Madness and Sanity


/ am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.

Acts xxvi. 25.
First Sunday after Trinity, 1875.

It was no even-handed contest in which the Apostle found himself engaged, when he appeared in the presence-chamber at Caesarea. The place, the season, the persons, the surroundings of the scene might well have appalled a man of less conspicuous courage or of feebler convictions.

It was the occasion of a great state ceremonial, a durbar (we might almost call it), when the imperial viceroy, the representative of the law and majesty of Rome, newly arrived in his province, received the welcome and the homage of the most powerful of native princes. King Agrippa, we are told, had come with great pomp to Cjesarca to salute Fcstus. We happen to know from other sources that he had reasons of his own for wishing to conciliate the favour of the new governor. Just at this time he had a quarrel with the Jews, and he was anxious to secure the powerful support of Fcstus. He had recently added to the palace of the Herods a lofty dining-hall, from which his guests could look down upon the Temple area. The priests and guardians of the sacred precincts resented this intrusive curiosity. It was indecent, and it was contrary to all precedent, that the most sacred rites should thus be exposed to the profane gaze of idle revellers. They therefore built up a high wall, which shut out the king's view. Agrippa resented the indignity, and endeavoured to get the obstruction removed. He applied to Festus for aid, and Festus warmly espoused his cause.

All this we have on the authority of the Jewish historian. And I mention the fact for two reasons. In the first place, it illustrates the truthfulness of the narrative. Where we are able to test the incidents in the Acts by contemporary history and archaeology, we cannot fail to be struck with the correspondences. There is a coincidence sometimes in the actual events, sometimes (as here) in the historical position, which affords the highest guarantee of truthfulness. The officious welcome given by Agrippa to Festus on his arrival, the cordial relations existing between the Jewish king and the Roman governor, as here related, receive a flood of light from the account of the Jewish historian. The narrative of S. Luke and the narrative of Josephus fit together, as complementary pieces of a historical whole. In the second place, a reflection is suggested by what is said, and what is left unsaid, in the secular historian of the day. His account illustrates the false estimate of the relative proportions of events, which men inevitably take who are mixed up in them. This aggressive insolence of Agrippa was the one topic of general interest at the time. It was eagerly discussed, we cannot doubt, by high and low, among priests and people, at every public concourse and in every domestic circle. It alone has obtained a place in the record of Josephus. When the rumour got abroad that the king had hastened to Ca?sarea with a splendid retinue to welcome the new governor on his arrival, all tongues would be eager to tell, all ears open to hear, how Festus had received his visitor, and what line he was likely to take on the burning question of the day. But this interview with Paul—who cared for it? Who talked about it? It was a wholly unimportant episode in a conjuncture of the highest public moment. The historian says nothing about it. Why should he? The name of Paul is not once mentioned throughout his narrative. S. P. S. 17

Yet time has wholly reversed the verdict of contemporary history. Of the magnificent palace of the Herods, of the goodly buildings of the Temple, not one stone is left standing upon another. For eighteen centuries they have been a ruin and a desolation. The aggressiveness of Agrippa and the policy of Festus have alike passed away, leaving not a trace behind. But the words of Paul are living, germinating, fructifying still. Still his outspoken reply to the blunt taunt of the Roman governor appeals to the latest generations as a mighty witness to the Gospel; 'I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.' Still his pathetic rejoinder to the flippant sarcasm of the Jewish king stands out as a model of Christian courtesy and largeness of heart; 'I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were such as I am, except these bonds.' The quarrel of Agrippa has vanished out of sight. The pleading of Paul is the inheritance of all the ages.

Never probably had the Apostle found himself before a more uncongenial audience. The imperial governor, the native sovereign, their splendid retinues, Roman officials, Jewish priests, soldiers and civilians, courtiers and holiday makers—some cold and indifferent, others bitterly hostile—were all alike devoid of sympathy.

In this unfriendly concourse the attitude of Festus more especially demands our attention. Festus was not a man whose opinion could be lightly disregarded. We have not to do here with a sceptical and cynical worldling like Pilate, or a cruel and reckless profligate like Felix. He is eminently just. He is transparently sincere and outspoken. He is a prompt and vigorous ruler. He is the very man to whom in the common affairs of life we should entrust our cause with confidence. Nothing could be more upright than his treatment of the prisoner from first to last. His predecessor had cruelly detained this Paul bound for two whole years; Festus brings on his cause at once. The Jews ask him to send Paul to Jerusalem; he declines to take this unusual course. They press him to give judgment against the prisoner; he flatly refuses. 'It is not the manner of the Romans,' he says bluntly, almost rudely, 'to condemn any man without a fair trial.' Accordingly the prisoner is confronted with his accusers. The governor hears the complaints; they are many and serious; but he judges them to be altogether vexatious and irrelevant; they do not come under the cognisance of the Roman law. He is ready to release the prisoner; but the prisoner appeals to Caesar; and so the cause is taken out of his hands. Yet even then he is not satisfied. He wishes at all events to understand the rights of the case; 'It seemeth to me unreasonable,' he says, 'to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.'

