Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
consumed its fuel, and the hot wrath cools down quickly because it has devoured its prey. These results are irreparable, though the loss they speak, the guilt they fix, the crime they mark, men gladly turn away from - results indeed often incalculable. This passage calls attention to the subject of memory's visitations. We may make a distinction between memory's visits and its visitation. The former often sweet and often welcome, even when most touched with the spirit of sadness; but the latter heralding for the most part reproof, remorse, and the retributive. Let us observe -
I. HOW MEMORY MAY BE HELD IN ABEYANCE; RATHER, UNDER CERTAIN TREATMENT, HOLDS ITSELF IN ABEYANCE. There is a sense in which it neither holds itself in abeyance, owing to any unconscious affronts we offer it, nor is held in abeyance by any distinct and defined efforts of our own. For is it not a thing worthy to be observed, as one of the evidences of a wise and merciful Creator, that memory itself does not insist on an equable exertion of all its power. Wide as its jurisdiction, it is abundantly evident that it is not all equally travelled. Its hemispherical chart shows only some strongly-marked places; multitudinous as the names engraved on its latitude and longitude, - yes, even innumerable, - they were, as regards the enormous majority of them, but very faintly graved, and they become soon enough illegible, indiscernible. The few things which we judge most important to be remembered, we charge ourselves with special pains and by special methods to remember. If memory were obliged to retain all that it had ever taken cognisance of, it is evident that it would choke up all other present exercise of our faculties, and would imperiously stop the working of the mental machinery. It would bring all to a deadlock. On the other hand, and to our present point, there are things which, instead of needing our study and effort and rational methods in order to charge memory to retain them, will need some soporific treatment if memory is to be disarmed. All our grand mistakes, all our vivid joys, all our vivid sorrows, all our vivid warnings, all our vivid experiences, of almost every kind - the startled moment, the hairbreadth escape, the pang of irretrievable failure, the moment of supreme success, Ñ all these and their likes write themselves with ink that suffers no absolute effacing, even for the present life; and though it does suffer itself to be dimmed, obscured, and over-written, so as a while to be illegible, this is gained only by methods intrinsically undesirable, very unsafe, very forced. These works of memory are of nature's own quickening, and to try to stifle their due utterance is of the nature of a premeditated offence against nature. It is, with rare exceptions, at an indefensible risk that we consciously dare this, or by any species of recklessness court it. Of the devices of Satan in this sort let us not be ignorant, that we may be the rather forearmed. Some of the methods of dimming memories that should not be dimmed are illustrated forcibly in the history of Ahasuerus' present conduct; as, for instance -
1. The blinding force of the storm of "wrath," of hate, of intemperateness, of lust.
2. The stupefying force of sensuality, of bodily indulgence, and excess of luxuriousness.
3. All headstrong recklessness - the defiant disposition that "neither fears God nor regards man."
4. The enfeebled conscience, and, of necessity, much more the temporarily paralysed conscience.
5. The imperious yoke of self-seeking in all we think, and of supposed self-interest.
6. A heart already callous, hardened by habit, familiarised with sin. These and other causes frighten away the most useful messages of memory, weaken her wings, and she is not to be depended upon to alight with the needed whispers of either warning or encouragement. It is one of the worst of signs, one of the most ominous warnings of approaching spiritual disaster, when memory in certain directions abnegates her rights; offended and grieved, holds herself in the background; or, rudely repelled, seems awhile to accept the law of banishment pronounced against her.
II. HOW AT AN UNSUSPECTED MOMENT MEMORY RE-ENTERS THE SCENE, WITHOUT DEROGATION OF ITS RIGHTS, AND WITH ADDED EFFECT. It was so to a remarkable degree now. The "wrath," with some concomitant auxiliaries, which had held memory awhile at bay, was subsided, and memory with silent majesty walks in. Its figure is not dim, its utterance is not indistinct, its indictment is not vague. No; the trial must be called on, the debt must be demanded, and interest must be added to debt. With what skilful brevity, of amazing power to suggest, the position is put before us. "Ahasuerus remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her." The arbitrary, licentious man could depose the woman who resolved to maintain her own and her sex's rightful dignity and modesty, but he could not depose his own memory. She was a mistress still, and one who stuck closer than an ill-treated, dishonoured wife. Affection helps memory; he sees with his inner eye the woman he had loved so well once to prefer her to all, and to make her wife and queen. Conscience perhaps in some part helped memory, as memory certainly was paving the way for the future work of conscience. The figure of Vashti was before his inner eye, but she herself was not. The law of Mede and Persian stood in the way, crumpled up the law of right, stifled the dictate of affection, and smothered the muffled, incoherent accents of conscience. The hall of trial is in his own disordered breast, but the essentials of the trial are present there nevertheless. He remembered Vashti, and "what she had done" - nothing worthy of divorce, of punishment. All the reflection was upon himself, fell back with a heavy thrust on himself. He remembered Vashti, "and what was decreed against her" - an iniquitous decree, a decree not merely injurious to her, but also to himself and his reputation henceforward down through all the world's time. This is what memory's visitation was now for Ahasuerus, and memory left him in the most appalling condition in which a human heart can be ever left - left him drifting into a woeful BLANK. He missed Vashti. He could not replace her. He has decreed for himself a void which cannot be filled, even though a better object be offered for the void. Memory leaves him again awhile when it has forced this conviction on the unwilling victim, that he has stricken himself sore, and that on himself his "decree" has recoiled. - B.
