A Three-point Sermon
Although I do not have a reputation as the world's greatest preacher, I have taught some successful preacher-training classes. In some of them I have emphasized that, other things being equal (which they never are), it is better to have a short sermon with about three good points than a long sermon with ten irrelevant points. But in Paul's sermon on Mars Hill, in about one minute we can find twenty-five positive points, and a refutation of at least twelve popular philosophical errors! To those who have not yet seen them, but would like to develop two or three dozen sermons from Paul's short discourse, we shall list some subjects Paul introduced. Of course he did not make any argument or proof on many of them, but knew that the seed thoughts presented would cause honest, inquiring men to continue to raise pertinent questions about them (Acts 17:32).
First, he sets forth the personality of God -- not the product of men's hands, as were the dumb idols, but a real live being. Second, His omnipotence and power are implied, as He is Lord of heaven and earth (v. 24). Third, His omniscience and omnipresence are implied, when it is asserted that "He dwelleth not in temples made with hands" (v. 24) and is thus too "big" to be confined to any one locality. Fourth, His self existence is asserted, for not only was He not made by men's hands, but existed before men, and made mankind, for "the world and all things therein" (v. 24) certainly includes man. Fifth, though there is one God that made the heavens and earth, instead of the many gods of the Athenians, He is called the "Godhead" (v.29), and thus suggests His triune nature. Sixth, the reality of Divine Providence is affirmed, for He "determined their appointed seasons and the bounds of their habitation" (v.26). Seventh, the universality of that providence is asserted, for in contradistinction to a local, tribal god, He not only "giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (v. 25), but He is "not far from each one of us" (v.27). Eighth, Paul shows so beautifully the real purpose of man's creation and existence in a part of one verse, better than all philosophers of the world have done in all their speculations. "That they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him" (v. 27) is the most sublime expression of the supreme goal of man and his ultimate purpose of which we know. Ninth, the core of divine worship is in a spiritual relationship, for it is "in whom we live and move and have our being" (v. 28). Tenth, this worship is not merely ritualistic, such as turning of prayer wheels, telling beads, etc., for He is "not served by men's hands" (v. 25). Eleventh, the unity of the human race is affirmed, for He "made of one every nation of men" (v. 26). We can be sure that "red and yellow, black and white -- they are precious in His sight." Twelfth, the brotherhood of man is emphasized even more strongly by the expression in verse 28:9, "being then the offspring of God." Thirteenth, not only is our common heritage indicated, but the dignity of man is emphasized. It has nothing to do with White or Black being beautiful, but God being wonderful! We are in His image! We may act like monkeys, but God is our Father! Fourteenth, we are dependent on Him, for it is "in Him that we live, and move and have our being" (v. 28). Thus the Holy Spirit, through Paul, in about two seconds, helps man to realize his uniqueness and worth on the one hand, and yet humbly recognize his dependence on the other. Fifteenth, since the God presented by Paul was so great, one might feel that He was also far off, but Paul emphasizes His accessibility in saying in simple terms, "He is not far from each one of us" (v.27). Whereas Philosophical Theology would rather dwell on His transcendence and/or His imminence, confusing simple minds with abstruse or hermetic terms, Paul said it so simply. Sixteenth, he points out the absurdity of idol worship, for it is ignorant (v.30) to assume that the real God is "like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man" (v.29). Seventeenth, in contradistinction to the false gods of philosophy that were rapacious, malicious and vindictive, God is a gracious, kind God, dealing gently with ignorance and weakness (v. 30). Eighteenth, this graciousness, however, does not imply indifference to sin, for "He now commandeth man everywhere to repent" (v.30). Nineteenth, there is certainly a day of judgment coming for which all men should prepare (v.31). Twentieth, that judgment will be righteous. Humans may "rig" juries, bribe judges, or even presume to question the judgment of God, but He will do right. Twenty-first, he affirms the reality of the resurrection of Christ, the central fact of the Christian system. Twenty-second, it is in and through that resurrection that men may have assurance and hope, which implies that without it we "would be of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:19). Twenty-third, Christ has been exalted as supreme authority to judge the world (v. 31). Twenty-fourth, there is life after death, and where we will spend eternity depends on our response now (v.32). Twenty fifth, he affirms the right of God to command (v.30) His subjects, not merely to advise or suggest.
So along with the explicit statements concerning the omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience of God, we see Paul affirming that God (1) has the right to control us, (2) the wisdom to control us, and (3) the love for us that will cause him to do only that which is best for us if we will let him.
Is that not fantastic, almost beyond imagination? Besides at least these twenty-five points of a positive nature, there are at least twelve negative points, or corrections of philosophic or religious "isms" of that day and this. Space limitations forbid more than a mere listing of them. But here are some. He corrects the errors of (1) Atheism -- the doctrine of "no god." (2) Pantheism -- that all is God. (3) Materialism -- that the world is eternal. (4) Fatalism -- that we are in the hands of a blind, impersonal fate. (5) Polytheism -- many gods. (6) Ritualism -- that God is honored by mere ritual. (7) Evolution -- that man is a product of blind force, working on dead matter. (8) Existentialism -- that man's own subjective experience is his final authority. (9) Utopianism -- the delusion that we are living in the best possible world, or that there is not any need of repentance, but only of better education. (10) Unitarianism -- that Christ was only an ordinary (or even an extra-ordinary) mortal. (11) Annihilationism -- That men cease to exist when they die. (12) Universalism -- that all will be saved eventually.
In all the literature of the world, either secular or sacred, we find nothing like this. This is not simply an inspirational thought, as Milton might have had, or an interesting philosophical viewpoint, as Plato or Aristotle might have presented. Every point is of vital significance, and is either true or false! If false, it should be exposed as the greatest example of chicanery that can delude the credulous mind of stupid man. If true, these are the most significant facts of the universe on which man must base his life, if he acts rationally!
My hope is that those who preach will use these Divine truths to create and strengthen faith, and those who listen to preaching will evaluate that preaching in terms of these sublime and eternal truths.
T. Pierce Brown
Published in The Old Paths Archive