Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia).
By almost universal acknowledgment now, the sovereign here referred to is Artaxerxes, surnamed Longimanus, or the long.handed; the term Ahasuerus being, like that of Pharaoh, expressive of the kingly dignity, and not the name of an individual. In his time the Persian empire was of vast extent, comprehending all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west, and from the Black Sea and the Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia.
What rich gifts hath God often bestowed on men who know Him not! Think not, however, that God is more liberal to His enemies than to His friends. Some of the vilest of men possessed all the great and large dominions of the Persian empire. But if God has bestowed on you the least measure of true faith, of unfeigned love, of unaffected humility, He hath bestowed on you treasures of inestimably greater value than all the possessions of Artaxerxes Longimanus or of Nero.
A curse is mingled with all the prosperity of sinners, because they know not how to use or to enjoy, but are disposed, by their corrupt tempers, to abuse everything which they possess.
There is a want in the soul of man which all the wealth of one hundred and twenty-seven provinces cannot supply. There is a want which the best social arrangements cannot supply. There is a craving in the heart of man beyond all creature power to satisfy. Guilty man needs to be placed in a right relation toward God. Money cannot purchase for him peace and pardon. Artaxerxes was as poor as the humblest serf in his dominions in this respect, and far poorer than the poorest of the children of Judah, dispersed through his empire as exiles, but knowing Jehovah.
First to come before us in the story is the king, Ahssuerus, more familiar to us as Xerxes. Cruel, passionate, capricious, his character as set forth in contemporary history is wholly in keeping with all that we see of him here. This is the man who was hospitably entertained by Pythias of Lydia when on his way to Greece, and helped by an enormous contribution; but when the old man, who had given all his other sons to the service of the king, pleaded that the eldest might stay with him, Herodotus tells us that Xerxes in a fury commanded that the son should be slain, and he made his whole army pass between the severed body. Of him it is told how that when a storm destroyed the bridge by which he would cross into Greece, he commanded the engineers to be slain, and then had the sea beaten with chains to subdue it into better manners. He comes near to us by his association with the famous Greek heroes. Marching in his pride with a host of five millions, with which he would subdue the world, he is stayed by three hundred Spartans, whilst his vast fleet is destroyed by the skill and courage of the Greeks at Salamis, a victory that secured the deliverance of Europe from Oriental despotism, and preserved for us the literature and art which have uplifted and beautified our civilisation.
Which was in Shushan the palace.
is presented before us. Shushan was the metropolis of Persia, a magnificent city of about fifteen miles circumference, and the residence of the kings. In winter the climate was very mild, but in summer the heat was so excessive that an old writer says the very lizards and serpents were consumed by it on the streets. It was probably on this account that the seat of government was at Ecbatana in summer, and only in winter at Shushan.
In the third year of his reign, he made a feast.
It was the third year of the reign of Xerxes. Now we know from the Greek historian Herodotus that in that very year Xerxes "summoned a council of the principal Persians, as well to hear their opinions as to declare his own," on the matter of the invasion of Greece. At first, on his accession to the throne, we are told that "he showed little disposition to make war against Greece, and turned his thoughts to the reduction of Egypt"; but after he had succeeded in Egypt, he was all the more inclined to listen to the advice of his cousin Mardonius, and seek to punish the Athenians for the defeat of his father at Marathon. Accordingly, at the council assembled in Shushan, he declared his purpose "to lay a bridge over the Hellespont, and to transport an army into Greece, that he might punish the Athenians for the injuries they had done to the Persians and to his father." Nay, not content with that, he added, "I intend, with your concurrence, to march through all the parts of Europe, and to reduce the whole earth into one empire; being well assured that no city or nation of the world will dare to resist my arms after the reduction of those I have mentioned." He was opposed by his uncle, Artabanus, but ultimately, under the influence of Mardonius and some illusory oracles which fell in with his own ambition, the die was cast, and the decision was made to prepare for and carry out the invasion of Greece with such an army as the world had never before seen. Now it was in connection with this determination, and in order, as I believe, to give the greatest possible impulse to the carrying out of the enterprise so resolved on, that this long-continued fete was held. He wanted to produce the conviction that, with such resources as he had at his command, it was impossible that he should fail. This accounts for the magnificent scale on which everything was done. It looks supremely foolish, but it is a folly that keeps its ground to this day even in western lands, where it is still the fashion for men to banquet themselves into enthusiasm for some great railway enterprise or some party campaign.
