Ancient Athens was famed for science and superstition, for telling and hearing new things, and for having many altars. Speculation and idolatry engrossed the mind of that historic city, but such pursuits are at best unsatisfactory. Science may be falsely so-called, and must fail to reach finality, whilst the gods, worshipped on those various altars, have long been labelled “myths.”
Supposition and mythology are the sorry outcome of the mental activity of that seat of learning. In connection, however, with their superstition, and with the many altars devoted thereto, was one altar bearing a remarkable inscription. It was dedicated to the worship of “the unknown God.”
How came this? Who could have suggested the possibility that there was, outside the range of their wide mythology and many deities, one God who claimed worship, but of whose character they were ignorant? Was this the working of conscience, or what?
That such a God existed was perfectly true; but how to worship Him, what He claimed, what He gave, what He did, what He was, all this was a matter quite beyond Athenian lore and knowledge. He was to them the unknown God.
But, after all, are we, in this far advanced age, when the wheel of science has revolved so often, and the busy little brain invented so much; when knowledge has increased, civilization spread, Christianity unfolded its mighty truths, are we really further on than superstitious Athens of old?
Then God was “unknown,” now God is “unknowable.” This is no advance; it is positive retrogression. Then He was not known, now He cannot be known. So say, at least, many of our modern scientists. But such present-day ignorance is wholly unpardonable. The Athenian altar was an admission of ignorance indeed, but not a refusal of truth. Our altar is, alas! both the one and the other. Paul coming to Athens, and observing the altar thus embossed, said that he declared to them this unknown God! His preaching had the revelation of that God for its glorious subject. The God who was confessedly unknown to the scientific men of Athens, had made Himself known to Paul. Wondrous grace!
Now Paul was a Christian. We all remember how he was converted from a state of fearful opposition to one of unbounded adherence to Christ; from being the chief of sinners to being “not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles,” and in such a conversion lay the knowledge of God. Christianity reveals God; it makes Him known to faith. Creation cannot, circumstances cannot, law cannot; but the Son of God, become man, dying under the judgment of sin, and now alive in glory, has made fully known all the truth of God. Thank God for Christianity! Woe to those who refuse it! Paul declared the, to them, unknown God. Some mocked and some believed; effects differed, but God was declared and made known. That altar might now have been destroyed; but, alas! it still remained in Athens. The mass of the people preferred darkness to light, and ignorance to knowledge, and Satan to God. And that altar remains to this day, only with the inscription enlarged by one solemn word. Now we read, in dread and glaring characters, “TO THE UNKNOWN AND UNKNOWABLE GOD!”
Yet how true! God is unknowable to science. Can man “by searching find out God?” Certainly not. “The world by wisdom knew not God.” How could it?
No, but the righteousness of God [His great salvation] is revealed from faith to faith (Rom. 1:17). And thus God is known. “I know Whom I have believed,” said Paul. And, notice, the worst of judgment is about to fall on them who know not God. (See 2 Thess. 1:8.)
My reader, you are responsible to know God, nor can you excuse yourself for ignorance. You move about in the full blaze of Christianity, and are held responsible for its precious and welcome light. Walk while you have it, lest darkness come upon you; and, mark, “this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Oh, happy knowledge! Unlike science, its every fact is certain, its every breath is sweet. It is heart-knowledge, it is life eternal. May it all be yours through the grace of a revealed Saviour-God.