I. AN ABIDING MEMORY. The past cannot be wholly shut out from the present. The power of memory cleaves to the soul. The king "remembered Vashti." Time, which had appeased his wrath, had not destroyed the queen's image, or cast into oblivion the facts connected with her disgrace. The persons and things of the past continue to live in memory either to sweeten or embitter the life. We should lay up nothing in this storehouse but what will bear pleasant review.
II. AN UNAVAILING REGRET. The narrative seems to indicate that as the king's anger against Vashti died out, his love for her returned. But, with other memories, that of the irrevocable decree came into his mind. Whatever his regrets, they were in vain. It is a solemn thought that sins and wrongs once done cannot be undone. Even though bad decrees may be reversed, the evils they have wrought remain. How many through the follies of the present heap up regrets for the future!
III. A STRANGE DEVICE. Of the plan suggested by the courtiers, it may be said -
1. That it was significant of the king's state of mind. It showed a perception of the feelings that troubled him. Such an appeal to his sensual nature could only be intended to drown a reviving affection and troublesome regrets.
2. That it was selfish and cunning. The restoration of Vashti would have been dangerous to those who counselled her disgrace. The possibility of a change in the king's mind was anticipated in the decree that could not be altered. Yet such a king, under the prompting of passion, might break through any legal fiction, and therefore it was resolved to wean him from thoughts of Vashti by the prospect of an unlimited variety of sensual indulgence.
3. That it was heartlessly wicked. No thought or pity was expended on the many fair young maidens who were to be brought from their homes and sacri-riced to the lust of the king. The king and his courtiers would probably regard the transaction as bestowing a special honour on its victims. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
4. That it was, nevertheless, not out of harmony with prevalent ideas and customs. Few would be shocked by it in all the vast empire. Whilst we hold the truth to be one in all circumstances, our judgment of conduct (like Christ's - Matthew 11:21) should allow for differences of time and place.
5. That it marks a distinction between heathenism and Christianity. Under Christian rule such a device would be impossible. The mere idea of it excites a shuddering horror in the Christian heart. All heathenisms are hopelessly corrupt. They contain the seeds of their own decay. It is at once a blessed and a responsible thing to live in a country whose institutions, laws, and general life are governed by the Christian truth and spirit.
IV. AN INCURABLE FOLLY. "And the thing pleased the king; and he did so." The novelty of it arrested him; the pleasure which it promised charmed him; all memories and regrets were speedily swallowed up in the anticipated delights of a new self-indulgence. There is a folly which no lessons will teach wisdom, which no experiences will long influence for good. Sin hardens the heart. A yielding to carnal lusts destroys the power of the soul to follow the lights and monitions that would deliver it. Occasional fears and perplexities may arise, but "the dog returns to its vomit."
V. A SUGGESTION OF BETTER THINGS. The pleasures of sin may be fascinatingly great to the ungodly who have not tested their fruits. But however alluring, experience proves them to be short-lived, degrading to our nature, and laden with an ever-growing and corroding bitterness. They are not to be compared with the higher delights that spring from a virtuous and self-denying life, a conscious fellowship with Jesus Christ, a trustful obedience to the heavenly Father's will, a possession of the hope that is full of immortality (see Galatians 5:19-26). - D.
I. IN THE LIGHT OF THE OPPORTUNE TIME AT WHICH IT WAS MADE. Meaning much there was in that time. The moment makes often the difference. Now the moment and the man met. A cheerless blank before the king. An aching void within him, as though emptiness were the most veritable existence. We do not indeed read that of this inner vacancy the king said a word or uttered a complaint; he would not make so humiliating a confession. But whether he did so or not, it was no doubt seen, and he was seen through by the minions of his retinue and his court. His own "wrath," and, as we have reason to know, matters of state and matters of war, had helped him tide over several months; but un-ease at heart can be no longer endured, and is bound to betray him. Neither momentary diversion of heart nor months' diversion of mind destroys facts, nor turns back dissatisfaction's natural tide. The most they do is to arrest awhile, certain to aggravate after a while.
II. IN THE LIGHT OF THE SPECIAL INNER PREPARATION FOR IT WHICH THE WHOLE HERETOFORE COURSE OF HIS LIFE HAD MADE. That antecedent course of life might have been judged to be a deliberately-constituted preparation for such a moment as the present. No outward opportunity for good or evil, no outward invitation of gain or loss, is comparable for effect with that opportuneness which is, which is made, which grows within. There is no such ripeness of time as that which comes of ripeness of disposition. If the spark also is to have its fair chance, it must fall on touch-paper, dry wood, gunpowder. If an ill-starred suggestion, or the happiest, holiest impulse, is to have each its own due course, the one and the other must fall, though in time's briefest instant, upon the material of a character that has been consciously or unconsciously fitting and maturing a long time for each respectively. An instant's mere hint, whether of good or had, will not mean much, except it come upon the product of months' or years' education; but if it light upon this, it may.
