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Who by his labour lived; that he was one
She gazed upon her children, and beheld
His image who was gone!—O God! be Thou,
PAUL AT ATHENS.
HAD the fact that Paul preached at Athens been mentioned without particulars, how great would have been our curiosity to know how he conducted himself who eminently ranks as a philosopher among the apostles, when he stood alone, an apostle among philosophers! This was the noblest
arena on which he had ever struggled; he had fought with beasts at Ephesus, but at Athens he contended with the master spirits of mankind. He was at once in the very palace of intellect, and the sanctuary of idolatry. All that his writings and recorded actions have unfolded of his character rush upon our minds, and deepen our interest, and exalt our expectations, as we behold him, impelled by the fervour of zeal, and armed only in the simplicity of truth, advancing to glorify Jesus of Nazareth as the Lord of faith, in the awful presence of this world's wisdom. Well did he acquit himself, in a speech where reason lays the broad basis of a spiritual theism, and revelation rears the lofty structure of judgment and immortality. He spoke, as apostle should speak at Athens, in language worthy of himself, and his illustrious character, and heavenly commission-worthy of the dignified auditory before which he pleaded-worthy of diffusion and transmission to remotest countries and ages, for reverential study-and worthy to be the shrine of those fundamental and everlasting principles which constitute religious truth, and are Christianity. Nor is it to him alone that our interest clings; for, from the dawn of intellect and freedom, has Greece been a watchword in the earth. There rose the social spirit, to soften and refine her chosen race, and shelter, as in a nest, her gentleness from the rushing storm of barbarism—there liberty first built her mountain-throne, first called the waves her own, and shouted across them a proud defiance to despotism's banded myriads—there the arts and graces danced around humanity, and stored man's home with comforts, and strewed his path with roses, and bound his brows with myrtle, and fashioned for him the breathing statue, and summoned him to temples of snowy marble, and charmed his senses with all forms of elegance, and threw over his final sleep their veil of loveliness-there sprung poetry, like their own fabled goddess, mature at once, from the teeming
intellect, girt with the arms and armour that defy the assaults of time, and subdue the heart of man-there matchless orators gave the world a model of perfect eloquence, the soul the instrument on which they played, and every passion of our nature but a tone which the master's touch called forth at pleasure-there lived and taught the philosophers of bower and porch, of pride and pleasure, of deep speculation and of useful action, who developed all the acuteness and refinement, and excursiveness, and energy of mind, and were the glory of their country, when their country was the glory of the earth.
But although such associations as these work powerfully on our feelings as we turn to the page where what is most brilliant in profane and important in sacred history come in contact, we must remember that Athens appeared to the apostle under a very different aspect. There are sufficient indications, that to the splendour of its name and the charms of its literature, he was no stranger, nor insensible. The intellectual superiority not only of its sages, but of its inhabitants, must have been to him a welcome congeniality and a strong excitement; but it was something else which stirred his spirit in him, and stimulated the moral daring of the effort, through which the historian has enabled us to track his course, or rather to watch his flight. Athens was the very focus of idolatry. Its altars, statues, and temples, were multiplied beyond parallel, and reckoned more numerous than those of all the rest of Greece together. Pretonius, the satirist, who was living then, said, "That his country was filled with gods, so that it was easier to find a god than a man." Athens was called the altar of Greece; and that "the city was wholly given to idolatry”—or, more correctly, was so full of images-roused the apostle to come forward as the champion of Jehovah, and demand the restoration of their homage to its rightful object, the only God-the Father of Christ.
On many minds the effect would have been different, for idolatry there put on a most fascinating and a most formidable shape. It had much to impose on the senses. Probably no scene of mortal creation was ever so enchanting as that presented in a walk through Athens during its splendour. From the plundered and disjointed fragments of its beauty, our artists draw their noblest inspirations; and in them our country boasts a treasure of which all civilized nations may envy the possession. Oh! to have seen them glittering in their own sunshine, in proud harmony with the temples from which they have been torn-to have passed through those streets which were but long galleries of godlike forms in marble, and ascend that Acropolis which was the citadel, not only of their safety, but their fame—to have witnessed the living magnificence of their worship, and especially of their festivals-the gorgeous attire of their priests-the solemn pomp of their sacrifices-the interminable variety of their processions—the multitudinous concourse of their citizens the clouds of fragrant incence that alone could obscure their transparent atmosphere-the thrilling delight of music resounding from roofs whose beams had been the masts of Persian fleets-the majesty of their theatres, which inspired the sense, not so much of pleasure as of sublimity— the agonizing excitement of their games, and the distribution of those simple prizes of the palm-branch, or the crown of olive, pine, or parsley, for which Europe has no sceptre or diadem that the victor would have taken in exchange, must he have bartered his Grecian glory too:-to have seen these, and idolatry pervading them all as their vital spirit, and reigning by them over hearts and minds, might rouse the zeal of a Paul; but a feebler faith would have dissolved in the enchanted cup, and been incorporated with the profane libation.
Athenian idolatry had much to charm the imagination. It not only had been adorned by the most gifted hands; it
not only had a rich stream of song ever flowing through its consecrated grounds; but it was essentially poetical, very child of fancy; and its Pantheon the vision of genius made visible and palpable to all. Its deities were the beings whom the poet sees in his day-dreams on the shores of the ocean, or by the bubbling fountain, or in the recesses of the grove, or on the mountain's summit. They were not the original product of the pallet or the chisel, nor their original abode the marble temple; for their first creator was poetic enthusiasm, and their first shrine the poet's soul. Nor did it want for means to seduce the judgment, for in their mythology was many a noble truth, which some might deem the lovelier for its graceful veil of allegory; and they had a philosophy, which has indeed obtained in most ages, teaching to think with the wise and act with the multitude; and the example of their most venerable sages sanctified an outward conformity with detected superstition.
And there was something to such an one as Paul, that was spirit-stirring in the mighty array that he had to cope with. He was full of courage and of hope. In the cause of Christ he had gone on conquering, and would trust that, even here, he came to conquer. He felt that it was enough, even if he saved but one, to recompense the effort and the peril—that it was enough, if, by his faithfulness, he only delivered his own soul. But his was a mind to look and aim at more than this. He felt the splendour of the triumph there would be in levelling the wisdom of Athens, and the idolatry of Athens, at the foot of the cross-in making Jupiter, Neptune, and all their tribes give place to Jehovah-and Zeno, and Epicurus, and Aristotle, and Plato, and Socrates, succumb to the man of Nazareth. He burned to make Olympus bow its awful head, and cast down its coronet of gods, at His feet who dwelt in Zion; and the pæans of Bacchus and Apollo were, in his ear, but preludes to the swelling "song of Moses and the Lamb."