PAUL BEFORE FESTUS.
Christianity in contact with a mind that regards religion as pertaining to others, and to questions of a trivial nature.
Festus, a representative character.—Manner in which he regarded religious questions.—As a governor, he was just and honourable; would not yield up a prisoner untried; gave the case a prompt hearing; conceded the right of appeal; maintained important principles of law.—In reference to religion, he deemed its questions foreign to his own interests; trivial in their nature; and not requiring his investigation.—Reasons why religion should not be so regarded.—Man has a real interest in it.—Is bound to
meet its requirements Needs its provisions.—Must perish, if destitute
of it.—Inferences.—(I.) Men are not mere lookers-on.—(2.) Men cannot escape religious obligation.—(3.) No man should wish to evade it.
"Without any delay on the morrow, I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth; against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed: but had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive."
Acts Xit. 17—19.
AN ORIENTAL HOUSE.
THE history of Festus, like that of Felix, is important, not merely as a record in history, and as bearing on the early propagation of the Gospel, but as illustrating the contact of Christianity with minds of a certain class or order, to be found in every age and land; a class of minds with which Christianity was to come in contact often in the attempt to bring men under its influence, and to spread itself through the world. As such, it becomes a proper subject of consideration in illustrating the scenes and incidents in the life of the Apostle Paul.
The point before us will be, CHRISTIANITY IN COnTACT WITH MINDS THAT REGARD IT AS PERTAINING TO QUESTIONS OF A TRIVIAL NATURE, AND IN WHICH THEY THEMSELVES HAVE NO CONCERN. This may be viewed under two aspects:—I. As showing how a certain class of minds regard the subject of religion; and II. as leading to the inquiry whether this be a proper manner in which religion should be regarded and treated.
I. Tlte case of Festus may be considered as representing a certain class of minds. This will lead me to make a few remarks,
(1.) In reference to his general character. That character was strongly marked. When Felix, his predecessor, had been removed from office on charges of maladministration, Festus had been appointed to succeed him for two reasons;—because he was a more just, honourable, pure, and incorruptible man; and because he would be more likely to be popular among the Jews. His general character, as honourable and upright, was evinced, in accordance with his general reputation, in the transactions which came so early under his notice in the case of the Apostle Paul.
(a) He was firm in his purpose not to grant the request of the Jews in regard to the removal of Paul to Jerusalem. One of the first duties of a newly-appointed governor would of course be to make himself acquainted with the condition of the country over which he was to preside, and especially with the state of affairs in regard to the administration of justice. Festus, therefore, though the seat of the Roman power was at that time at Csesarea, would take the earliest opportunity, to visit the Jewish capital, the ancient -seat of power and influence. Accordingly, within three days after his arrival at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem (Acts xxv. 1). There he was immediately met by the chief priests, and the leading men among the Jews (ver. 2); and they, in harmony, as it would seem, with a desire of the people (ver. 24), presented a request that he would allow Paul, whom Felix had left "bound" at Caesarea, to be summoned to Jerusalem, that he might be tried there (ver. 3). They hoped that the new governor would grant them the seemingly not unreasonable claim, that Paul might be tried where the Jews had been accustomed in former years to have such cases determined, and where, moreover, the alleged offence had been committed. He had been, they might allege, taken forcibly from their custody by the Roman captain Lysias; and they asked as a favour that the case mighj be remanded to them, and might take the usual course. Their real purpose was that they might waylay him on the road, and assassinate him (ver. 3).
There was some plausibility in the request, and it might have occurred to Festus that in this way he could more easily and readily dispose of the case than in any other, and that his compliance might contribute not a little to his own popularity. It was a simple request, and it seemed to involve nothing improper or wrong. But his answer was every way becoming one who represented the majesty of the Roman law. Paul, he said, was in safe custody, and would not be suffered to escape. He himself would shortly return to Caesarea, where the utmost fairness should be allowed in the trial (ver. 4). He stated to them at that time, as he afterwards informed Agrippa (ver. 16), that it was a great principle of Roman law, that no man should be condemned to death before he had his "accusers face to face;" but any persons among the Jews who were "able" to manage the cause, should, he said, have ample opportunity to substantiate the charges against the prisoner (ver. 5).