III. IN THE UNJUSTIFIABLY READY AND HASTY ACCEPTANCE OF IT. There was apparently no consideration of the proposal contained in it. There was certainly no careful exercise of the judgment upon it. No counsellors are called in as before. The seven "wise men which saw the king's face, and sat the first in the kingdom," are not called in to consult. Nay, not so much as an hour's time is reserved before an answer. It seems plainly that all was considered safe, and he acted on a momentary impulse, thinking only of self-gratification. "The thing pleased the king; and he did so. Self-pleasure is made the basis of conduct. The thing that pleases is the right. The thing that pleases is to be done. Poor learner, Ahasuerus! He has already forgotten what he was remembering, regretting, only yesterday - the hasty thing which was decreed against Vashti." And that also was at the suggestion of others - ratified at his own pleasure. - B.
a good choice. We need not assume that Esther was a willing- candidate for royal honours. The account we have favours the belief that she passively yielded to a power which she could not resist. Among the attractive qualities she possessed, we may notice -
I. BEAUTY. She had a fair form and a good countenance. Physical beauty is not to be despised. It is one of God's gifts, and has much power in the world. Yet it exposes the soul to special danger. When not sanctified and guarded by the grace of God, it becomes a ready minister to vanity and varied sin. Moreover, it is frail and precarious. A temporary illness will destroy the brightest beauty. A few years will wrinkle the face of youth, and give a tottering gait to the most graceful form.
II. MODESTY. Esther's beauty did not make her vain and foolish. She avoided all arts to adorn it and increase its effects on others. Modesty is a lovely grace which adds a new charm to the highest physical beauty. It conciliates and wins by its own gentle force. An immodest assertion of one's self in any circumstances indicates either a want of moral sensitiveness, or a want of intellectual sight. A pure heart, a true self-knowledge, and the fear of God, are all and always modest.
III. DISCRETION. In her new and trying position Esther never failed in prudence. This was the result not of skilful planning, but of a good training, and of a modesty which quickly saw what was becoming. She made no effort to please (ver. 15). The very simplicity and artlessness of her conduct won her the favour of the king's servants, and finally drew to her the preference of the king himself. Truth and wisdom are one. There is no brighter jewel in womanly character than the discretion which reflects a simple and true heart (Proverbs 11:22).
IV. DUTIFULNESS. One of the most attractive qualities of Esther was her daughter-like fidelity to her foster-father Mordecai, both before and after her election to the throne. She admired, loved, and trusted him. and submitted as a child to his guidance. Young people dislike restraint, and long for the freedom of independence before they are ready to bear the responsibility of it. They often fret under the wise and affectionate safeguards which their parents impose. Yet in after life most men and women are willing to confess that they were very ignorant in youth, and that it would have been well for them if they had understood better, and followed more fully, the parental admonitions which seemed so irksome.
V. INTEGRITY. Esther bore well the sudden flush of prosperity which came upon her. This is first and best seen in her unchanging regard for the man who had been the guardian of her orphaned childhood and youth. Her elevation to Vashti's place made no change in her reverent affection for Mordecai. We read that she "did the commandments of Mordecai like as when she was brought up with him" (ver. 20). A very beautiful and instructive example! Changes in condition often work sad changes in heart and conduct. Many grow false to themselves and their past, and to those who formed the chief good of their past, when some tide of prosperity raises them into a higher social circle, and creates new ties which can have no sympathy or connection with the old ones. Nothing is more despicable than that pride of worldly advancement which forgets or looks coldly on early friends whose humble fidelities of affection may have laid the foundation of future success. The character and conduct of the Jewish maiden teach us -
1. A higher beauty than the physical. In all precious qualities beauty of mind and heart far transcends the most brilliant beauty of face or form. The "beauties of holiness" are the best adornments of man or woman. "Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary" (Psalm 96:6). "Zion is the perfection of beauty" (Psalm 50:2). The prayer of the Church is, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us" (Psalm 90:17).
2. A better possession than worldly rank. The treasure of a good understanding in the fear of the Lord is of more value than any grandeur of outward circumstance. A soul that is humble, patient, trustful, loving, holy, Christlike, has riches that all the gold of Ophir or the diamonds of Golconda could not buy, and is elevated higher than if it were to occupy the greatest earthly throne (Ecclesiastes 7:12; Matthew 6:19-21; John 6:27).
3. The importance of early training. Youth is the seed-time. Seeds are then sown which, in the after life, will surely bring forth fruit either good or evil. Well-meaning parents may be sometimes unwise, and well-trained children may sometimes go astray; but the rule is - "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Esther may be taken as an illustration of the powerlessness of worldly influences to change the feelings of the heart, or the judgments of the mind, or the government of the life, in the ease of one who in early youth has been trained, under loving care, in the principles and practices of a holy religious life.
4. The truth of the saying, "Man proposes, but God disposes." In all the incidents connected with Esther's election to be queen we see the guidance of an invisible hand. The narrative is brief, simple, and artless; but on that very account it impresses us all the more with the conviction of a Divine purpose and leading. - D.
I. A FINE NATURAL DISPOSITION. When his cousin Esther lost her parents he "took her for his own daughter." His heart and home were at once opened to the little orphaned girl. The natures of men vary greatly. Some are born tender, some hard; but all may do much to cultivate the softer affections of sympathy and love. The ties of kindred and friendship afford many opportunities for their exercise.