There is good reason to suppose that this feast was held on the occasion of his projected invasion of Greece. To fill the minds of his captains with confidence, and to fire his soldiers with military ardour, he makes all this vain display and provides this munificence of self-indulgence. If this be so, with how little favourable result when the brunt of the struggle came! Yet what other result than that which actually came could be reasonably expected? Real courage and endurance are bred of much harder conditions than these. How are real men made? and how are they made ready for any manly thing of more than common difficulty? By feasting on rich viands? By drinking wine and looking on it when it is red in the cup? By nights of revelry? By gazing on the outside shows of life? By sinking into voluptuous ease? Never since the world began have manhood and courage sprung of such things as these, although in a few rare instances they may have passed through them unbroken and not much defiled. The Greeks were comparatively few and comparatively poor; and their country had no vast harvest bearing plains. They were fighting for rocks and mountains and seas. But those mountains and seas were the symbols and the guardians of their liberty.
He has ordained a feast for them. But the feast is really to his own power and pride.
There is unlimited power. The man presented to our view is "reigning from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces."
2. His power was supreme. The life of every subject in his kingdom depended on his word. He ruled without resistance and without control. The wealth, the productions, the inhabitants of the greatest empire of the earth, were thus his undisputed right. Here was one great object of human ambition completely gained. What struggles are made on earth for the attainment of office and personal dominion! The lust of power has waged the deadliest wars of earth, excited the cruellest murders of men, and deluged nations with blood. Among ourselves we see this lust of power on a smaller scale, in all the political efforts and contested elections of our own day, and in our own land.
3. There is a peaceful and secure possession of this unlimited power. The view is given to us "in those days when Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom." Ahasuerus possessed his father's dominions in perfect peace. He had nothing to do but to govern peacefully and to enjoy abundantly. What blessings he might have dispersed abroad! What monuments of usefulness to men he might have established! The peaceful possession of power is a great privilege, as well as a great temptation. It enables man to be a benefactor to his race. He may sit as king among the mourners and make a thousand weary hearts to sing for joy. But it is a great temptation to the sensual cupidity of man. The history of the world is filled with the stories of human power, oppressive and destructive.
4. There is the possession of vast wealth and outward glory. Ahasuerus gathered around him "all his princes, his servants, the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces being before him, when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty." No condition could appear to an earthly mind more desirable or tempting. We know something of the struggle for wealth. It is the great object for contest in the peaceful walks of business and commercial enterprise. To be rich, in modern society, is to be influential and exalted. What a vast privilege is the possession of such wealth! What happiness it may communicate when it is faithfully dispensed and employed as an instrument for human benefit! How great is the honour and the joy of being thus a public benefactor to mankind! But the responsibility is also great. Alas, how opposite to all this is the habitual use of wealth! It leads the selfish mind to a forgetfulness and neglect of the wants of others. It persuades sinful men that they have the right to live for their own indulgence and pleasure, and are not to be held responsible to others for the way in which their own acquisitions and means of influence are employed.
5. There is also splendid display. Wealth is often hoarded with a covetous grasp for mere accumulation. Man wants even the openness of heart for its display. But in the picture by which the Holy Spirit will illustrate for us the emptiness of the world there shall be no such defect. The wealth which has been amassed shall have the opportunity of the utmost manifestation. How we follow after pageants and exhibitions of the lowest kind! The gilded tinsel of such scenes, whether military or dramatic, funereal or joyous, is always exciting and attractive to the giddy, silly minds of the multitude.
