So King Solomon was king over all Israel.
Charles Albert, we are told, went to help the Milanese. The Austrians, vastly outnumbering, drove him back toward Turin, defeated him at Novara, swayed renewed sceptre over the revolted provinces. The king abdicated in favour of his son, Victor Emanuel. When the young king accepted the crown he pointed his sword toward the Austrian camp and said, "By the grace of God there shall be a united Italy." It seemed then but an empty boast. Yet his prophecy turned to fact. Marshal Radetjsky proposed to him the abolishment of the constitutional charter granted to the people by his father, and advised him to follow the Austrian policy of unbridled oppression. But the young king declared that, sooner than subscribe to such conditions, he was ready to renounce, not one crown, but a thousand. "The house of Savoy," he said, "knows the path of exile, but not the path of dishonour." Right noble answer! Better anything than disloyalty to a high ancestry, than falseness to the laws of the kingdom of which he had been made the leader.
Make these words bear their very highest meaning, and we begin to approach a true conception of the position of Jesus Christ as He sits enthroned above the riches of the universe, ruling an obedient creation, receiving the acclaims of the nations He has redeemed. Even this is prophesied. The prophets were bold men. They followed their logic to its conclusions; yea, even until it became poetry, and surprised themselves with unexpected music. We must not regard millennial glory and millennial music as representing only imagination, fancy, a vivid or overwrought dreaming faculty; all that is brightest, sweetest, most melodious, expresses an underlying solidity of fact, history, reality. The prophets said, Right shall reign; the day must come when men will see that right is better than wrong, justice better than injustice, and peace to be preferred above battle; and all this will be wrought out in connection with the name of Immanuel — God with us — whose name is the Prince of Peace.
This would seem to be part of the Parable of the Prodigal Son before its time. This typical feast of Solomon's has no reference to gluttony. We have read of Caligula, who would never eat bread unless it was gilded — had a coating of gold over the crust; but we are not commending such men in representing Solomon's feast as the feast of fat things and wine upon the lees well refined, as being part of the viands and provision of the table of God, which is so abundantly — yea, lavishly — spread. When did God give just enough? When was there less at the end than there was at the beginning? When He had five loaves and fed five thousand, how many basketfuls of fragments took ye up? Let God be judged by the fragments, whoever found the loaves; let God be judged by the harvest, whoever lent the seed out of which it sprang.
Judah and Israel dwelt safely.
The text presents to us a perfect picture of a peaceful and prosperous commonwealth. It is painted with few touches, but they are all full of expression. We have before our eyes a fruitful land. Cities, of different but united tribes, shine at a distance. Quiet fields repose between. Families are grouped here and there under the shadow of the leaves and the wealth of the fruit. And over all spreads the rule of the prince, whose name has been but another name for wisdom over the eastern and western world. The text invites us to draw a parallel between the Hebrew commonwealth, at this highest point it ever reached of growth and refinement, and our own country.
1. First, then, it enjoyed the most perfect political independence. It was in itself an empire; compact at home, respected abroad. Its commerce spread its sail to all the winds, and extended its traffic as far as the Spanish coast and the pillars of Hercules. It was independent of the customs of others, as well as of their dictation; for it was a peculiar people. It was independent of the teaching of others; for it was Divinely instructed.
2. Though one, it was composed of several well-defined parts. It was a confederacy of states, owning a common chief.
3. The third particular that calls for our notice in this pleasant scene is the safety, the content, the enjoyment, of each individual citizen — protected in his rights, and surrounded with the bounties which his industry had gathered, or which fortune, without any effort of his own, had bequeathed to him. "Every man under his vine and fig-tree." Here, after all, is the test of a truly flourishing state: what is done for the private person, and what his opportunities are, in point of civilisation and enjoyment. For such persons is the state appointed, and not they for the state. The improvement and happiness of its members must be its leading aim. Such was the happy position of Jacob's united states during the reign of the third of their kings. Though hardly even the third who could be truly called so, he was the last that ruled over their associated people. Irreligion first made its inroads. The service of the Lord was neglected or defiled. The customs of the heathen were adopted. The nations that could not withstand their arms inflicted upon them their superstitions, and so were avenged for their overthrow. Then came the insolence of despotic sway. Oppression provoked resistance. Ten tribes revolted, and two adhered. The bond of political brotherhood was cut through by the sword, and Judah and Israel, so prosperous together, fell wretchedly apart, and became rivals and foes. Where was now their independence? They were intriguing at foreign courts, and seeking disastrous alliances — so unlike their own — with the North and the South. Where was their peace? It was sacrificed in civil strife — that most monstrous of iniquities, and mother of sorrows. Where was their glory? It was all extinguished, except that which burnt in the lamps of the sanctuary, and glowed upon the lips of prophets and holy men. Where was their abundance? It flowed away among their divisions and their sins. The fig ripened for the invader. The wine-press was dabbled with blood.