II. A RECOGNITION OF THE DIVINE LAW. Mordecai's adoption of Esther was in accordance with the spirit of the Mosaic legislation. As a good Jew, he could scarcely have done otherwise. This, however, does not detract from the pure benevolence of his conduct. The good actions of religious people are often regarded as mechanical and constrained, as springing rather from a slavish fear of authority than from a willing and loving heart. On this point observe -
1. That natural light and strength are insufficient. All history and experience teach that when left to himself man becomes hard-hearted and cruel in his self-regard.
2. That a Divine revelation of truth with respect to relative and other duties is an unspeakable benefit. It is a clear light amidst the dark confusions of sin.
3. That good natural dispositions are purified and strengthened by a reverence for Divine truth. Mordecai, apart from religious influence, might have charged himself with the care of his orphaned relative; but, if so, his sense of obligation to Jehovah's law would deepen his compassionate interest, and give a sacredness to the adopted duties of fatherhood. The religion of God adds power and freedom to the exercise of all affections that are unselfish and good.
III. A FAITHFUL DISCHARGE OF ACCEPTED DUTY. It was no grudged place that Mordecai gave to his cousin in his family. He did not put her there, and then allow her to grow up neglected. There is much significance in the words "he brought her up." They imply, as the result shows, that he bestowed loving attentions on her; that he trained her carefully, tenderly, and religiously. It is not enough to acknowledge duty; the important thing is to discharge it. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (John 13:17).
IV. A HELPER IN TIME OF NEED. Before Esther was removed from her adopted home, Mordecai had time to speak to her words of comfort and instruction. One piece of advice he gave her was that she should keep secret her lineage or nationality (ver. 10). It was meant to protect her from needless humiliations and troubles, and perhaps to remove a hindrance to her reaching the dignity of wifehood and queenhood. From this fact we gather that the fatherly Mordecai spent the moments that preceded the parting in administering solace and courage and wise counsel to the trembling maiden. A true love never fails, and it shines brightest in the sympathies and succours which suffering claims.
V. A CONTINUING CARE. Mordecai did not cease to watch over the charge whom God had entrusted to him when she was removed into another sphere. Separation did not diminish his love or relax his care. He had evidently an appointment which allowed him to be near her; for we read in ver. 11 that he "walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her." Some parents think that when they get their children off their hands, as it is called, they have met every obligation of duty. Mordecai thought and acted differently, and in this he was a type of Christ, who, having loved us from the first, loved us to the last; who, when we were led captive by sin, still loved and cared for us, and became himself our ransom; who, now that he is ascended above all heavens, is still ever near to guide us by his word and Spirit in the way that leads to a crown and throne immortal. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). Concluding lessons: -
2. God blesses those who, like himself, are compassionate and merciful. Mordecai was amply rewarded for all his faithful and loving care of the orphan child, in the beautiful, modest, wise, winning, courageous, and pious woman who became the queen of Persia and the saviour of Israel (Matthew 10:42). - D.
I. A. STRIKING CONTRAST BETWEEN A PAGAN HAREM AND A CHRISTIAN HOME. We have the virgins "requisitioned" from all the provinces (Ver. 8), the fairest and finest being taken from their parents and friends, a large part of the palace specially assigned them before admission to the king's chamber (ver. 8), and another devoted to them afterwards, when they had become his concubines (ver. 14); the extensive and protracted preparation, or "purification," including everything that could conduce to bodily comeliness and sensuous gratification, and extending over an entire year (ver. 12); the introduction to the royal presence after a choice made by the maiden herself of whatever she thought would adorn her person (vers. 13, 14). In all this we have an extravagant and evil provision for one man's satisfaction. Well had Samuel warned his countrymen (1 Samuel 8.) against the monarchy of those times and lands. It meant the elevation of a single individual to a post of such dignity and power that the people were much at his mercy and held their life, property, and honour at the caprice of one erring and passionate mortal. How excellent and how pleasing to be led away in our thought by the suggestion of contrast from the heathen harem to the Christian home. This is based on mutual spiritual attachment. It is spiritual; for the love which precedes and justifies a union of man and wife is not an ignoble passion nursed by such sensuous attractions as the king's chamberlain spent his ingenuity in perfecting; it is a beautiful combination of esteem and affection; the pure admiration which is felt for the beauty of virtue, for spiritual graces, as well as for fineness of form and sweetness of face. It is mutual. No union is sacred, in Christian morality, if the love of the one is not returned by the affection of the other. And, therefore, it is lasting; not lingering for a few weeks or months at most, but extending through the whole life, and becoming more real as the years go by. Begun in youth, it glows in prime, and shines with serene and steady light through declining years. Let us mark here a proof of the excellency of our holy faith. One of the very worst consequences of the reign of sin in this world is the degradation of woman. Meant to be man's helpmeet and companion as he walks the path of life, she became, under its dominion, the mere victim of his ignoble passion. But what has the Christian faith done for woman, and through her for society? It has introduced such purity and elevation of spirit, that it is painful even to read a page like this; so that it has become a" shame to us even to speak" of the things heathenism does without any shame at all. What a contrast between the Christian home, at this day, and the home of the Mahommedan and the heathen! It is the handiwork of Jesus Christ.