6. There is not only all this power, wealth, and display combined; there is also here boundless actual indulgence and hospitality. What could have been more grand or satisfying in earthly things? Doubtless the whole multitude applauded the magnificence and hospitality of the youthful monarch. If the world can give man happiness in sensual indulgence, here was a scene of its perfect joy. No element of delight is wanting in such a picture. All these provisions arc unsatisfying still.(1) They are all unsuitable. The soul has other views and needs, which none of these outward provisions of the earth can ever reach. There is still the burden of inward sin. There is still the want of reconciliation to God.(2) They are temporary. They are the things of a day at the best. The whole of a worldly life is but a day's dream of pleasure. To-morrow it will be over. To take you off from this vain pursuit of earth is the purpose of such a scene as the one we have considered. Look at it, not to desire it, but to discern its vanity. Behold how empty, how unsatisfying, how unsuitable, how transitory it is! Cease to look there for your joys.
The king of Persia at this time was AHASUERUS. We read in Scripture of four grand earthly empires, of which this was one — and the second in the order of succession. The Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman all passed away as a dream — they crumbled to dust, and their glory is long ago departed! Notwithstanding the strength and celebrity of these ancient kingdoms, they came to nought and "their dominion was taken away." But there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in honour and glory for ever, and its subjects shall be blessed with everlasting happiness.
1. Great as was the extent of these kingdoms, His is inconceivably more extensive.
2. It is also more durable. "His dominion is an everlasting dominion." Let us be anxious to be numbered among the subjects of this kingdom, for they are all "kings and priests" for ever. With Christ on His throne we shall stand before His throne and that of His Father in the celestial city; we shall see His face, and His name shall be in our foreheads; we shall need no candle nor light of the sun, for the Lord God will give us light, and we shall reign for ever and ever!
II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, WISHED TO MAKE A DISPLAY OF HIS GREATNESS. Seldom, alas! is that expression, "Where much is given, much will be required," practically in their remembrance! Oh! let us beware of glorying in anything of our own — of "sacrificing unto our own net, and burning incense to our own drag." Man at his best state is altogether vanity, and possesses nothing of any value but what God has given him. Where providence has bestowed much of earthly wealth and authority, it requires much grace not to be unduly elevated by them, and to keep ever in mind that they are given for usefulness. The weighty responsibilities which they bring with them are seldom considered. Let us beware of pride. "The proud in heart is abomination to the Lord." Crush the first risings of vanity and self-importance. Dread every high thought of yourselves, every towering imagination, every exalted ides of your own moral excellency, remembering that God knoweth the proud afar off, but giveth grace to the humble.
III. At this feast, though a heathen one, THERE WAS ONE THING WHICH CONDEMNED THE PRACTICE OF MANY WHO CALL THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS. "and the drinking was according to law; none did compel, for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man's pleasure." Intemperance is an abomination to God and a degradation to man. Hereby the creature, which is inferior only to the angels, makes himself lower than the beasts of the field! The bounties of providence are continued evidences of God's tender care toward us, His undeserving creatures, and are to be thankfully and humbly received and used piously and in moderation. They are given for the support of our nature, to enable us to glorify God in our bodies and in our spirits: let us not, then, render ourselves incapable of doing so by drowning our rational powers in intoxicating liquors, and throwing our bodies out of health and comfort by a worse than beastly abuse of God's mercies.
IV. But though the feast of Ahasuerus was free from the disgrace of compelling the guests to proceed to drunkenness, YET DID VERY EVIL CONSEQUENCES RESULT FROM IT; indeed, it is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshaznar's feast, and that it was not without its grievous impieties. We read likewise of Herod's feast, and of the deed of darkness which gave it its notoriety. Our Lord, too (Luke 14.), teaches us that, though the entertaining of our friends in this way is not entirely prohibited, the money thereby expended would be much better laid out, against the day of reckoning, in consoling the miserable and relieving the distresses of the indigent and needy.
V. Let us consider THE EVIL WHICH WAS OCCASIONED BY THE FEAST.
1. It behoveth us to lead exemplary lives, and the higher we are placed in community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition.
2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed.
The apostle Paul speaks of the world as if it were a pageant which has been exhibited and is over; a procession which is on the march and has passed by; a scene picture which drops for a moment and then gives way to another which succeeds it. Here there is no continuing city for man. If he would have a kingdom which cannot be removed, he must seek it beyond the limits of the present world, among the things which are unseen and eternal.
