And saying, Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you…
Nothing is more worthy of note in St. Paul's methods than the care which he always took to adapt himself to the varying conditions and characters of those amongst whom he laboured. This statement concerning his mode of work is amply borne out by the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles. His theme was always the same, but his method of presenting that theme was constantly changing with his change of place and circumstances. He had but one gospel to preach — the gospel of Christ crucified; but he preached that gospel with an ever-varying accent and with great manifoldness of expression. At Athens he found his text not in Jewish lore, but in the altars of their gods, and in that literature of which every Greek was lawfully proud. And here at Lystra amongst the Barbarians of Lycaonia he speaks from that revelation of God whose "line is gone out through all the earth, and its words to the end of the world." Let us not suppose, however, that the witness of God's works, to which the apostle appeals in my text, is of importance only to such people as those of Lystra. There is, perhaps, a danger of our thinking that the teachings of Natural Religion have been superseded by those of Revelation. This is a great mistake. Our Lord came not to destroy, but to fulfil that exhibition of religious truth which is contained in the works of nature. The Bible does, it is true, exhibit the imperfection of that revelation; but it nowhere discredits it. On the contrary, it constantly pays its tribute to it, and urges us to study it, as containing the alphabet of its own more glorious disclosures. On the part of the first Christian teachers there was no wholesale churlish denunciation of other religions. They rejoiced to recognise the truths which they contained, though those truths were encrusted, and often hidden out of sight, by the accumulated errors of ages. Nor does the Bible regard natural theology as merely a stepping stone by which men are to pass into the holy of holies of its revelations, and which afterwards is to be disregarded as of no further use; but it speaks of it as being an essential part of the whole fabric of truth, which must ever remain an integral and necessary portion of it. Natural theology is the base of the ladder which rests upon the earth, while the top of it is in heaven; and the ladder cannot stand without its base. Nowhere is this more distinctly set forth than in the teaching of our blessed Master Himself. He directs our attention to the lilies, the mustard seed, the tares, and the harvest, as being Divinely ordained preachers of the truths of religion. Indeed, never was there any teacher who lived in such intimate communion with nature as Jesus of Nazareth. No writer of the New Testament was more perfectly versed in this department of the school of Christ than the apostle Paul. His sermons and his treatises teem with lessons drawn from the storehouse of nature.
I. OBSERVE THAT THE OPERATIONS OF NATURE THROUGH WHICH GOD PROVIDES FOR THE CREATURES BEAR WITNESS TO HIS EXISTENCE AND TO HIS CONTINUAL PRESENCE AND ACTIVITY IN THE MIDST OF HIS WORKS.
1. I know that it is fashionable to sneer at the design argument for the Being of God. But sneering is a very common device resorted to by men who have no argument with which to sustain their cause. In spite of all the sneers of our critics we are prepared to maintain that the argument is irrefragable, that the universe exhibits thought, and that thought implies a thinker; that the universe exhibits uniformity of thought, and that this uniformity of thought implies that there is but one Thinker whose wisdom has laid the plans of this marvellous world in which we dwell. No, the man is without excuse who can look at this masterpiece of thought and say, "There is no Thinker behind it all."
2. For a moment let us single out from the midst of the manifold operations of nature those to which the apostle particularly refers in my text, that is to say, those connected with the supply of food for the creatures. When we consider that the seasons of our climate, with all their manifold effects, are produced by an inclination of the axis of the earth at an angle of 231/2° to the plane of its orbit, and when we consider what would follow if there were no such inclination, or were that inclination varied through ever so small an angle, we can not but feel that there must have been a Designer who gave the earth the exact tilt necessary to the production of its harvests. When we consider how that, in the production of every blade of corn, and of every apple upon the tree, there is a nice mathematical balancing of the forces of gravitation and life, in order that the vital force may be able to overcome the force of gravitation, and shoot forth the cornstalk or the tree to the proper height necessary for its fruit bearing; we cannot but believe that there must have been a great Mathematician who made these delicate adjustments. When we look at the marvellous machinery by which all this vegetable life takes up and appropriates to itself the fructifying properties of the sell beneath it, of the air around it, of the clouds above it, and of the sun which is millions of miles away from it, we are bound to confess that this machinery must have had a Constructor to make it. The apostle mentions rain, and well he may, for the laboratory in which God prepares His rain is well worthy of our inspection. Consider the mighty force which the sun exerts as he lifts the water up into the clouds. See how by the air currents God carries the fruit-bearing showers from one region to another. Look into the processes of rarefaction and condensation by which He prepares the golden drops to distil fatness upon the earth, and then answer the question which God put to Job, "Hath the rain a father? Or who hath begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven who hath gendered it?" (Job 38:28, 29).
3. "Ah, but," says the modern objector, "this is all done in obedience to law! Exactly, that is our point. It is all done in obedience to law. And law means order. And order means thought. And thought means a thinker. The fact that the whole world is under the sway of law is a proof that it has been created by a Designer, and is not the evolution of chance.
4. "Well, but," says the objector again, "it may be that God must have been there to give the laws, but, when He had given them, He left the universe to their sway, and now it is vain to seek for God in a world which He has given over to the control of law." Again we ask, "What is the use of laws without an executive to administer them?" He Himself administers the laws which He has given. God not only was in nature, He is in it.
5. In our stupidity, when the stupendous is often repeated before our eyes, we forget its wondrousness, and the very regularity and profusion with which God's mercies are bestowed seem to deaden our sense of obligation. Custom is a juggler who befools us all, and makes us think that a thing is not wonderful when we see it often. I know that to some the discoveries of science seem to militate against worship. But this is only because these persons imagine that when things are discovered and named they are brought out of the region of mystery. Ignorance is not the mother of religion.
II. OUR TEXT BIDS US SEE IN THE FRUITFUL SEASONS A PROOF OF GOD'S GOODNESS TOWARDS MEN. In spite of all the sorrow and discord of human life, the apostle declares that, even apart from revelation, there is in the bounteous provision of God's providence abundant proof of His goodness towards men. Notwithstanding men's wickedness, He makes age after age provision for their wants (Matthew 5:45). Nothing shows the hardness of men's hearts much more than the way in which they partake of the bounties of God's providence, without any grateful recognition of the Giver. Paul declares in my text that an unenlightened heathen ought to hear the harvest witness to God's goodness. How much more then ought we, who have the light of revelation, to acknowledge His hand in the bounty of His gifts! How careful should we be not to squander these blessings in the service of our lusts! These gifts of God proclaim how lovingly He provides for our happiness. He might have made our food unpleasant and insipid. Instead of that He has associated much pleasure even with the lowest actions of our life, to be a symbol to us of His good will respecting us in all things. Ungodly man, let God's mercies awaken thee to a sense of thy guilt, and let gratitude to Him, because He has not visited thee with the ruin clue to thy sins, constrain thee to offer the only harvest thanksgiving which God will accept.
III. LASTLY, THE HARVEST WITNESS, THOUGH VALUABLE, IS AFTER ALL VERY IMPERFECT.
(G. A. Bennetts, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:
WEB: "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them;