II. AN INSTRUCTIVE INSTANCE OF GOD'S WAY OF WORKING (vers. 16, 17). It is true that (vers. 6, 7) Mordecai was a kindly and generous man, treating his uncle's daughter, Esther, as his own child; it is true that the "fair and beautiful" Esther was modest, and cared not to deck and trim herself with ornaments, that "she required nothing but what Hegai, the king's chamberlain, ... appointed" (ver. 15). But we should not have supposed that God would condescend to use such a heathen custom as this to place one of his people on the Persian throne, and, by such means, to provide for the rescue of the Jewish race. Yet he did. He thus brought it about, in his providence, that one who feared him and was disposed to serve his chosen people "obtained grace and favour in the sight" of the king (ver. 17), and had "the royal crown set upon her head." He who "makes the wrath of man to praise him" can make other passions of men to serve him. We must not be hasty in concluding that God is not working in some sphere, or by some instrument, because it may seem to us unlikely. God not only rules, but overrules. And when we can take no part in institutions, or are obliged to refuse to enter circles, or can have no fellowship with men, because to do so would compromise our principles, we may stand by and pray that the overruling hand of Heaven will compel even those things, or those men, to subserve his cause and the welfare of the world.
III. A HOPEFUL FACT FOR THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD. As heathenism and Mahommedanism perish - and both are "marked to fall" - such a system as that described in this chapter becomes impossible. In place of it is the purifying influence of the Christian home. What flowers and fruits of virtue, wisdom, kindness, diligence, purity, bloom and ripen there. The future of the world is in the Christian parent's hand. Let the fathers and the mothers of Christendom do their duty in
(1) teaching the truth of Christ, and in
(2) training their sons and daughters in all Christian virtues, and then there will go forth an influence for good which will permeate and regenerate the world. - C.
I. How GOD RAISES UP FRIENDS FOR THE APPARENTLY FRIENDLESS, Esther's parents were possibly very troubled, when passing from this world, as to what would become of their daughter. God, however, found her a protector in Mordecai. God appointed her path in life. Her parents little expected that she would become the queen of Persia, and deliverer of her people.
II. How ANXIOUS ARE RELATIVES AND PARENTS WHEN THEIR CHILDREN ARE ENTERING ON NEW POSITIONS. Esther's was not only new, but dangerous. She might have become vain and degraded in mind, like many with whom she had to associate. "Mordecai walked." etc. He wished to know how Esther succeeded. How our heavenly Father walks "every day" by our side, watching what will become of us! - H.
I. Simple tastes are LESS COSTLY.
II. Simple tastes INDICATE A PURE MIND.
III. Simple tastes ARE THE MOST ATTRACTIVE.
Behold in a queen who now lives and reigns over the British Empire - an empire wider by far than that of Persia - the power of simple tastes and habits. It is this that makes the perusal of the "Memorial of the Prince Consort," and 'Leaves from the Highland Diary,' so delightful. It is this that has given her Majesty such a hold on the affections of her subjects, and to monarchical rule a longer lease than it promised to have. Piety and purity have power not only in the palace at Shushan and the castle at Windsor, but in the lowliest cottage of the realm. - H.
the one effect of a series of causes and effects. Up to this point there was no one of all the foregoing to compare with it for significance. It will be well to pause awhile in the presence of this coronation scene. There have indeed been occasions of coronation which have attracted little notice or interest. There have been some supremely sad, although perhaps they have not seemed so to the eye, and at the time. But this coronation scene may be found able to yield much more for thought and profit than most. For undoubtedly it has aspects, some unhappy in their surroundings, others most happy in their substance, which strikingly difference it from very many others.
1. It was not a crown won by effort, either noble or ignoble. It was not one of those crowns which had been lifted to the brow, amid the enthusiastic plaudits of multitudes, as the result of athlete's training, poet's inspiration, or the force of genius. The statesman's anxious toil, the philanthropist's oft self-sacrificing ministry of mercy, the warrior's sword - these had not carved the way to a throne. It was not an occasion of coronation of this sort. In fact, nothing that had been specially done, and nothing that had been specially suffered, showed the way to it - no keen strain of effort, no severe tension of patience. Neither these things, nor anything failing more within feminine range, and answering to them, heralded the gift of this crown.
2. It was not a crown conferred amid surroundings of the most august kind, or associations at all elevating.
3. It was not a crown given by hands pure, honest, or merciful.
4. It certainly was not a crown of imperishable material, of ancestral renown, or that could be reckoned upon to sit easy, or remain long on the head that now was to wear it. But amid much to detract from it, there are some things to be remembered highly to the advantage of this crown.
