It has been an old imputation to charge distraction upon men of the greatest wisdom and sobriety. John the Baptist was accused of having a devil, and Christ to be beside Himself and the Apostles to be full of new wine, and Paul to be mad. The reason is because as religion is a mystical and spiritual thing, so the tenets of it seem paradoxes to carnal men; as first, that a Christian is the only freeman, and other men are slaves; that he is the only rich man, though never so poor in the world; that he is the only beautiful man, though outwardly never so deformed; that he is the only happy man in the midst of all his miseries. Now these things though true seem strange to natural men, and therefore when they see men earnest against sin, or making conscience of sin, they wonder at this commotion for trifles. But these men go on in a course of their own and make that the measure of all; those that are below them are profane, and those that are above them are indiscreet. By fanciful affections, they create idols, and then cry down spiritual things as folly. They have principles of their own, to love themselves and to love others only for themselves, and to hold on the strongest side and by no means expose themselves to danger.
But when men begin to be religious, they deny all their own aims, and that makes their course seem madness to the world, and therefore they labor to breed an ill opinion of them, as if they were madmen and fools.
These words breathe the paradox that drives people crazy - that we [Christians] are freemen, though we seem slaves; that we are rich, though we seem poor; that we are beautiful, though we appear deformed; that we are happy, though we live in misery.
Why can the world not understand this divine reconciling? Because they "go on in a course of their own and make that the measure of all" and "have principles of their own," all this mystical business seems inconsequential and silly. Their standard leaves no room for "others first" and "sacrifice," unless it might benefit in the end.
Aren't these great words?
With all the world charting their course in the same selfish direction, a boat changing direction will get the attention of the entire fleet. Sibbes uses "religious men" here in the same way we might use "true believer" or "follower of Jesus Christ" to designate the different standard a Christian uses to measure his life. Everything he/she was pursuing previous (and the value of those things) shifts immediately and joyfully to an object that makes no sense to the world. To set a course for an unseen destination with immaterial results sounds like bad business and poor planning.
It sounds like madness.
We should not be surprised when the world misunderstands our obsession with eternity or our talk of the "Kingdom coming" or our less-than-five-figure aspirations. We should not be surprised, even, if the world manipulates our words to sound crazy and our gatherings to look strange.
We are the skin, living in these paradoxes every day. We deny our own aims and ask Christ to reveal His standard, that we might set our course to run against traffic [or completely solo] toward Him. We set our course and it looks like foolishness.
Our neighbors have dreamed up a reason why we are so generous, our co-workers have decided our cheer is fake, our boss is sure we are working hard just for the promotion, our estranged brother still doesn't believe we want to see him just "because."
The world may say our course is madness - that our aims our full of folly - but our reward is not won from the world. As we fix our eyes on Christ, the Author and Perfector of our faith, He will give us the same joy he possessed as He endured the cross.
What madness Christ must have possessed to have his face set so squarely toward Jerusalem? What foolishness must have surrounded Him as he humbly entered the city on a donkey? What absolute insanity he must have endured while claiming Himself King while on the cross?
Though the world count us as madmen and fools, God allows another miracle as He transforms our hearts to serve even those who consider us crazy. Christ asked the Father to "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" in the midst of His misery. At the height of His public shame, His love and compassion for those who considered him crazy only grew.
May our hearts swell with love for those who consider us as madmen and fools.
May we let LOVE fly like cRaZy when it makes no sense at all to the world, because it makes perfect sense in light of the Cross.