1. Our first reflection must be, the world passeth away. It has gone. All its indulgences and all its glories have come to their appointed end. Nothing of them remains. Ahasuerus feasted and Vashti suffered. All is silent and dead. No single voice of the glory or of the sorrow remains. Where is the splendour of Shushan? Not one stone remains upon another of all the palaces of its glory or the portals of its majestic display. How wonderfully contrasted are the works of God and the works of man! The one has perished. The others remain, But is not this equally true of earth in all the relations and displays of its glory? Look where you will, you see the same history continually repeated. The bloom of youth, the gaiety of health, the boast of riches, the clarion sound of triumph and power, all, all pass away. They live a moment; they shine for a day; and they are gone. Man tries in vain to prolong their enjoyment and their being; or even to recover their shape, and perpetuate their memory. He is doomed to disappointment in them all. The retrospect is sadness and self condemnation. There at least we may say, "My heart and my hope shall not be fixed. Something better than this I must have and will have. The joys that fade so rapidly and so certainly are not for me. This world, and all the things which are in this world, shall never be the treasure of my choice."
2. As our second reflection upon this accomplished scene, the manner of its passing has been most remarkable. In the lesson we have considered, God has been pleased to show us this experiment on the grandest scale. The world began with every possible advantage for its working and its display, and in every succeeding step it went downward until it came to nothing. Its first scene was its brightest one. The morning rose when the tide was at his full and the surface calm as the molten silver. Every hour marked its rapid ebb, till the evening closed upon a full accumulation of defilement and disgust which the preceding show had vainly covered for a season. It was a sad experiment indeed. In the manner of its passage and trial it was a universal type. In all our possessions of the world, in the whole scheme of mere worldly enjoyment, the first is always the best. The clock of this world still strikes backward. It begins at twelve, runs rapidly round to one, and then stops. Thus its circle is complete, larger or smaller as it may happen to be. How many have I seen, starting in all the pride of inherited wealth, closing their career in neglect and poverty! How many have I beheld the centre of personal admiration in the world of fashion, of earthly pomp and folly, living to be forgotten and abhorred! Thus this present world repays its votaries. And when the result comes in age, or sickness, or poverty, or neglect, and the whole machine has run down and stopped, bitter and disgusting indeed is the remembrance of the world which has gone. But what a contrast there is between this passing worldly portion and the reality of that treasure which stands in opposition to it! The heavenly portion ever grows more and more compensating and satisfactory. The heart never grows old or dull in the faithful pursuit of it.
3. In this passage of the world you may see what are the elements of its short-lived power to please — what are the facts which make up the necessity of this rapid rush of all that sinful man has sought and desired on the earth. Ahasuerus had everything which a mere sensual mind could ask. What formed the necessity of his wretchedness in the midst of it all? We may answer at once, because nothing of all that he had was adapted in itself to give him satisfaction. This is the first difficulty. You have a spiritual nature, a soul within which can never be satisfied with the mere shams of an earthly life. The soul looks out in the midst of all the joys of earth unmet and unhappy, unable to be contented thus, because there is no real proportion between the two. There is here an original and inseparable defect in the things of the world, which no multiplication of them can supply. These joys and treasures are all short-lived and perishing in them selves. They have the sentence of death within themselves; and you cannot prolong the period of their power. They corrupt and decay in your hands while you grasp them. The appetites which desire and seek these joys pass away with them also. There soon comes the time when there is no longer a susceptibility to their power. Their invitations find no longer a response in the heart to which they are offered. The voices of singing men and singing women can be heard no more. And this with no reference to a change of principle or heart. No, it may be we would willingly prolong their power if we could; we would gladly renew our former gratifications in them if it were possible. But all their power to please, and all our facility to be pleased by them, have passed away and cannot be recalled. The whole scene of which these earthly joys make up a part also goes, and cannot be arrested or recalled. Friends are gone; families are broken; homes are lost; companions have departed. We stand here to contemplate this inherent fading character in the world which has passed. What a contrast are all its provisions to the joys and advantages of real religion!
