therefore ignorantly worship, him declare I unto
It is of considerable importance that we should rightly apprehend the meaning of the Apostle in the expression which he here uses, and in the allusions which he makes.
In the words which have been given from our received translation, he opens his address by telling the Athenians, that they are “ in all things too superstitious.” There are, however, some reasons of weight and consideration for believing that the Apostle rather meant to express the sentiment, that they were in all respects more religious, more given to devotion, more impress
ed with feelings of reverence towards superior beings, than other nations whom he had visited. He appears not to have wished to convey a censure for an excessive, depraved, or debasing fear of invisible powers, but rather to applaud them for some approach towards more proper notions and correcter feelings, which he observed amongst them, and which might, when directed into a better channel, produce fruits of true devotion, worthy of Christianity itself. The probability of this meaning may, I apprehend, be established by several considerations.
In the first place, it should be remembered, that, as St. Paul was now addressing his hearers with a view to their instruction and persuasion in matters of the deepest importance, and in pursuance of the direct object of his divine commission, it is by no means probable that he would begin by passing on them a general and strong censure, which might generate in them an indisposition to hear his doctrine with favourable attention; and this the rather, as a portion of the audience had already shewn that they bore no favourable disposition towards the “ teacher of new things;" and the necessity of caution was evinced in the actual event of his discourse. St. Paul was a man of strong natural sense, and well skilled in the art of oratory. Now it is the first principle of good sense, and a primary rule of the orator's art, to conciliate the good will of an
audience on beginning adiscourse. Besides, it was his manner, as it was that of the other Christian Apostles, to shew a marked tenderness to all the religious prejudices of those whom he addressed. We should also observe, that the general tenor of his whole discourse, was not that of censure, but of plain instruction: he imparts to them throughout what they ought to know, does not inveigh against them for their ignorance and
Thus if, in the opening of his address, he uttered against them such a reproof as would be conveyed by our term,“ too superstitious," he adopted there a style and manner, which harmonized ill with the rest of his discourse.
In the second place, the word * in the original language is one which well admits a favourable
This word means, in its derivation, “ those who fear demons or invisible powers," either good or bad: but, since the fear of invisible powers, when properly directed, and correctly modified, is religion; when depraved, excessive, and directed to wrong objects, superstition, we can infer nothing from this derivation, and must be guided entirely by the manner in which the word has been used. Its use, as found in different authors, is extremely various; sometimes in a good, sometimes in a bad sense. But, what is much to our present purpose, it should