(b.) His promptness in bringing the case of Paul to a trial, with no unnecessary delay, was also an indication of his justness of character, and was remarkably in contrast with the conduct of his predecessor. Felix had, with most manifest injustice, kept Paul as a prisoner for two whole years, with the hope that he might secure from him a bribe; Festus promised to try the cause himself, and to make it his first business after his return to Caesarea. In the course of eight or ten days (Acts xxv. 6, margin), he went thither; and the very day after his return, he took his seat on the bench of justice, and commanded that Paul should be brought before him. Nothing could be more fair and honourable than this disposition to render speedy justice to one who had been so long kept in custody.
(c.) His ready concession of the right of Paul to carry the case before the Roman emperor was another indication of his character as a man of justice and uprightness. He was surprised to find that the accusation against Paul was not, as he had supposed, for crime against the government and laws, but was connected with the religious opinions of the Jews, and did not, therefore, properly pertain to a Roman tribunal. In his perplexity, therefore, and disposed as he was to ingratiate himself as far as possible with the Jews, he proposed to Paul that he should go up to Jerusalem, and be judged there, before himself, in regard to the charges of heresy and sacrilege which had been laid against him. Paul understood at once the dangers which this would involve; he well knew what were his own privileges as a Roman citizen; and he knew what a Roman governor would feel himself compelled to grant, if an appeal were made to the Roman emperor. Standing before the tribunal of the governor, and in the presence of his accusers,— and manifestly to the surprise and dismay of both,— he uttered the noble declaration and appeal: "I stand before Caesar's tribunal, and there ought my trial to be. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as thou knowest full well. If I am guilty of breaking the law, and have done anything. worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if the things whereof these men accuse me are nought, no man can give me up to them. I APPEAL Unto Cesar" (Acts xxv. 10, 11).1
Festus could not, indeed, as a Roman magistrate, deny that right of appeal to one who was a Roman citizen; but it would have been easy to raise the question whether Paul had any claim to the right; and with a purpose such as Felix had, the cause could easily have been continued for two weary years more, or perhaps, protracted to an indefinite period. Paul had no occasion, however, to complain of Festus as to the manner in which his appeal to Rome was received.
Conybeare and Howson's translation.
It was at once allowed, and arrangements were made to have the matter brought as speedily as possible before the emperor.
(d.) The noble sentiment which Festus uttered in stating a great principle of Roman law, showed also what was the character of the man. That principle was, as we have already seen, that no man should be condemned to death "before that he which is accused should have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him." No principle is more essential in the administration of justice than this; none has gone more deeply into the defence of the rights of man. The trials in the Inquisition and in the Star-chamber derived their enormity mainly from a violation of this principle; and the chief progress which society has made in the administration of justice has consisted in little more than in securing, by proper sanctions and provisions, the law here enunciated by Festus.
In him, then, we have the example of a man upright and honourable; just, true, firm, faithful to the obligations of his office; prompt to do what was his duty, and not to be turned, by any personal considerations, from a purpose to do right. Yet, so far as appears, his mind was now, for the first time, brought into contact with the subject of revealed religion, and with questions which grow out of that. It is natural to inquire how those questions would strike such a man, and in what light, or with what interest, he would regard them.
I need not say that, in this respect, Festus represented a large class,—men of integrity, honesty, uprightness; prompt in the execution of duties entrusted to them; men who are above a bribe; who act from a sense of obligation; who adhere to great principles of justice and law in all their official and personal relations. There are such men in large numbers in every profession, and in all positions of life. You confide in them, and are not disappointed; .you commit to them great interests of property, reputation, justice, liberty, charity, and those interests are safe.