4. We may look at the result of this passage of the fashion of the world. What does it leave behind? All, this is the worst of all. We have seen the evidence in the experiment before us. Nothing in memory. There is no remembrance of benefit or pleasure. The past gives no satisfaction. There is no room for delight in retrospection. A wasted life, enfeebled powers, conscious degradation, are all the residuum of a life of sensual enjoyment in the world. Added to this, there is extreme regret, often the bitterness of unappeased remorse. Nothing in actual possession. What of all the array of human pleasures outlasts itself? Youth, gaiety and wealth successively pass by. Man goes out of one vain indulgence into another, but carries nothing away with him. The soul is empty. He presses on in this vain succession to the end. The fact of the result remains the same. He has nothing. Pleasure has gone; time has gone; indulgence has gone; means have gone; appetites have gone; life has gone. And of the whole pageant as it has passed nothing remains.
THE MONARCH WAS ABLE TO MARE A PROUD DISPLAY AND TO GRATIFY THE ORIENTAL TASTE FOR MAGNIFICENCE.
II. BUT THIS PROUD DISPLAY WAS A CONTEMPTIBLE EXHIBITION. It showed —
1. The materialism of his nature.
2. The narrowness of his view.
3. The childishness of his spirit.
III. THIS PROUD DISPLAY HAS A SORROWFUL ASPECT. The display only lasted for days after all. Let our wealth — material, intellectual, or moral — speak for itself. Let us see the warning word "days" inscribed on all our possessions.
The whole struggle of modern life is exactly after the first chapter of Esther and the first chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Every Ahasuerus thinks he could do better than his namesake, and every new Solomon says that he would never play the fool as the old one did. What little toy houses are ours as compared with this palace; and yet we will persist. Why do we not believe history? Why do we not accept the verdict that it is not in time or sense, in gold or precious stones, to make a man great or happy? When we have built up our little toy houses, Ahasuerus looks down upon them, and smiles at the little honeycombs. His "beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black marble." Yet it was an elaborate tomb, a magnificent sarcophagus! When will men come to learn that a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth; that he is most jewelled who has no jewellery; that he only is great who is great in soul?
Alcibiades was one day boasting of his wealth and great estate, when Socrates placed a map before him, and asked him to find Attica. It was insignificant on the map; but he found it. "Now," said the philosopher, "point out your own estate." "It is too small to be distinguished in so little a space," was the answer. "See, then," said Socrates, "how much you are affected about an imperceptible point of land." Your bags of gold should be ballast in your vessel to keep her always steady, instead of being topsails to your masts to make your vessel giddy. Give me that distinguished person who is rather pressed down under the weight of all his honours than puffed up with the blast thereof.
I am no advocate for meanness of private habitation. I would fain introduce into it all magnificence, care, and beauty, when they are possible; but I would not have that useless expense in unnoticed fineries or formalities — cornicing of ceilings, and graining of doors, and fringing of curtains, and thousands of such things — which have become foolishly and apathetically habitual... I speak from experience: I know what it is to live in a cottage with a deal floor and roof, and a hearth of mica slate; I know it to be in many respects healthier and happier than living between a Turkey carpet and a gilded ceiling, beside a steel grate and polished fender. I do not say that such things have not their place and propriety; but I say this emphatically, that a tenth part of the expense which is sacrificed in domestic vanities, if not absolutely and meaninglessly lost in domestic comforts and encumbrances, would, if collectively afforded and wisely employed, build a marble church for every town in England.
The Study and the Pulpit.
Let us draw a comparison between the great Persian feast and the feast of the gospel.
I. THE ONE WAS PROVIDED BY THE KING; THE OTHER BY THE KING OF KINGS.
II. THE ONE FEAST IS LIMITED TO NOBLES AND PRINCES; THE OTHER IS MADE FOR ALL NATIONS.
III. IN THE ONE WE SEE THE FADING GLORIES OF MAN; IN THE OTHER WE SEE THE UNFADING GLORIES OF GOD.
IV. THE ONE FEAST CONTINUED FOR SIX MONTHS; THE OTHER CONTINUES THROUGH ALL TIME.
V. IN THE ONE CASE SOME WERE OBLIGED TO FEAST IN THE COURT OF THE GARDEN, AS THERE WAS NOT ROOM FOR THEM IN THE PALACE; THE CHURCH OF GOD IS FOR ALL COMERS.