THAT IT IS GOD WHO BESTOWS NATIONAL PEACE. This, God claims as His peculiar prerogative. "I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things." The voice of Scripture here concurs with the voice of reason. National peace is one of the links in the great chain of providence, and of consequence comes under the Divine direction. It belongs to God to determine when and where national peace shall be enjoyed. And it is easy to see how God can give this blessing to different nations, notwithstanding their native pride and selfishness.
1. God can make it the mutual interest of native and foreign nations to be at peace with each other. This was the ease in the days of Solomon. Just so God is able to unite the hearts of other nations, by uniting their interests. It has long been a maxim in politics, that national interest is the first principle of national policy. It is only for God, therefore, to make it the mutual interest of different nations to be at peace with each other, and they themselves will naturally seek and promote this agreeable object.
2. God is able to govern the hearts of nations, and in that way dispose them to mutual peace and harmony. It was a proverb in Israel, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will." There is a supreme power in every nation; and the men who possess that power, have the right of making war or peace.
II. THAT NATIONAL PEACE IS A GREAT NATIONAL BLESSING, So long as Solomon had peace on all sides round about him, it diffused universal happiness through his widely extended kingdom. National peace is naturally productive of the greatest national prosperity.
1. National peace naturally tends to increase the numbers of a people. It is almost incredible how fast a people will increase in numbers, while they are free from public and wasting calamities. And the increase of numbers not only adds to the happiness of a people, but to the glory of their government. So Solomon thought, and so he said: "In the multitude of people, is the king's honour: but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.
2. National peace directly tends to promote national wealth. Wealth is a temporal favour to nations, as well as to individuals, though it be often perverted and abused by both. Solomon says, "The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it." Peace is the parent of wealth. For peace promotes industry, industry promotes commerce, and commerce promotes the wealth of any nation.
3. National peace has a happy influence upon every branch of human knowledge. Leisure and learning go together.
4. National peace affords a favourable opportunity for forming public designs and performing public works. Every rising nation finds that, in order to be happy as well as respectable, it must build cities, erect churches, endow colleges, open canals, make bridges, repair highways, remove public nuisances, and perform many other expensive works of general utility. To promote such national objects was highly reputable among the Romans in the zenith of their prosperity. Pliny congratulates one of his friends upon being appointed a surveyor of the highways; an office to which he, and even Caesar himself, had been promoted. It is only when nations are settled in peace that they can form and execute public designs.
5. It is the direct tendency of national peace to promote personal as well as public prosperity. There is no other national blessing so extensive in its kindly influence.
6. National peace is very friendly to the interests of religion. During the peaceful reign of Solomon, religion greatly flourished.
1. If peace be the greatest national blessing, then war is the greatest national calamity. War and peace are diametrically- opposite to each other in their nature and tendency. War tends to destroy all that prosperity which peace tends to produce.
2. If peace be the greatest of national blessings, then it is the wisdom of those who possess the supreme power in any nation, to promote and maintain this desirable and important object.
3. If it be the natural tendency of national peace to promote national prosperity, then it is the wisdom of a people to do all in their power to retain this invaluable blessing. A prosperous people are very prone to forget the source of their prosperity, and to become extremely stupid, avaricious, and revengeful
4. We learn, from what has been said, that we are under peculiar obligations to God for the bestowment and continuance of our national peace.
Largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore.