(2.) We have to consider Festus more particularly in reference to the sentiments which he entertained on the subject of religion. It is here that we meet him in his contact with Christianity, and it is in this respect that his views and feelings become so important to us. We find these expressed, in the account which he gave of the matter to Agrippa: "They brought none accusation of such things as I supposed; but had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive."
This will bring before us the views which men like Festus take of the subject of religion. We shall not have before us the views which the profligate, the profane, and the vulgar,—which atheists, blasphemers, and sceptics,—which the uneducated, the low, the vile, —which scoffers and sensualists take of the subject; but the views of men who are, like Festus, upright, just, and faithful in their private character, and who sustain elevated and honourable social positions.
In order to understand this subject fully, there are two or three subordinate remarks to be made:—
(a.) Festus regarded the "questions" or disputes in the case as pertaining to the Jews themselves, and in no manner as pertaining to him;—"certain questions of their own superstition." The word "superstition" is not here to be regarded as necessarily reproachful or contemptuous. It is the same word which Paul used in addressing the Athenian philosophers on Mars' Hill (Acts xvii. 22). The Greek word, however,—St1aidaifiovta —properly means the "fear of the gods;" and then, religiousness, or religion; and though sometimes used by Greek writers, to denote superstition, or bigotry, yet it is such a word as would commonly be employed by a Greek to describe religion in general, even when speaking of it in the most respectful manner. We are not, therefore, to suppose that Festus meant by this language to express contempt for the Jewish faith; and we cannot believe that in entering on his office among the Jews, he would designedly make use of a word which would irritate and provoke them.
The feelings of Festus are indicated rather by the expression that it was "their own"—Trtpt rijc iBla^:—that is, that it pertained to them, to their nation ;—not to him, not to his nation. The dispute was about their own religion. It was to be settled by themselves. It was a matter in which he had no concern. It did not pertain to him either as a man or as a magistrate. He regarded all the controversies which they had started among themselves about the death and the resurrection of Jesus, as he would have regarded the controversies of the Greeks, the Persians, the Babylonians, or the Egyptians, about the religion of their own country. Those subjects of controversy might seem important to them; they were none of his.
I need not say that, in this respect, Festus is a representative of a very large and a very respectable portion of mankind. They are men who would not revile religion, or speak of it with contempt. If they have no personal interest in it, they are willing that others should discuss its questions freely among themselves. They would not disturb others fn the quiet enjoyment of their own opinions, or of their rights in religion; and, in numerous cases, their disposition to show respect for religion is increased by the fact that it is the religion of a friend; a father; a wife; a sister.
Yet they regard the subject as not pertaining to themselves. They do not intermeddle with it, nor would they interfere with it. The questions which are raised among Christians, and which are discusssd with so much warmth, or it may be with so much acerbity, they do not regard themselves as required to solve. Their own purpose is to lead an upright, an honest, a moral life; to do justice to all; to settle questions which do pertain to themselves as magistrates, as business men, as patriots, and as philanthropists. Our difficulty in dealing with such is in persuading them at all to regard the subjects connected with religion as having any personal claim on them; and in inducing them to change their position so far as, instead of "questions of their own," to say "questions of our own."
(b.) Festus considered the "question" which had come up for discussion between Paul and the Jews as one of little importance;—"certain questions of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive."
His sense of the real nature of the dispute is indicated by the language which he used respecting him who was affirmed by the one party to be alive, and by the other to be dead;—"and of one Jesus" (rtpt Tivoq 'I1jffou), implying that he was an unknown or obscure person, and perhaps also that, in his judgment, it was of little consequence whether he was alive or dead. Festus could see no great results to be attached to the inquiry. Why Paul affirmed of this obscure and unknown man, probably some impostor, some vagrant, some criminal, that he was alive, and why the Jews denied it, would seem to him a matter of no practical value.