VI. IN THE ONE CASE THERE WAS A SEPARATION OF HUSBANDS AND WIVES; BUT IN THE OTHER BOTH ARE WELCOME TOGETHER. VII. THE ONE FEAST ENDED IN CONSTERNATION AND SORROW; BUT THE OTHER SHALL CONTINUE IN JOY AND HAPPINESS. Learn, in conclusion —
1. The insufficiency and instability of all earthly things.
2. The rich grace and goodness of our God.
When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty
Despotism, while it has its caprices of cruelty, has also its occasional fits of generosity and kindness.
Every one is to live, and to entertain his friends, according to his rank and circumstances; but those who are of a liberal spirit are in danger of indulging in extravagance, to gratify their vanity and passion for show.
What was there in all that to satisfy the soul's hunger and thirst, its craving and longing? One morsel of the bread of life would be better, one drop of the wine of the kingdom more blessed and exhilarating, than it all. So that when we look abroad upon the scene of Persian magnificence and luxury, the glitter and splendour of it seems to dissolve and fade away when there is brought into prominence our Lord's solemn inquiry, "What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
Epicurus himself, who placed happiness in pleasure, enjoined temperance as a necessary means of this pleasure. An author of our own nation justly observes that when a great multitude of alluring dishes are set upon a table a wise man may see palsies, apoplexies, and other grievous or mortal distempers lurking amongst them. Poor men, who are unable to provide for themselves anything beyond the bare necessaries of life, are apt to envy those who have it in their power to fare sumptuously every day. Be persuaded, if you desire to be content with your condition, that happiness does not lie in the abundance of the things which a man possesseth, or in the rich entertainments which he is able to furnish out for himself or his friends. Could not Jesus have furnished out as elegant an entertainment for those whom He fed by miracles as Ahasuerus to his noble guests? And yet He fed them only with barley loaves and fishes. Could not God have brought wine as easily as water out of the rock for the refreshment of His people?
Poor man! Little did he know wherein true riches, and glory, and royalty consisted. It is said of the father of Louis XV., king of France, that when his preceptor one day was speaking of this feast of Ahasuerus, and wondered how the Prince of Persia could find patience for such a long feast, he replied that his wonder was how he could defray the expense of it. He was afraid that the provinces would be compelled to observe a fast for it.
From the tinselled splendour of the Persian court it may be well for us to turn that we may contemplate the majesty of Him who is the true King of kings and Lord of lords; of Him whom Isaiah represents as "sitting upon the circle of the earth, and all the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them as a tent to dwell in." To acquire adequate conceptions of His majestic greatness is an impossibility. That which surrounded Ahasuerus was no doubt such as to inspire awe. And were it possible that a human potentate should hold sway over the several planets constituting the solar system — ruling subjects innumerable by his uncontrolled will — what majesty in the eyes of millions would centre around his person and government! He, however, into whose majestic presence we shall one day enter, and at whose footstool we ought now to bow in reverence, is the Ruler, not alone of earth, nor simply of the solar system, but He whose government is coextensive with the universe, whose presence fills immensity, whose sceptre when lifted in mercy bestows life, when in anger consigns to wretchedness. The inconceivable majesty of God ought to impress us with a becoming sense of our own insignificance. A proper conception of the majesty of God is fitted to induce the inquiry, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" It should prompt the desire for some humble part in enhancing God's glory, the inclination to do something toward accomplishing the work He is carrying forward in the earth and is willing to effect in our own hearts. He whose ambition it is to conquer the kingdom of evil within himself and who accepts Christ as the Captain of his salvation is destined to no such disappointment as crushed the spirit of Xerxes, forcing him to feed upon the ashes of crushed hopes and to surrender to self-indulgence that he might drown the memory of former anguish.
