God’s Providential Rule Over Men And The History Of The World (Acts 17:26-28)
But our God is in the heavens. He rules all things by His counsel and providence. All things are by his will. He is above all “gods!” He, and He alone, is Lord of heaven and earth.
He made a human race; He did not simply make each nation rise out of the earth as a distinct nation by itself. Such is the ignorance and folly of heathenism which does not believe in God, the Creator. They try to explain the existing of things from their national god-idol. Thus they destroy the human race in its unity and purpose. But Paul preaches sound Theology and Anthropology here on Mars Hill. The latter is not possible without the former. Wherefore the pagan, unbelieving mind, because it does not believe in the one, true God, cannot possibly explain the unity of the human race. In their superstitious pride they elevate the various nations in which they belong to a higher origin than other nations. This among the Greeks was called with the technical term autochthones. Writes Prof. Lechler in the Lange Commentaries on Acts: “Paul here combats, not so much the opinion of the Athenians specially, who deemed themselves to beautochthones, as, rather, the delusion in general, which was fostered by the religion of nature in its forms, according to which the respective origins of the different nations of the earth were all essentially distinct from one another.” And the Rev. Charles Gerok writes in the same Lange series on Acts: “The unity of the human race was unknown to all polytheistic religions. All these, conforming to the theory that there are many gods, proceeded on the principle that the primordials of the various nations were also many in number; and that these nations and their respective founders were originally of different degrees of rank. This essential difference as to origin was assumed as perpetuated in the subsequent history of the nations. The conception of the unity in the history of mankind, was also entirely foreign to heathenism. Even those nations which had risen to the highest degree of culture and intelligence, the Greeks and Romans, regarded themselves, respectively as constituting the central point of the history of the world; they could form no conception of a Universal History of mankind, viewed as one race. (See Baumgarten, II. 1. 269 ff.)”
What a heathenish, paganistic life-and-world-view!
This view too is cut asunder with one mighty stroke of Paul here in the Areopagus in Athens. Paul does not merely state that God made all men out of one man, but rather emphasizes that God made all men to dwell on all the face of the earth out of one man. There is no nation or people which can claim to be an exception to this rule!
More still. The Lord also rules all things. He has the destiny of nations in His hand. He has determined the set time and the bounds of their habitations. Here is God’s history and geography! And the design of all nations out of one man, one human race, is in them all. And it was meant to be so by the Lord. This pattern is stamped indelibly in all of history. The unity of the human race, as controlled by the Lord in His providence, points up the unity of the Creator, Sustainer of all things. It is written upon every page of history as God writes it. He is Lord of heaven and earth!
This is borne out by what we read in Gen. 11:1-9: “The whole earth was of one speech and of one language.” There were no separate nations prior to the confusion of tongues at Babel! Then God made the nations! It is stupid pride and horrible unbelief that would make each nation come from a national god or primordial. It is a denial of the judgment of God and of God’s Christological purpose in all things, namely, that Japheth shall dwell in the tents of Shem. But here the record is set straight. Of this Moses sings in Deut. 32:7-9, where we read: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: (generation and generation) ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders and they will tell thee. When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.”
Here we have the true interpretation of history!
Here we have the real meaning of geography! Creation, Providence, and Christology are one. The history of the world is the history of the human race, only as it is the history of the church. World history and world geography is church history and churchgeography! Out of the whole human race the church is gathered in such a way that the church is saved, the one new man in Christ, and all things are united under one Head: Christ, the Heir of all things! Heb. 1:1-4; Eph. 1:10;Col. 1:16. Indeed all things were created through the Son and unto the Son, Incarnate.
And that God has thus created and rules all things in His providence makes Him very near to each one of us. We are to seek Him in all this. That is the very design and purpose of history and geography. He who does not seek out God is profitless. He who does not seek out God and find Him has not read history nor traced the map of geography as it is traced out by God through the ages. There is no solid and profitable learning in all the text-books of the unbelieving world. It is the jargon of unbelief; it is merely profane babbling. It is profane because it would trample under foot all that is holy, keeping the truth down in unrighteousness; it is babbling because it is empty speech, without the content which answers to the reality of God in history. Behold, here posited the need of our own day schools, the need of solid instruction in our catechism classes and Sunday Schools! The attempt of “common grace” to interpret history is as vain as were all the attempts of paganism! They remain vain attempts! We do well to listen to Paul in Athens.