The image is very expressive. On the coast both of Palestine and Egypt — the regions with which the Bible writers were most familiar — the sand is unusually abundant. All the way from the delta of the Nile to the most northern point of Syria, a vast sandy tract, penetrating inland here and there from the shore-line fringes the Mediterranean, and separates between the green cultivated fields and the blue waters of the sea. The floor of the desert, which encompasses the Holy Land on the south and east, although usually composed of other materials, has nevertheless in a few places large belts of deep sand. drifts, like those which may be seen on the western bank of the Nile. Let the traveller stand on the seashore near Gaza, where, far as the eye can reach north and south, the tawny sand-hills swell and shoal as if imitating the rolling of the waves. Let him take up a handful of the sand and try to count its grains as they trickle through his fingers, and he will give up the task in despair ere he has counted a twentieth part. Let him try to imagine how many handfuls there are in even one heap beside him, and his imagination will be speedily overpowered. And if he endeavours further to form some conception of the quantity that makes up the shore of a single bay, or the floor of a single desert, the mind utterly collapses under the unequal burden. In analysing it more closely, the image indicates not only the vast but also the varied range of Solomon's wisdom; not only the quantity but also the quality of the largeness of his heart. Nothing, at first sight, looks more uniform and monotonous than a heap of sand. It seems barren and uninteresting to the last degree; and yet examine carefully a small portion of the sand, and you will be struck with the immense variety which it contains. No two particles are the same in Size, shape, colour, or mineral character. No two grains have perhaps the same origin or the same history. A handful of sand is, in fact, a geological museum, composed of the remains of different rocks worn off or ground down by different agencies and at different periods. One grain has come from the granite rocks that almost throttle the Nile at the first cataract, out of which the earliest monuments of Egypt were carved — perhaps has itself formed part of some statue or obelisk that was old before history began. Another grain has been ground down from the marble hills of Greece that have yielded the precious material in which, by the sculptor's skill, the gods have come down to the earth in the likeness of men. A third has been disintegrated from the volcanic stone which the earliest builders of Italy have plied into their gigantic walls and massive tombs. Some of the particles have been washed down by streams from the precipices of the Alps or Apennines; others have been carried by the wind from the eruptions of Vesuvius and Etna; and others still have been ground from the dark northern headlands, those Sphinxes of the ocean against which the waves of the Atlantic — fugitives, all white and reeking, flying from some monster of the deep — hurl themselves with frantic fear. Frost and fire, glacier on mountain crest, and iceberg on Arctic shore, all these have been at work for untold ages to produce the individual grains of the handful of sand. We read in these sand-dunes, as distinctly as we see the tracks of ancient animals on the surface of sandstone slabs taken from the quarry, the evidence of many of the changes through which our earth has passed. We see in them the relics of old continents that have vanished completely — the sole memorials of ancient seas that seem mythical to all but the geologist. The earth is but a gigantic sand-glass for the computation of geological time, in which the sands are falling unremittingly; and which after long ages is turned upside down to expend what it has gained, and to gain what it has expended. Like this sand on the seashore, in its wonderful variety, was the largeness of heart which God bestowed upon Solomon; as a heap of sand, abundance of interest and enjoyment; a largeness of heart which would invest with its own charm the most desert place and the most familiar object — to which nothing that God had made would be common or unclean. Throughout the life of Solomon we see how richly he possessed this Divine gift; how wide was his culture — how deep was his interest in the world around him. God is willing to grant to every human being, in a degree proportioned to his nature and circumstances, what He bestowed upon Solomon. He has placed us in a large and wealthy place. He has given to us the whole creation for our inheritance, and made us the heirs of all the ages. The whole universe tends towards man as its centre and highest point. It finds in him its end and interpreter. Nature is translated in his mind into thought. All the sciences are only the humanising of the things of earth. We name and classify and study plants, and animals, and stones, and thus give our own life to them, and raise them by this association into fit companions for ourselves. The uses of the objects of nature are only their human relations. And all this is because God made the earth to be co-ordinate with man, and in its own degree humane. And just as He feeds our bodies with the treasures of every land and every sea, that we may have a wide and vigorous life, participant of all variety; so He wishes to feed our souls with intellectual food derived from all the objects which He has made, that we may interpret the mute symbolism of earth and sea and sky, and offer in rational conscious form, as the prests of creation, the silent, unconscious worship of nature. As the sand is formed on the seashore, so is the enlargement of heart, which is said to resemble it, acquired. Not in the quiet sheltered waters of the bay, by gentle process, is the sand deposited. It speaks of storm, of waste, and change. Its gain has come through