1. The crown was one that was not sought with ambitious self-seeking.
2. It was one that did not come of mere hereditary succession.
3. It was one - very rare indeed in this respect - to the attainment of which moral qualities did undoubtedly largely contribute. It was the more remarkable because those moral qualities had to make their way, and assert their influence, in the most unfavourable atmosphere, and the most unlikely circumstances. Had Esther ingratiated herself? But it was not the result of wiliness. Had she ingratiated herself? But it was not among the like-minded and the pure of heart. Had she ingratiated herself? It was actually, considering her distinguishing qualities, with the worst kind of character of all for her to go near - the official character. Yet bribery had not done it, meretricious ways had not done it, insincerity had not done it, immorality had not done it. The force of simplicity, of contentment, of modesty, of refusal of superfluous ornament - positively these things had done it l It is evident that she was a pattern of goodness, after a sort not so commonly recognisable, with those who surrounded her, and with such as they, but which, streaming gently forth, made its radiance seen, felt, admired by some of the most unlikely. Esther's docile obedience to her guardian while she lived under his roof, her continued obedience to him after she had left it, her fidelity to the faith and hope of her people, her uncomplaining acceptance of a position decidedly humiliating to one of her race, in consideration of the captive adversity of her people, and still more of those objects which her cousin apparently, but which God really, would work for them by her - these things all bear witness to the deep heart of goodness that dwelt in her. Yet, granting all this, was it not a strange thing that she should so make her way, and "walk the queen," that they were all ready to designate her such, and that he, with whom the choice and decision lay, at once did so? Many a desirable crown has been won by methods most undesirable. This was an undesirable crown, won by methods full of real honour and grace.
4. It was a crown which God designed for the head which it now reached. This is the best thing of all to be said about it. But for this, it would have nothing really to favour it; with this, it may claim all the rest as well. The providence of God raised the crown, after first raising the head of the humble and meek to receive it. His providence had other ends in view, great and good and kind, for his people. And by the vicarious humiliation of this maiden he wrought great miracles and wonders. For her the outer ornament of such a crown, in alliance with such circumstances, could have had small attractions indeed. But viewed in this other aspect, the crown had in the highest sense the qualities of the "unfading," the "imperishable." And for the patient head that now wore it, it was the earnest of another of immortal "honour and glory." - B.
1. That she remembered in her prosperity the associations of the past. This did credit both to her head and to her heart; it evinced her sound sense as well as her humble-mindedness. It is pitiable to witness sometimes the way in which those who have risen in the world forget their lowly origin; they look down with contempt upon those who are still in the position which they themselves once occupied; and nothing wounds their pride more keenly than the slightest allusion to the home of their childhood. But such a miserable display of weakness only degrades them in the estimation of all right-minded men. Esther was very different from this. Amidst the splendours of the royal palace she could not forget her former obscure lot. And this must have been an ennobling power in her soul, elevating her above the corrupt influences of a profligate court.
2. That she showed gratitude to the man who had befriended her in adversity. She had been left a helpless orphan; and must have been thrown upon the mercy of a heartless world, had it not been for the timely succour of her generous kinsman. But there are natures upon whom such services make no lasting impression. They are altogether absorbed in self. Affluence, luxury, ease, harden their hearts, and make them utterly insensible even to the claims of gratitude. But Mordecai's kindness to Esther embraced her entire being; it pervaded all the motives which fashioned her life. Whenever She hesitated how to act, she would put to herself the question, "What would Mordecai advise?" and upon the answer would depend her course of conduct. And this is the highest style of affection, which issues in obedience, self-renunciation, submission to another's will. With regard to Mordecai, note -
3. That he had made the greatest sacrifice for the sake of another. He must have loved Esther deeply, tenderly, devotedly. And no wonder. Her beautiful form, and still more beautiful soul, could not have developed themselves beneath his eye without stealing away his heart. But when the grand prospect of her being raised to the throne presented itself, he hesitated not to give her up. So far we are constrained to admire. But deeper reflection makes us pause. In this most important juncture they seem to have been too completely actuated by mere POLICY. That success crowned their efforts is no excuse for their conduct. On the same ground you might justify some of the most hideous stratagems ever devised by depraved ingenuity. Never let the dazzling glare of the prosperity sometimes attendant upon false moves make us blind to the beauty of eternal principles. Nor can they be excused on the ground that they were carrying out the designs of Providence. For in the same manner you might justify the conduct of Joseph's brethren in selling their brother, and even the conduct of the Jews in crucifying the Saviour. What is POLICY? It is the substitution of the expedient for the right. It is the spirit which constantly asks, What will best promote our own interests? instead of asking, What will best satisfy the immutable claims of justice, truth, and honour? Observe -
I. THAT POLICY HAS A WORLDLY AIM. What is worldliness? An inordinate love of the present, the sensual, the temporal, with corresponding' neglect of the future, the spiritual, the eternal. Any line of conduct that is prompted by this temper of the heart must be accounted worldly. Esther had set her mind upon the crown, and Mordecai supported her ambitious views. From a heathen standpoint it was a glorious prize, but to a Jew it was a forbidden acquisition. Probably they contrived to conceal from themselves their real aim by investing it with fictitious attributes.
1. Esther might have desired to elevate the religious tone of the court by gradually making known the God of Israel.
2. Mordecai might have hoped to serve his nation by placing at the seat of power one who would be willing to help them in time of need. But wrong can never be right. We may glorify it with fine names, forgetting that a change of name does not necessarily imply a change of nature. Let us consider how policy affects men's conduct in politics, in religion, and in private life.
(1) In politics. Wars are sometimes undertaken, with the professed aim of extending to benighted races the blessings of civilisation and Christianity, whose real object may be to flatter national vanity, and satisfy the greed of rulers. Thus base acts acquire a dignity from the halo cast around them by high-sounding names.