Does not this state of mind represent, with a melancholy accuracy, the views and feelings of a very large portion of every community in regard to the question whether Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead? Does it not give a just representation of the views of such men in regard to all the questions which are agitated among Christians on the subjects of religion? Modes of belief, they think, are matters of little importance. If a man is just, true, honest, faithful,—if he meets his obligations, pays his debts, is kind to the poor, and just to all,—if he is true to his family and to his country, —it is, in their opinion, of little consequence what he believes; nor can his conviction respecting the resurrection of Christ (either for or against it), or his belief in regard to any of those doctrines of religion which divide the Christian world, materially affect his character or his destiny. Our work with such men, is to convince them not only that they are as much interested in these subjects as other men, but that the most important questions which can come before the minds of men are those which pertain to religion.
(<r.) Festus took no pains to inquire into or to settle these points. He was intent on other objects; he felt no interest in these inquiries. It does not appear that, as a practical matter, they came at all before his own mind. They did come before the mind of Felix, for he "trembled" under the reasoning of Paul. They did come before the mind of Agrippa, for he was "almost persuaded to be a Christian." But the subject took no such hold on the mind of Festus. Cool, sober, upright, just, he never seems to have regarded the questions of religion as demanding even the tribute involved in a purpose to inquire whether they might not possibly be true.
Need it be said that in this respect, also, he was a representative of a large class of men? They are engaged in other inquiries than these; they investigate, discuss, and settle points of jurisprudence, history, science, art. They are interested in determining the date of a battle, of the birth of a prince, of the accession of a dynasty to empire; they examine into the genuineness of an ancient manuscript, or the value of an ancient coin; but they have no interest in ascertaining whether Christ rose from the dead, nor can we persuade them to give to such things even a momentary attention. Our difficulty in regard to these men is to get the question before their minds at all. We place the Bible in their hands; they will not read it . We set before them the works of Grotius, Chalmers, Paley, Lardner, on the evidences of religion, but for them such works have no attractions. If they have had to study Butler's "Analogy" as part of their college course, it now pertains to the memory of their early studies, and all interest in it is lost amid the active scenes of life, and the questions which refer to this world alone.
II. My second object was to inquire Whether this is the proper manner in which to regard and treat the subject of religion. To those who may be in substantially the same state of mind as Festus, I shall submit a few remarks on this point.
(1.) The first is, that every man has in fact an interest in the great questions which belong to religion. Man is made to be a religious being; and he never approaches the perfection of his nature, or meets the design of his existence, until the religious principle is developed. It is the prerogative of his nature that he can be influenced by motives drawn from religion; can be guided by the counsels it suggests; can be cheered by the prospects and hopes it presents; and can be supported in trials by the consolations it imparts. Man is distinguished by th1s from every other inhabitant of our world. The elephant, the lion, the horse is perfect in its nature without religion; man never is perfect as a man until he recognizes the religious principle, and until it enters into all his motives of action. To deprive him of this capability, would as essentially alter his nature as to deprive him of reason or the power of imagination. Abraham, and David, and Paul,—Edwards and Baxter, —as religious men, are not merely individuals; they are high specimens of the race; exponents of what man is made to be; men complete as God designed all men to be when developing the noblest principles of their nature.
Look, even for a single moment, at some of the subjects pertaining to religion, and it will be seen that this is a correct account of the matter. In the question whether there is a God, and what He is, one man is as much concerned as any other man can be. It is impossible for any one ever to place himself in such a position that he has no interest in it. If he could transform himself into a lion or a gazelle—a swan or a flamingo—a gilded basilisk or an ephemeron, he could throw himself beyond the reach of this inquiry; but not as long as he is a man.
Whether man is a fallen being, suffering under the displeasure of his Maker now, and exposed to His deeper displeasure in a future world,—whether an atonement has been made for sin,—whether the Bible was given by inspiration of God,—whether there is a future state, a judgment-day, a heaven, a hell,—are things pertaining to all men in common. There are things in the world which pertain to ourselves exclusively, with which another has no right to intermeddle, and in which another has no interest; but the things of religion are not of that nature. They pertain alike to each and every one. In the days of Festus, they were not questions pertaining only to the Jews, and "to their own superstition;" they were questions which pertained equally to Festus and all the Romans; and in these days they belong not merely to those who voluntarily turn their attention to them, but they concern equally every human being, as a man, as a creature of God, as a traveller to the grave, as about to appear at the bar of God.