loss. The sorrow or suffering that seems so useless and vain, contending with the hard rocky cause of it, fretting and fuming among the trying restraints of life is, as it were, removing from them lessons of faith, and patience, and love, which afterwards, when the sorrow has subsided and the suffering has become tranquil, will enrich and beautify the whole life. So is it with all enlargements both in the natural and human worlds; the increase in one direction is the result of decrease in a another, as the seashore acquires its sand by a process of continental disintegration. God's chastisements, which seem to limit our joys and to make our life poorer and meaner, are in reality designed to enlarge our hearts and to widen the bounds of our being. And so, throughout the history of Christendom, we find that communities tempted selfishly to confine to themselves their special blessings have been compelled, by external shocks and internal sufferings, to enlarge their bounds and make others partakers with them of their privileges. New ages of larger liberty, of wider vision, of purer faith, of more just and loving relationships between man and man, have been ushered in through periods of terror and pain! The hearts of men everywhere have been enlarged through their fears; and the storms and strifes of the world have been the pains of progress — the birth-pangs of grander liberties. The framework of Society, like the framework of Nature, is broken up from time to time, that out of the wreck may be formed the shore-line that limits the encroachments of evil, and the dry land of truth that lifts the level of life nearer heaven. The sand on the seashore is composed of small particles. It is vast in the aggregate, but the grains are individually minute; and so the largeness of heart, which resembles it, is made up of the fulfilment of little duties and the adorning of little occasions as they arise. The largeness of the Christian's heart is shown, not only by the comprehensiveness of its range of regard, but also by the minuteness of its interests and sympathies. His piety is proved, not by his conduct on great and exciting occasions, but by his conduct in ordinary circumstances. It requires less grace in reality to be a martyr for Christ on a public stage than to be kind and considerate in the familiar intercourse of domestic life, or to maintain a guileless integrity in the ordinary transactions of business. The Christianity that is faithful in that which is least is a more difficult Christianity than that which glows and triumphs on grand occasions. Little love can perform great actions; but it requires great love to present like little children small offerings — and to devote every moment and task of our life to God. A largeness of heart which thus attends to the smallest details of piety — to the little things in which love most powerfully shows itself, which recognises God habitually, and seeks constant opportunities to please Him, will never be oppressed with listlessness and ennui. Without this enlargement of heart we cannot appreciate the broad wide world of God s salvation. Without an enlargement of heart to place us, as it were, on higher ground, from whence our view can take in more and more of God's universe, our life will be centred in the mere spark that animates the body. We need that the grace of God should do for our hearts what the microscope does for our eyes — enlarging our vision so as to see new beauty and wonder in the most familiar objects. We have had moments when we obtained fleeting glimpses of this joy.
Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country.
Christ towers up above the history of the world and the process of revelation, like Mount Everest among the Himalayas. To that great peak all the country on the one side runs upwards, and from it all the valleys on the other descend; and the springs are born there which carry verdure and life over the world.
And he spake of trees... he spake also of beasts.
The wise man had a genuine delight in plants, herbs, flowers, and trees. Read the Book of Canticles, and from its pages is caught the very fragrance of spring. He speaks with enthusiasm of the "rose of Sharon," of "the lily among thorns," of the "apple-trees and orchards of pomegranates with pleasant fruits," of the "garden of nuts," and the "smell of Lebanon." He rejoices when "the winter is past, the rain over and gone," when "the flowers appear on the earth," when "the time of the singing of birds " comes, when the "voice of the turtle is heard in the land," "when the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell!" Such expressions indicate a fervent delight in Nature and an accurate observation of her phases. Jesus also, the greater than Solomon, directed His disciples to "consider the lilies," and to notice the way in which God "clothes the grass of the field."
I. GOD'S DELIGHT IN VARIED BEAUTY. From the "cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop," what a range! What an almost infinite number of species! What variety of colouring and form! All are the expression of God's thought of beauty. What a God of glory we serve In Society and in the Church, many varieties of men and systems, God is working through all and delights in all. What a painful thing would be a uniform colour or shape for plants.
II. HOW BEAUTY MAY SPRING OUT OF CORRUPTION. God has arranged this. It is 'His plan throughout. Plants flourish best on the mould full of decayed vegetable or animal life. Striking their roots deep down into this reign of decay and death they gather life therefrom. Death supports life. So if only we are enlightened we shall find that out of our natures so sinful, so imperfect, these passions so overmastering, we may, under the influence of the forgiving love of Christ and of God's Spirit renewing our hearts and lives, bring that which shall be beautiful, good, noble, pure, and approved of God.