The whole narrative thus sets Fcstus before us, as a man of strict integrity, worthy of the highest respect in the ordinary business of life. This is the bright side of his character. But he has no ideas or aspirations beyond. His view is strictly limited to the affairs of this world. When the future and the unseen are mentioned, he is lost in confusion. He is as helpless in dealing with such topics, as one colourblind in discriminating the hues of the rainbow. His outspoken sincerity only betrays the extent of his helplessness. He is blunt even to contempt, when he refers to 'one Jesus, Which was dead, Whom Paul affirmed to be alive.' 'Affirmed to be alive!' This was decisive. Could any sane man maintain an absurdity like this? He listens for a time with patience, while S. Paul pleads his cause; but at length he can no longer restrain himself. He is confirmed now in his surmise. He interrupts the prisoner, shouting rather than speaking, 'Thou art mad, Paul.' What is this but the incoherent rambling of a maniac—all this talk about sin, and repentance, and forgiveness, and salvation? What is this but the very phantom of a diseased brain—this story of the apparition on the way to Damascus, with the light and the voice, notwithstanding the many circumstantial details which invest it with the air of sober history ?' Thou art mad, Paul.' All this has just nothing in common with the solid experiences, the stern matter-of-fact duties of the Roman magistrate and the Roman citizen— in short, with the acknowledged realities of human life.

'Thou art mad, Paul.' Yes; it was madness, sheer madness, to commit social suicide, as this Paul had done. For indeed his conduct deserved no other name. He had given up a high and honourable position among his fellow-countrymen; he was learned after the manner of their learning; he was orthodox according to their standard of orthodoxy; he was able and energetic; he stood well with the chiefs of his nation; he was on the high road to promotion. And yet he suddenly gave up all—and for what? To become an outcast and a wanderer on the earth; to be hated by the Jews and scorned by the Greeks; to drag out a miserable career of penury, of suffering, of toil and danger; to carry his life in his hand from hour to hour; to be shipwrecked, imprisoned, scourged, stoned, left for dead; to be spurned by all men as the very filth, the offscouring of society, the scum of the world. Who has put the case more strongly than the Apostle himself? Aye, he knew (no one could know better) that he was mad, irretrievably mad, as the world counts madness. 'We are fools,' he says of himself, 'we are fools for Christ's sake.'

'Thou art mad, Paul.' It was not only that his practical conduct betrayed his insanity; his religious creed also was nothing better than the raving of a maniac. Who ever heard before of one claiming the allegiance and the worship—yes, the worship—of the whole world for a Crucified Malefactor, this Jesus, this dead Man, 'Whom Paul affirmed to be alive?' There was no difference of opinion here between Jew and Greek. On most questions affecting religion the one spoke a language quite unintelligible to the other. But here there was absolute unanimity of sentiment. Festus and Agrippa, the Roman soldier and the Hebrew priest, alike must join in condemning it . This doctrine of Christ crucified, nay, Christ risen again—it was a scandal to the Jew, and it was folly to the Greek. Here again no one knew better than the Apostle, how his teaching was regarded by the learning and the intelligence and the sagacity of his age. He knew it; he repeated it; he gloried in it. He invited all men to become mad, as he was mad. This madness, he maintained, was the indispensable condition of all higher knowledge. 'If any man thinketh to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.'

So then two wholly irreconcilable views of life confronted each other in Festus and Paul. Paul was sincere; had he not given the amplest proof of this? Festus also was sincere. His whole conduct breathes the air of sincerity. And yet between the two there is a yawning, impassable gulf. If Festus is right, Paul is mad, hopelessly mad; if Paul is right, Festus is blind, stone-blind.

It is not my purpose now to treat this scene in its bearing on Christian evidences. From this point of view it would suggest not a few important reflections. I might point for instance to the calmness and sobriety of the Apostle's statement; to the perfect assurance with which he details the history of his conversion and the grounds of his belief; to the manly and courteous simplicity with which he replies to the rebuke of Festus and the sarcasm of Agrippa. Certainly nothing is more unlike the delusions of an enthusiast, or the ravings of a maniac, than the whole tone and manner of S. Paul on this occasion. Or again, I might turn away from the scene itself to its results. I might remind you that the civilised world after long wavering did ultimately prefer the madness of Paul to the sanity of Festus. I might ask you to reflect how enormous has been the gain to mankind from this preference, and how terrible would have been the loss, if it had taken Festus as its teacher and condemned Paul as a lunatic I might point out how Christianity rescued a helpless world, hastening to its ruin, seething in its own corruption; how it endowed human society, thus rescued from premature moral decay, with fresh youth and health, by infusing into it new convictions and new hopes; how this re-creating, renewing, reinvigorating influence contained in itself the potentiality of all that is noblest and best in modern civilisation and modern life.