(2.) In the second place, every man is bound to perform the duties which religion requires, and one man as much as another. Among those who were supposed to be wrangling about some question of "superstition," there was no one more bound to perform the duties of religion than Festus himself; and of those who now live on the earth, one man is under as solemn an obligation to perform those duties as any other can be.
There is a very common, and not wholly an unnatural mistake on this point. Many men seem to feel that the obligations of religion are the result of a voluntary covenant, compact, or promise, like a contract for carrying the mail, or for excavating so many miles of a canal. They seem to suppose that there is nothing lying back of a profession of religion to oblige any one to attend to its duties, any more than there is to bind a man to enlist as a soldier, or to enter into a contract for building a bridge. When a profession of religion has been made, they admit it to be binding. They are disposed to hold professors to the most rigid fulfilment of the conditions of that profession; and they resolve that if they themselves ever enter into such a covenant with God, they will be as faithful to that compact as they are to others.
Now, Christians do not object to being held to the most faithful performance of the duties of religion, growing out of the voluntary covenant which they have made with God. They believe that God Himself will hold them to it, and that a profession of religion, viewed in this aspect, and in all others, is a most serious matter. But it is not the profession of religion which creates the obligation, for that existed before any such profession was made. The profession of religion only recognizes the obligation. To make such a profession is not like making a contract to build a house, or to perform the duty of a day-labourer; it pertains to acts similar to the duty which a child owes to a parent, or a man to his country, or which we all owe to the poor and the oppressed. With, or without a covenant, we are bound to the performance of those duties; and though there are advantages in such a voluntary covenant and pledge, as there were in the " times that tried men's souls" in the American revolution, when our fathers pledged to their country "their lives and their fortune," yet the obligation to those duties is not originated by the covenant, but exists whether any such compact has been entered into or not. The worship of God, repentance, faith in the Redeemer, a life of piety, the grateful acknowledgment of mercies,—can any plead exemption from these duties? Or look at the specific duties which may pertain to a man. If he is a father, is he not as much bound as any other father to train up his children for God, to instruct them in the ways and duties of religion, to pray with them and for them, to walk before them so that they may be prepared for heaven? If he is a husband, is he not as much bound to be a Christian, and to serve his Maker in his family, as his wife is? is he more at liberty to neglect the religious duties of a husband and father, than she is to neglect the duties of a Christian wife and mother? If he is a man of influence and property, is he not as much bound as any other man to devote his influence and property to the cause of God ? has he any more right than another man to employ them for selfish purposes? If he is capable of doing good, of relieving suffering, of dispelling ignorance, of helping the oppressed, of protecting the fatherless, of maintaining by eloquence or argument—by the tongue or the pen—the cause of justice, truth, and mercy, is he not as much bound to do this as any other man?
(3.) In the third place, every man needs the provisions which the Gospel has made for salvation. If Festus had inquired into that which he regarded as pertaining only to the "superstition" of a foreign people, a few questions put to one of the parties in that dispute would have opened such visions of glory, honour, and immortality, before his soul, as had never dawned on the mind of a Roman.
There is a very natural mistake which men are prone to make on this point, similar to the one already adverted to. It is, that while one class of the human family may need the provisions made in the Gospel for salvation, there are other classes for which these are unnecessary. It is like the feeling which we have about medicines. They are useful and desirable for the sick, but not needful for those who are in health; they may become necessary for us should we become ill, but they are not now. So if men feel that they are sinners, if they are conscious of having transgressed the law of God, it is proper for them to make application to the system which proclaims and promises peace. But where this necessity is not felt, men do not think that the Gospel pertains to them.