III. GROWTH IS A GREAT MYSTERY. True, the plants draw nourishment from the moist earth, but what power or principle is it that set all its ducts and roots at work? We may call it "life," "attraction," "assimilation," or what we like, we are as far off as ever. God is the Author of their life. But the mystery remains. So in our spiritual life. How our receiving as true the fact that Christ died and rose again, should, be as new life to our souls, we cannot explain.
IV. THE WAY GROWTH SHOULD TEND. Upwards. Higher, higher, is echoed by every flower and every tree. Heavenward should be the constant aim of the Christian, nearer to God. Stretching forth our hands in prayer we should grow. See how the palm-tree shoots upward, surmounted by a graceful tuft of foliage that seems like a symbol of the crown which shall hereafter grace the Christian's brow when he has reached the heaven of his joy.
V. UPWARD GROWTH MUST BE BY THE AID OF THAT WHICH COMES FROM OUTSIDE AND ABOVE. The willow grows by the water of the dark and lazy stream, but the flowers of the field rejoice when the rain cometh down to water the earth. Notice how the one droops downward in reverence, while the others spread their leaves or lift their branches so as to welcome the bounty of God. So we point to Him who came from above, who revealed the Father, who died for sin, and who has been ready to give to every thirsty spirit the water of life, who has brought life and immortality to light; and whose Spirit alone can nourish us that we may grow.
VI. EVERY PLANT IN ITS PLACE. Each clump of moss, bunch of ferns, hyssop, flower or tree has its habitat. In the myriad plants of a dense tropical forest, there is not one that is not fulfilling some purpose. The hyssop or fern may help to soften rugged edges of rock or wall. The tree may be for shade to man or shelter to birds, and the cedar may be for timber for the temple, The tall palm standing near a well intimates to the far-off and famishing traveller of the desert that there is relief at hand. The flowers may bloom or die, but they fulfil the end of existence. Let us learn to do so.
VII. PLANTS teach us also to MAKE THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES. Winter cuts down the flowers, withers the leaves, bares the trees. Its winds sweep through the branches, its keen frosts nip the buds and early blossoms. Yet they went through all, and in time are reclothed with beauty.
VIII. HINTS GIVEN OF A GLORIOUS RESURRECTION. Well, indeed, for us that we should so live that we can look forward to the spring-time of heaven as a further step in the stage of being, and revelation of the glory of God. We shall sleep in the dust of death and rise in the glory of springtide.
When Lysander brought presents to Cyrus, the prince conducted his illustrious guest through his gardens. Lysander, struck with so fine a prospect, praised the manner in which the grounds were laid out, the neatness of the walks, the abundance of trees planted with an art which knew how to combine the useful with the agreeable; the beauty and the glowing variety of flowers exhaling odours throughout the delightful scene. "Everything charms and transports me in this place," said Lysander to Cyrus; "but what strikes me most is the exquisite taste of the person who drew the plan of these gardens." Cyrus replied, "I drew the plan and entirely marked it out. Many of the trees which you see were planted by my own hands." "What!" exclaimed Lysander with astonishment, "is it possible that those purple robes and splendid vestments, those strings of jewels and bracelets of gold, those buskins so richly embroidered — is it possible that you
could play the gardener, and employ your royal hands in planting trees?" "Does that surprise you?" said Cyrus. "I assure you that when my health permits I never sit down to my table without having fatigued myself either in military exercise, rural labour, or some other toilsome employment, to which I apply myself with pleasure."
It is said of Wordsworth that a stranger having on one occasion asked to see his study, the maid said, "This is master's room, but he studies in the fields." In doing so the poet followed a venerable example. We read that Isaac went out to meditate in the field at eventide, where in the margin "to pray" is put for "to meditate." Nor could there be a better place either for prayer or for study than the fields. The Word of God is written very clearly for His seers in the green book of Nature. Wordsworth's study is one that we can all use, however small our house may be.
Men must not live under a bushel. A gentleman once met a French priest on board an Atlantic liner. They entered into conversation, and the priest said that months ago he had a dream. He dreamt that he was dead, and that God asked him how much of the world he had seem His answer was that he had seen only a very little of it, for he had been so long in preparing for death, and in helping other people to die, that he had no time to see the world. He saw that God was displeased, and on awakening he resolved to see as much of this beautiful world as he could. It was a wise resolve. The earth is the Lord's and not the devil's, and we have no right to ignore it. Nature is a temple of God, and we must ever walk through it in a sacramental mood.
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