We have here a short account of the issue of Paul’s preaching at Athens.
I. Few were the better: the gospel had as little success at Athens as any where; for the pride of the philosophers there, as of the Pharisees at Jerusalem, prejudiced them against the gospel of Christ. 1. Some ridiculed Paul and his preaching. They heard him patiently till he came to speak of the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:32), and then some of them began to hiss him: they mocked. What he had said before was somewhat like what they had sometimes heard in their own schools, and some notion they had of a resurrection, as it signifies a future state; but, if he speak of a resurrection of the dead, though it be of the resurrection of Christ himself, it is altogether incredible to them, and they cannot bear so much as to hear of it, as being contrary to a principle of their philosophy: A privatione ad habitum non datur regressus—Life when once lost is irrecoverable. They had deified their heroes after their death, but never thought of their being raised from the dead, and therefore they could by no means reconcile themselves to this doctrine of Christ’s being raised from the dead; how can this be? This great doctrine, which is the saints’ joy, is their jest; when it was but mentioned to them they mocked, and made a laughing matter of it. We are not to think it strange if sacred truths of the greatest certainty and importance are made the scorn of profane wits. 2. Others were willing to take time to consider of it; they said, We will hear thee again of this matter. They would not at present comply with what Paul said, nor oppose it; but we will hear thee again of this matter, of the resurrection of the dead. It should seem, they overlooked what was plain and uncontroverted, and shifted off the application and the improvement of that, by starting objections against what was disputable, and would admit a debate. Thus many lose the benefit of the practical doctrine of Christianity, by wading beyond their depth into controversy, or, rather, by objecting against that which has some difficulty in it; whereas, if any man were disposed and determined to do the will of God, as far as it is discovered to him, he should know of the doctrine of Christ, that it is of God, and not of man, John 7:17. Those that would not yield to the present convictions of the word thought to get clear of them, as Felix did, by putting them off to another opportunity; they will hear of it again some time or other, but they know not when; and thus the devil cozens them of all their time, by cozening them of the present time. 3. Paul thereupon left them for the present to consider of it (Acts 17:33): He departed from amongst them, as seeing little likelihood of doing any good with them at this time; but, it is likely, with a promise to those that were willing to hear him again that he would meet them whenever they pleased.
II. Yet there were some that were wrought upon, Acts 17:34. If some would not, others would. 1. There were certain men that adhered to him, and believed. When he departed from amongst them, they would not part with him so; wherever he went, they would follow him, with a resolution to adhere to the doctrine he preached, which they believed. 2. Two are particularly named; one was an eminent man, Dionysius the Areopagite, one of that high court or great council that sat in Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill—a judge, a senator, one of those before whom Paul was summoned to appear; his judge becomes his convert. The account which the ancients give of this Dionysius is that he was bred at Athens, had studied astrology in Egypt, where he took notice of the miraculous eclipse at our Saviour’s passion,—that, returning to Athens, he became a senator, disputed with Paul, and was by him converted from his error and idolatry; and, being by him thoroughly instructed, was made the first bishop of Athens. So Eusebius, lib. 5, cap. 4; lib. 4, cap. 22. The woman named Damaris was, as some think, the wife of Dionysius; but, rather, some other person of quality; and, though there was not so great a harvest gathered in at Athens as there was at other places, yet, these few being wrought upon there, Paul had no reason to say he had laboured in vain.