Where were white, green, and blue hangings
Every day we behold a more glorious scene in the canopy of the heavens spread over our heads. The roses and lilies which adorn our gardens are more beautiful than any of the productions of art which royal wealth can call forth. The earth is full of God's riches. The heavens show forth His glory. Those who delight to have their eyes and their minds at once entertained can be at no loss, though they are far from royal palaces, when the earth displays her beauty and the stars their glory.
And gave them drink in vessels of gold
What a miserable thing it is that we hear sometimes that a man cannot do his business without drinking! "Come and have a drink!" is the beginning of business, and "Come and have a drink!" is the completion of it. What a glutton and a beast a man should be if before he could begin or finish any business he must say, "Come and have a meal!" And is he any better who must always drink something? Surely, when competition is so keen, it is needful that he who buys or sells should keep his wits as clear as God made them. To muddle one's own brain with drink is to play the fool; to muddle another's is to play the knave.
And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel
It is not entirely, however, in moral recoil that sanction is thus given in law to the better practice. There is a touch of political prudence in it. For here at the feast are princes from all parts, with their retainers and tribes. There are men here from the mountains who are famous for their temperance and for the strictness and simplicity of their manners. Such men would not be won, but dis. gusted rather and alienated from the royal cause, by anything like Bacchanalian excess. In prudence, therefore, as well as from possibly higher motive, the principle of temperance must have the reinforcement of public law.
Did an absolute prince pay such regard to the laws of his country, and to the liberty of his subjects, and shall not Christians pay an equal regard to the laws of their religion? Are these laws less obligatory upon us at feasts them on other occasions? Shall we requite the liberal Giver of all good things with insults on His authority, at the very time that our table is covered by His bounty?
Whether we do not, on a wider scale, as a people in fact, and with the force of law, practise compulsion still, sad that on the weakest and most helpless part of our people, is a very serious question, and one which, to say the least, we cannot answer with the same confidence. If places where drink is sold to the common people are multiplied much beyond the reasonable needs of the community; if exceptional privileges are given to the sellers; if their houses, with many exits and entrances, are planted in the most conspicuous spots; if they burn the brightest lights in the streets, and are allowed to keep open long after other trades and industries are closed and silent, does not all this and more of the same kind amount to a sort of compulsion to working-people, and trades-people, and thoughtless young people of both sexes?
The statement here made reminds us of an incident which is said to have occurred at the table of Queen Victoria in one of the early years of her reign. The temperance movement was just beginning to make its way into the upper classes of English society, sad on the occasion to which I refer a British nobleman, well-known for his activity in all good causes, declined to comply with the request of one of his fellow-guests that he should drink wine with him, whereupon the appeal wait made to her Majesty that she should exert her authority in the case; but she nobly replied, in the spirit of this Persian law, "There shall be no compulsion at my table"; and that reply did much to discountenance the old custom of badgering, and browbeating and insisting upon guests drinking out of regard for their hosts, until they felt themselves in a position where it was difficult to refuse, and were virtually compelled either to act against their better judgment or to do that which was considered rude and unmannerly.
When the heart of the king was merry with wine.
There is a difference between not being intoxicated and being sober. A person may be able to speak and to walk, and yet may be guilty of excess in the use of strong drink. He may not have lost the use of his senses, and yet have lost the sound use of his senses. He may lose his guard, and expose himself defenceless to the attack of temptation. Reason is the glory of a man, and whatever tarnishes or dims the lustre of this crown is criminal. Next to reason, speech is man's glory, and everything which causes it to falter is sinful. Whatever makes a man slow to hear, swift to speak, swift to wrath — whatever makes him rash in counsel, and precipitate in action — whatever makes him say or do what is unbecoming his character, and what he would be ashamed of at another time — cometh of evil, and may be the source of great vexation to himself and injury to others.
The worst effect of the vice of drunkenness is its degrading influence on the conduct and character of men. It robs its victims of self-respect sad manliness and sends them to wallow in the mire with swinish obscenity. What they would not dream of stooping to in their sober moments they revel in with shameless ostentation when their brains are clouded with intoxicating drink. It is no excuse to plead that a drunkard is a madman unaccountable for his actions; he is accountable for having put himself in hie degraded condition. The man who has been foolish enough to launch his boat on the rapids cannot divert its course when he is startled by the thunder of the falls he is approaching; but he should have thought of that before leaving the safety of the shore.