All these considerations, and others besides these, might be urged. But I have no intention of dealing with the evidences of Christianity this afternoon. I am speaking as a Christian to Christians. It is a practical, and not an intellectual conviction, which I wish to enforce. I would desire to dwell on the magnitude of the alternative offered. No ingenuity, and no indifference, can bridge over the gulf which separates the view of human life taken by Festus from the view of it taken by S. Paul—the view taken by the upright and respectable man of the world who lives only in the present, and the view taken by the Christian whose soul is dominated with the presence of God, with the consciousness of sin, with the conviction of eternity. God forbid that we should set ourselves up as judges of others; God forbid that, possessing (as we believe we possess) a wider vision and a fuller light, we should think meanly or speak lightly of the upright ruler, of the honest citizen, in whom nevertheless the religious motive is scarcely perceptible, if perceptible at all. Honesty, truth, uprightness, whatever in human life is lovely and of good report, is consciously or unconsciously the very reflection of the perfect attributes of God Himself. We wrong God, when we wrong such men as these.

But still the fact remains. Here are two antagonistic views of human life and human destiny. Men may strive to patch up a hollow compromise between them; but no truce is real, because no meeting-point is possible. It is the alternative of sanity and madness, of light and darkness, of life and death. You have decided that the Christian view is sanity, is light, is life. The decision must not be, cannot be, inoperative. It has altered your entire point of view. It will pervade your whole being. It will influence the thoughts and actions of every day and every hour. It may not change the outward business of your life, except in a very few cases. There is no reason why it should. But it will infuse into it a wholly different spirit . It will breathe the breath of heaven into the work of earth.

All this stands to reason. It cannot be a matter of indifference, whether you are responsible only to the judgment of human society with its caprices, its prejudices, its misunderstandings, its narrowness, its blindness; or to an all-seeing eye, which overlooks nothing, misinterprets nothing, misjudges nothing, which scans motives, desires, tendencies, not less than overt acts. It cannot be a matter of indifference, whether the wrong-doing is simply a violation of physical order which may be attended with inconvenient results, simply a breach of some social compact which your fellow-men are bound to resent in self-defence; or a rebellious defiance of the All-holy, All-righteous God, an act of base ingratitude towards a loving Father in Heaven. It cannot be a matter of indifference, whether He, Who appeared in our flesh and walked upon our earth more than eighteen centuries ago, was (I shudder to apply the term even as a bare hypothesis) a lunatic—a lunatic, I say, for there is no escape from the dilemma; all His words and all His work, His aims, His aspirations, His promises, His whole life and teaching, were, on this hypothesis, built upon a mere delusion—; or whether He was indeed the great Teacher of the truth, the OnlyBegotten of God, Whom the Father in His infinite mercy sent down to live our life and die our death, that He might rescue us from our prison-house of sin. It cannot be a matter of indifference, whether this life is our entire life, whether intelligence, consciousness, conscience, personality—all that we call ourselves— shall vanish at the touch of death, evaporating in gases and crumbling into dust; whether therefore it is the true and sole aim of wise men to play out their little part here as decently, as respectably, as successfully as they can; or whether there is an eternal hereafter, before which the triumphs of the present are just nothing at all.

This is the tremendous alternative. Did I exaggerate, when I called it a contrast between light and darkness? There is no halting between two opinions here, no passing to-and-fro at convenience; for the chasm is broad, and it is fathomless. Accept therefore the alternative which you have chosen, with all its consequences. Think over it, master it, live it. Men will taunt you with inconsistency. They will do so justly. But be not dismayed. Let the taunt nerve you to greater efforts. It will stimulate your actions, but it will not shake your creed. The inconsistency must necessarily be the greater, as the ideal is the higher. Festus was no doubt much more consistent than S. Paul. The standard of Festus was the ordinary standard of honourable and upright men; and, it would seem, he did not fall far short of it . The standard of S. Paul was absolute self-negation; he is constantly bewailing his shortcomings, his feebleness, his worthlessness. The mere voluptuary is far more consistent than either. Indeed it is difficult for sense-bourkl men, like ourselves, to project themselves into the eternal, the infinite; it is difficult, amidst the surroundings of earth, to live as citizens of Heaven. But this is the far-off goal, towards which you will ever be striving. The seal of immortality is stamped upon you. Do not forget this. Endure to be called madmen, when you stand before the judgment-seat of a Festus. This is inevitable. Only remember, that you are the sons of God, you are the redeemed of Christ, you are the temples of the Spirit, you are the heirs of eternity.