(2) In religion. Men will contend for the success of a religious party, with whose prosperity their own honour is bound up, under the mistaken notion that they are fighting the battles of religion itself. Like the idol-makers who defended the faith of their ancestors by crying out, "Great is the Diana of the Ephesians," while they thought of nothing so much as the gains of their own craft.
(3) In private life. Think of illegitimate trades. They are engaged in simply because they happen to be lucrative. A man opens a gin palace, and finds that his coffers are rapidly filling with gold. To allay any qualms of conscience which may occasionally disturb his peace, he pictures to himself the vast power for good which an accumulated fortune may place at his command; but in his heart of hearts he really worships wealth.
II. POLICY STOOPS TO QUESTIONABLE MEANS. Granted that the crown which Esther sought to secure was a lawful object of an Israelite's desire, how did she endeavour to accomplish her purpose?
1. By contracting an alliance with a heathen monarch, which the Jews, as God's chosen people, were expressly forbidden to do.
2. By becoming that monarch's concubine before she became his wife. The loose notions in reference to this amidst which she had been educated may explain her conduct, but cannot justify it. It may also be urged that she had no option in the matter, that the monarch's will would brook no opposition, that disobedience might bring death. The only reply is that death is better than dishonour.
3. By having recourse to duplicity. She never made known her people, for fear it might interfere with her chance of promotion. In all this it is evident that Esther - and Mordecai, her adviser, too - had thought more of what was expedient than what was right. Note -
(1) That the conduct of good people, even in the most important transactions, are not always to be imitated. Not only in small matters, but also in great matters, are they liable to err. Precedent is a poor standard to appeal to, for it may mislead us when the most momentous principles are at stake.
(2) That true heroism, consists in doing right, irrespective of the consequences. This heroism has its type in Daniel rather than in Esther; in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rather than in Mordecai. If you want to see the highest heroism, you need not gaze upon the battle-field, where men, through the maddening excitement of the conflict, defy death at the cannon's mouth, for there it cannot be found. Rather let your wondering eyes be directed to the martyr dying at the stake, to the pioneer of truth braving the scorn of the world, to the patient worker for the common good who toils in obscurity, and seeks no higher reward than the approval of his own conscience. - R.
I. THE INSECURITY OF ANY POSITION THAT IS NOT WELL FOUNDED. The throne of a despot is like a house built on the sand, or like a city under which smoulder volcanic fires. There is no darker page in history than that which records the doings and sufferings of despotic rulers. It is in the nature of an autocratic rule, which subjects the liberty of multitudes to the will of one man, to breed discontents and plottings. When truth and justice are outraged, time only is required to vindicate and avenge them. The first and third Napoleons may be taken as illustrations in modern times. The present Czar of Russia is a just and merciful man, but, occupying a false position, ruling a vast empire not through free institutions, but by personal will, his reign is troubled by the dark conspiracies which now create such fear and horror. The government of that country alone is secure where law and liberty go hand in hand together; where reverence for the throne is maintained by a strict regard for the rights of the people, and where the national constitution and the national life are based on principles that lie deep in the word of God.
II. THE INSECURITY OF LIFE GENERALLY. The king of Persia's life hung by a very slender thread when the two traitors were conspiring. One blow, and all his grandeur would have faded under the dark shadows of death. But all life is insecure. Death has a myriad forms. None are free from it. A cold, a slip of the foot, a breath of unseen vapour may put out the living spark, and quench every earthly hope. A thought so solemn should lead all to take earnest care that their life-building is well founded - built into that foundation of Christian truth and grace which cannot be moved. Christ in the heart conquers the fear of death, and turns the "last enemy" into a friend (John 11:25, 26).
III. THE VIRTUE OF FIDELITY. We cannot tell how Mordecai discovered the design of the conspirators. He may have been asked to join them, or he may have heard or seen enough to awaken suspicion and make him watchful. In any case, he was faithful to his trust, he was loyal to the king whom he served. In all the relationships of life there are attached responsibilities and duties to which we are bound before God and man to be faithful. Fidelity is due, for example, to our sovereign, our government, our country; to our parents, our masters, our associates; to our Church, our brethren in the faith, our God and Saviour. Treachery is a vile sin against God and man, and a grievous enemy to the heart that cherishes it.
IV. FIDELITY HAS A GOOD ALLY IN WISDOM. It is a delicate and dangerous matter to interfere with the dark plottings of unscrupulous men. One needs to be sure of his ground before he charges others with unfaithfulness of any kind. But Mordecai was as prudent as he was loyal; a man of experience, of resource, and of self-reliance. He first made himself sure of the facts, and then by means of Esther secured that the plot should be quietly divulged, and that the two traitors should be seized before they had time to conceal evidence, or concoct a defence which might deceive the king, and cover with shame their bold accuser. Charges against the virtue of men should never be lightly made. A rash and impulsive fidelity may do more harm than good. A wise head works well with a true heart. It is noteworthy that Esther showed at once her confidence in Mordecai's prudence, and her desire to gain for him the credit of his fidelity, in her "certifying the king (of the plot) in Mordecai's name."
