The Berean Expositor
Volume 29 - Page 196 of 208
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"Most glorious of the gods, immortal Jove!
Supreme, on earth beneath, in heaven above!
Thou great first cause, whose word is Nature's law,
Before thy throne we mortals bend in awe;
For we thine offspring are. To man is given--
To man alone--to lift a voice to heaven."
To "follow nature" and to "live in agreement with nature" constituted the moral
principles of the Stoics, but their attitude must not be confused with that of the
Epicureans, who made pleasure their guide and goal. The Stoic interpretation was to
"live in agreement with your own rational nature, so far as it is not corrupted and
distorted by art, and to exclude every personal end, consequently, the most personal--
pleasure". What high ideals--but what poor material on which to work! There is, alas, a
"corruption" and "distortion" deeper than that produced by "art", which makes the
exhortation to "follow nature" a course that ends only in death. The words of the
"We have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity
of us all" (Isa. 53: 6).
contain truth concerning the nature of sin and the one and only remedy--a remedy that
was unknown to Stoic philosophy.
The Apostle's words in Acts 20: 24: "None of these things move me, neither count I
my life dear unto myself", would have gained the approval of the Stoic, but he would not
have understood the Apostle's motive, which was "Christ and the gospel". The Stoics
held that he only is good who is perfectly good. Their standard, however, was not God's
law of righteousness, but "reason and nature". They affirmed that faultless moral action
was only possible through the possession of entire virtue, a perfect perception of the
good, and perfect power of realization. The apostle Paul could have told them, out of his
own experience, how deep a gulf there is between "perfect perception" and "perfect
"That which I do, I allow not; for that I would, what do I not, but what I hate, that do
I . . . . . to will is present with me, but to perform that which is good I find not . . . . . O
wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
(Rom. 7: 15-24).
F. W. Farrar writes of the Stoics as follows:
"Aiming at the attainment of a complete supremacy, not only over their passions, but
even over their circumstances--professing fictitious indifference to every influence of
pain or sorrow,
`For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently' (Shakespeare).
standing proudly alone in their unaided independence and self-asserted strength, the
Stoics, with their vaunted apathy, had stretched the power of will until it cracked and
shriveled under the unnatural strain; and this gave to their lives a consciousness of
insincerity which, in the worst sort of them, degraded their philosophy into a cloak for
every form of ambition and iniquity, and which made the nobler souls among them