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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Festus

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A SINGLE word will sometimes immortalise a man. Am I my brother's keeper? was all that Cain said. And, What will you give me? was all that Judas said. One of his own words will sometimes, all unintentionally, sum up a man's whole past life. A man will sometimes discover to us his deepest heart, and will seal down on himself his own everlasting destiny, just with one of his own spoken words. By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. And as Paul thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. With that one word Festus ever after it is known to us quite as well as if Tacitus himself had written a whole chapter about Festus. This is enough: Festus was that Roman procurator who said with a loud voice that Paul was beside himself. That one word, with its loud intonation, sets Festus sufficiently before us.

Their ever-thoughtful ever-watchful Lord had taken care to prepare His apostles for this insult also. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them that are of His household. And the loud and unbecoming outbreak of Festus would have staggered Paul much more than it did, had he not recollected at that moment that this very same thing had been said about his Master also. And that not by heathens like Pilate and Festus, but by those whom the Gospels call His friends. "And when His friends heard of it they went out to lay hold on Him, for they said, He is beside Himself." And many of the Jews, as soon as they had heard His sermon on the Good Shepherd, of all His sermons, had nothing else to say about the Preacher but this, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye Him?

First, then, as to our Master's own madness. It is plain, and beyond dispute, that either He was mad, or they were who so insulted Him. For He loved nothing that they loved. He hated nothing that they hated. He feared nothing that they feared. Birth, wealth, station, and such like things, without which other men cannot hold up their heads; of all that He emptied Himself, and made Himself of no reputation. And, to complete the contrast and the antipathy, the things that all other men despise and spurn and pity He pronounces to be alone blessed. Meekness under insults and injuries, patience amid persecutions, poverty of spirit, humbleness of mind, readiness to serve rather than to sit in honour and eat,-these are the only things that have praise and reward of Paul's Master. The things, in short, we would almost as soon die as have them for our portion. And the things we would almost as soon not live at all as not possess, or expect one day to possess, Jesus Christ cared nothing at all for such things. Absolutely nothing. It was no wonder that her neighbours and kinsfolk condoled with His mother who had borne such a son. It was no wonder that they worked incessantly upon His brethren till they also said, Yes; He must be beside himself; let us go and lay hold on him.

Now, Paul came as near to his Master's madness as any man has ever come, or ever will come, in this world. For, what made Festus break out in that so indecent way was because Paul both spake and acted on the absolute and eternal truth of the things we speak about with bated breath, and only faintly and inoffensively affect to believe. Paul had been telling his royal auditors what he never wearied telling; his undeserved, unexpected, and unparalleled conversion. His manner of life before his conversion also, when he put this very same word into Festus's mouth. I was exceedingly "mad," he said, against the saints. And at midday, O king, he said, addressing himself with an orator's instinct to Agrippa, a light from heaven above the brightness of the sun, and a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew tongue-and so on, till Festus broke out upon him, as we read. Now, if you had come through the half of Paul's experience, we also would have charged you also with being beside yourself. To have bad such bloody hands; to have been carried through such a conversion; to have had, time after time, such visions and revelations of the Lord; and, especially, to have had such experiences and such attainments in the divine life-certainly, to us you would have been beside yourself. To have seen you actually and in everything counting all things, your very best things, your very virtues and very graces, to be but dung, that you might win Christ; to have seen you continually crucified with Christ; what else could we have made of you? How else could we have defended ourselves against you, but by calling you mad?

But Paul had more than one experience that made him appear mad to other men. And another of those experiences was his unparalleled experience and insight into sin. Paul's sinfulness of his own heart, when he was for a moment left alone with it, always drove him again near to distraction. As the sight of the ghost drove Hamlet mad, so did the sight of sin and death drive Paul. And not Paul only, but no less than our Lord Himself. It ever our Lord was almost beside; Himself, it was once at the sight, and at the approach, and at the contact, of sin. We water down the terrible words and say that He was sore amazed and very heavy. But it was far more than that. A terror at sin, a horror and a loathing at sin, took possession of our Lord's soul when He was about to be made sin, till it carried Him away beyond all experience and all imagination of mortal men. And the servant, in his measure, was as his Master in this also. For, as often as Paul's eyes were again opened to see the sinfulness of his own sin, there was only one other thing in heaven or earth that kept his brain from reeling in her distracted globe. And the sight of that other thing only made his brain reel the more. And so it has often been with far smaller men than Paul. When we ourselves see sin; even such a superficial sight of sin as God in His mercy sometimes gives us; both body and soul reel and stagger till He has to hold us up with His hand. And were it not that there is a fountain filled with something else than rose-water, there would be more people in the pond than the mother of Christian's children. What a mad-house because of the sinfulness of sin the church of God's saints would be were it not for His own blood! And this goes on with Paul till he has a doctrine of himself and of sin, such that he cannot preach it too often for great sinners like himself. No wonder, with his heart of such an exquisite texture and sensibility, and continually made such an awful battle-ground, no wonder Paul was sometimes nothing short of mad. And why should it be so difficult to believe that there may be men even in these dregs of time; one man here, and another there, who are still patterns to God, and to themselves, and to saints and angels, of the same thing? Beside themselves, that is, with the dominion and the pollution of sin. Was there not a proverb in the ancient schools that bears with some pungency upon this subject? It is in Latin, and I cannot borrow it at the moment. But I am certain there is a saying somewhere about a great experiment and a great exhibition being made on an insignificant and a worthless subject.

I am old enough to remember the time when the universal London press, led by Punch and the Saturday Review, week after week, mocked, trampled on, cried madman at, and tried to silence, young Spurgeon, very much as Festus tried to trample on and silence Paul. But Punch lived to lay a fine tribute on Spurgeon's grave. It was true of Paul, and it was true of Spurgeon, and it will be true, in its measure, of every like-minded minister, as well as of all truly Christian men, what old Matthew Mead says in his Almost Christian. "If," says old Matthew, "the preaching of Christ is to the world foolishness, then it is no wonder that the disciples of Christ are to the world fools. For, according to the Gospel, a man must die in order to live; he must be empty, who would be full; he must be lost, who would be found; he must have nothing, who would have all things; he must be blind, who would see; he must be condemned, who would be redeemed. He is no true Christian." adds Mead, "who is not the world's fool." And, yet, no! I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.


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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Festus'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/f/festus.html. 1901.

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