Yet it is a great truth that the Gospel of Christ pertains to man as such in his fallen condition, and not merely to the most debased forms of humanity. It assumes that every one of the race is in circumstances which make the plan of redemption adapted to him, and necessary for him. It does all honour to the human powers; it regards with contempt nothing that is truly excellent; it undervalues no real virtue; but at the same time it assumes that there is no such virtue in man as to meet the demands of the law; that there is no holiness in the unrenewed human heart such as God approves and loves; and that no one enters heaven who is not interested in the Saviour's death. It is on this assumption that the atonement was made for men; and it is on the same assumption that the Redeemer still lives to intercede for the race. It is this point which the Gospel presents more prominently than any other, and this conviction it seeks to secure in the heart. The work of redemption has been accomplished; the difficult work of convincing man that he needs a Redeemer, is the work which remains to be done. Nothing is more common among men than
^indness to their own character and danger. The sense of dependence on Christ for salvation,—the recollection of any guilt which could demand such expiation as that made on the cross—to these feelings they are strangers. So it once was with those who now are Christians. They were strong in their own righteousness, and confident that they could be saved without the intervention of the Son of God. But the hour came when they saw themselves to be poor, and needy, and blind, and naked, and felt that if it were not for the Saviour they must perish. Crushed, and broken-hearted, and penitent, they went and sought pardon through the blood of Jesus, and through that blood they found righteousness and peace.
(4.) It is as certain of one man as it is of another/ that unless he is interested in religion, he will be lost. If one can be saved without religion, another can in the same way; and consequently religion is unnecessary for any. This seems almost too clear for argument, and yet here also we encounter the same feeling more than once adverted to already, that true as religion may be, and needful for some, there are others for whom it is unnecessary, and in respect to whom a substitute may be found that shall take its place. This belief indeed is not often formally drawn out and avowed; there may be few who would be willing to place it as a distinct proposition before their own minds; but it exerts a more constant influence than many opinions that are embodied in words.
There is really, however, nothing on which any one can fall back in order to be saved, if he does not avail himself of the provisions of the Gospel; there is nothing which can be made a substitute for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in the matter of salvation, for" there is none other name under heaven, given among men," whereby they can be saved. And if this be so, then it is clear that men who neglect the religion of Christ must perish—all perish. It matters not what else they may have; this is the only thing that can save them.
From the subject of this chapter, the following things follow as inferences:
First. Men are not merely lookers-on in the world. The place which they occupy is not that of mere observers of what occurs in the Church. Each man that passed by the cross, though he looked in the most indifferent or contemptuous manner on what was occurring there, had the deepest personal interest, if he had known it, in the great transaction. So Festus, if he had known it, had the deepest personal interest in the question whether the unknown man who was affirmed to be dead was really alive. And so every one that hears the Gospel, has the deepest interest in the appeals which are made to men in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Second. The interest which a man has in these things is not one from which he can escape. It attends him everywhere, and at all times. Yesterday he had the deepest possible interest in all that pertains to religion; to-day he has the same; to-morrow he will have it still. When at home in the bosom of his family, when alone in the solitude of his retirement, when amid the crowds of men intent on gain, when in the circles of festivity and gaiety, his great interest still is religion. From a personal interest in religion he can never be released.
Third. No man should desire to drive the subject from his mind. Why should he? Why should he not be a religious man? Why should he not feel that he has a God and a Saviour? Why should he not feel that he has a better inheritance than perishable gold? Why should he not feel that he has a more enduring home than he now occupies,—a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens? Why should he not have a hope of future happiness, when all the pleasures of earth shall have passed away? Why desire to escape from the cross of Christ, from prayer, from the love of God, and from the privilege and honour of doing good? Why be willing to depart from this world with no bright prospect to cheer and sustain him on the bed of death, leaving to his friends nothing in the memory of his life that shall wipe away their tears, and comfort their hearts, when they stand beside his grave?