What is more, he who fails to seek out God if ever he might touch and find him is guilty before God. This guilt, in a way was overlooked, “winked at” in the times on the Old Testament in heathendom, but now that time is past. In the coming of Christ, in his death and resurrection, the meaning of history is objectively unfolded, and only stark unbelief fails to see and acknowledge it!
This is not a counter-philosophical dissertation. This is preaching of Christ, as all God’s works in Creation, history, and geography are taken up in the Wonder of grace! Nowhere is there room for Pantheism which would make everything God and God everything. Creator and creature each remain distinct, or both are destroyed in thought and religion.
Thus Paul draws the lines in this sermon!
They are indicative of the straight paths of the most High, and proclaim the unity of work of God in creation and in re-creation.
All must end in the one man, Jesus Christ, the judge of heaven and earth!
There is a “glimmering” of this still evident in the utterance of the Greeks’ poets. The exalted origin of man in all creation is still observable in the poets. Yes, here too the truth is kept down in unrighteousness, so that these poets are without excuse before God. A Cleanthes may write in his Hymn to Zeus, “for out of thee we are a kind,” (generation), but he refers this to Zeus, the greatest of immortals. He has, even here, changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of corruptible man. Rom. 1:23. They had not eye for the nature of the “Godhead.” Cleanthes, the Stoic poet-philosopher, did not “find” God. Had Paul here preached “whom” ye served and not “what” ye serve, we might conclude that Paul quotes the poets without reservation. But now we know that he is finding the psychological point of contact in these heathen, appealing to the “glimmerings of natural light,” so that they may be led pedagogically to holy ground. There was a Dyonysius the Areopagite who saw the light. It was not the light of nature, but the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit which accompanied the Word. It was the Holy Spirit cum Verbo! Paul lays the foundations, he waters, and the Lord gave the increase!
The Great Conclusion Acts 17:29-34
Erroneous as was the Greeks’ conception of the godhead, they nonetheless held to a conception of the “godhead” which placed “him” among the “immortals,” far above mere brick, stone, be they raw material or carved and formed by the technical skills of artificers. So much is evident from the writings of the poets. And these poets were read and exegeted by these Stoics and Epicureans.
And yet that is exactly what Athens was doing. In their practice they sank beneath their “theory.” There is a lack of consistency in their theory and practice. In their “theoria” they attempted the deep contemplation of the truth; they wrote poems and discussed the nature of the “godhead”; they discussed in their ethics and metaphysics the nature of the world, being and becoming, what is permissible and what is required, who are evil and who are good. But in this contemplation “man” is never in the category of temples made with hands.
Why this inconsistency?
Why could not their practice rise as high as their theory?
Paul points this out to these Athenians. There is a strange reasoning in the sinner which is fatal. Says Rev. Gerok, “They reasoned thus, ‘If we belong to the divine race, then the gods must belong to the human race, and it is both in our power and becomes a duty to make human images of them.'” It is the process ofRomans 1:22, 23 which reads: “Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” Thus their practice sank even beneath their “theory” which is the expression of the glimmerings of their natural light!!
Paul points out a different reasoning. It is: “Those who belong to the divine race dishonor themselves, if they do not restrict their worship to their Founder and Head, but bow down before any being inferior to Him Who is Lord over all.” Gerok. But Christ is the Lord. He is God in the flesh, and yet the man Jesus Christ. He is powerfully revealed to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. He is Lord over all. Now these heathen are called to repent from these dumb idols to the service of the living God.
Paul taught them “what” they worshipped!
He preached to them “Whom” they should worship.
According to this gospel will also these Athenians and all men be judged in that appointed day. Then shall all the “glimmerings of natural light” fade out into endless night! But the righteous shall then serve the Lord in His spiritual temple.
For the gospel was preached on Mars Hill, and not in vain!