V. FIDELITY BRINGS OPENINGS FOR GOOD SERVICE IN ALL RANKS OR POSITIONS. Mordecai was a humble man, yet, being faithful to present duty, a time came when he could do, and therefore did, important service. It is wrong and foolish to despise any position, however lowly. A young man may at first occupy a post that is not encouraging either in its duties or in its rewards, but persevering fidelity will in duo time make its mark and attract attention and respect; and when that occurs the way to success lies open. So also in the field of Christian labour. The service of Christ is confined to no station. Loyalty to the Saviour's truth and name is all that is required to make any man fruitful in good works. The very lowliest may be, in his own circle of influence, as a light shining in the darkness, as a living epistle of Christ, known and read of men. There are endless ways of serving Christ. Opportunities are never wanting to the faithful. God never fails to use and honour those who live in the truth of his word.
VI. THE WANT OF FIDELITY IS A HIGHWAY TO DISGRACE AND RUIN. The plotters against the king of Persia were no doubt very secret and very clever; yet they were found out and doomed to death. Such crimes oftener fail than succeed. It is one of the striking features of historical crime that it has so generally failed, and that the projectors of it have so uniformly met with just retribution. In almost every criminal plan there is some weak point or person; some oversight, or over-confidence, or miscalculation, or unexpected contingency. Righteousness is the real law of God's universe, and when violated it always, in some time and way, exacts a just penalty. Nor are the issues of evil confined to the present life. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ."
VII. FIDELITY HAS A SURE REWARD.
1. It is always its own reward. The consciousness of having resisted and overcome evil, of having been faithful to duty at all risks, is better to the heart than any gain of gold.
2. Though not always recognised at once, it is sure in time to be duly seen and honoured. In the long run even the world seems to get light, and to do justice, with regard to noble acts which at the time of their performance were allowed to pass unheeded. Mordecai's loyalty and its result were recorded in the king's chronicle only to be forgotten. Yet a time came when the record met the king's eye, and touched his heart, and brought a power to the faithful Jew which enabled him to foil the project of the would-be destroyer of his race.
3. Man may forget, but God remembers. It was in the line of God's providence that the fidelity which saved the king's life should be brought into prominence, and receive its reward, at the proper time. Whether our faithfulness to duty be recognised or overlooked by men, it should be enough for us that God knows it, and records it in his book of remembrance - to be brought to light in his own great day.
VIII. FIDELITY TO GOD EMBRACES AND SANCTIFIES THE DUTIES OF EVERY SPHERE. To be true to God is to be true to men. Every sin against man is a sin against God. Every failure of duty to those above or about us in the world is a breach of fidelity to God's holy and gracious will. Treachery on earth is viewed as treachery in heaven. A solemn fact! The more fully we submit to God, the more heartily we love and follow Jesus, the better shall we be and do as parents and children, as masters and servants, as rulers and ruled, as friends and fellow-workers, and as members of a Christian Church. Loyalty to God means a true and holy life. - D.
I. THE MOST CAREFULLY-CONCEALED PLANS ARE LIABLE TO BE MARRED BY UN-THOUGHT-OF INSTRUMENTALITY. It is right to plan for success in our lawful under- takings. We should have no plans but such as those on which we can ask God's blessing. To plot against the welfare of others is always dangerous. Plotters are ever likely to "hoist with their own petard." Accident may mar our plottings. A word dropped, or a look passed, may betray. There is generally some Mordecai who carries the whisper to an Esther, and an Esther who carries it to the one most interested. Sometimes God directly thwarts wicked planning. Pharaoh said, "I will pursue," etc., but God "blew with his wind." "They sank as lead in the mighty waters."
II. UNWORTHY PLANNINGS ARE OFTEN SUBJECT TO THE KEENEST SEARCHINGS. The king made thorough investigation into the matter. He did not condemn on mere hearsay or suspicion. Many, in the anxiety to protect self, are seized with prejudice which hinders just deliberation. A watch was set. Manners, companions, places of resort were marked. Inquisition was made.
III. ALL WRONG-DOING WILL SOONER OR LATER BE DISCOVERED. "The thing was found out." Bigthan and Teresh learned their folly when suffering impalement, the usual punishment of traitors in Persia. They might not have been discovered. Wickedness is sometimes successful in this world, and evades justice. That which may escape detection by men cannot pass the eye of God. Ahasuerus little knew what was in the hearts of those men, but God knew. Bigthan and Teresh would have served Ahasuerus as Ehud did Egion, or Joab, Abner. Learn -
1. That there will be inquiry into our lives, our acts and motives.
2. That none will be exempt from the searching.
3. That we should take warnings given in kindness.
Suppose Ahasuerus had paid no heed to Mordecai's warning; he would have lost crown, throne, and life. - H.
I. MAN, EVEN WHEN HE PROMISES TO REMEMBER BENEFITS, IS LIKELY TO FORGET. Ahasuerus commanded Mordecai's act to be recorded. He intended to reward him. Mordecai doubtless expected some recognition of his services, but he was for a long time disappointed. It is a "black blot" on the name of Ahasuerus that he forgot his indebtedness.
II. GOD NEVER FORGETS MAN'S GOOD ACTS OR EVEN KINDLY THOUGHTS. All are written in his book of remembrance (Malachi 3:16). He, the King of kings, gives reward beyond our deserts. We should remember how much we owe to Christ, who is the good Mordecai who warns and saves us. We should write it in our memories that we owe everything to him for his grace and forbearance. Not until we reach the other world, and look over life's history, shall we know how much we owe to him. - H.