Clapham's Selected Sermons.I.
THE DRUNKARD'S EXCUSES.
1. Good-fellowship. But can friendship be founded on vice; especially on a vice which impairs the memory and the sense of obligation, leads to the betrayal of secrets, and stirs up strife end contention?
2. It drowns care. But the drunkard's care must arise either from the ill state of his health, the unfortunate position of his worldly affairs, or the stings of a guilty conscience; and in either case his temporary oblivion is purchased at the cost of an aggravation of the evils which cause him to desire it.
II. THE DRUNKARD'S WOE. This is made up of the miserable effects.
(4)An untimely death.
(1)The understanding is depraved and darkened.
(2)The will is enfeebled and dethroned.
(3)Regard for men, reverence for God, are destroyed.Drunkenness travels with a whole train of other vices, and requires the whole breadth of the broad way to give it room.
Stonewall Jackson, "Jeb" Stuart, and a large number of the most distinguished of the Confederate officers imitated the example of their chief, and were strict temperance men. Upon one occasion Jackson was suffering so much from fatigue and severe exposure that his surgeon prevailed on him to take a little brandy. He made a very wry face as he swallowed it, and the doctor asked, "Why, general, is not the brandy good? It is some that we have recently captured, and I think it very fine." "Oh, yes!" was the reply, "it is very good brandy. I like liquor — its taste and its effects — and that is just the reason why I never drink it." Upon another occasion, after a long ride in a drenching rain, a brother officer insisted upon Jackson's taking a drink with him; but he firmly replied, "No, sir, I cannot do it. I tell you I am more afraid of King Alcohol than of all the bullets of the enemy."
And drink is such a degrading enemy to the intellectual man: the foe is unworthy of his steel. The battle of drink is not like the old contests of chivalry, when knight assailed knight with unblemished shield, and there was such a grace and elegance about the conflict that even defeat was not dishonourable. It is more like a battle with a chimney-sweep falling foul of you, rolling on you his heavy bulk till he has you sprawling in the mud, and so smearing you that you become an object of loathing — to yourself, if you have any sense of shame, and certainly to all who pass by. Could any humiliation be deeper?
Suppose there were two lines of railroad; on one of them was an accident regularly once a week, sometimes on one day, and sometimes on another; and on the other there never had been an accident. Suppose your only son wanted to go the journey traversed by the respective lines, and he were to come to you saying, "Which road shall I take, father?" would you dare to tell him to take that upon which the accidents were so frequent, because it was the most fashionable? You would say at once, "Take the safe road, my boy." And that is just what we temperance folks say.
Sunday School., A. M. Symington, B. A.
There was a half-witted boy in one of the southern counties of Scotland who was known as an "innocent" or "natural." Upon one occasion he was enticed into a public-house where a company of young men were drinking. Some of them offered spirits to this supposed simpleton, whereupon he instantly and absolutely refused them, saying, "If the Lord Almighty has given few wits to Daft Davie, He has at least given him sense enough to keep the little that he has!"
()All's well that ends well; but wine never ends well.
To bring Vashti the queen before the king.
Whatever be the ruling passion of a man, whether it be pride, vanity, or anger, or lust, or impiety, or even benevolence, it will display itself when he is inflamed by strong drink. Vanity was the ruling passion in the breast of the Persian monarch. He had feasted his nobles for weeks to "show the riches of his glorious kingdom"; and now he would bring in the queen, to "show the people and the princes her beauty." He was vain of Vashti; and having displayed "the honour of his royal majesty," he would now exhibit the beauty of her royal majesty. We are hurt by the ebullition of pride — but ready to laugh at the display of vanity. It is true that it makes its subject ridiculous, but it is a vice as well as a weakness, and is often productive of great mischief. The female sex is commonly supposed to be most addicted to vanity; but men axe not free from it, and, if they have nothing to be vain of themselves, are sometimes fain to shine in borrowed feathers.
What the reason was that swayed her to this bold step we are not told. Her motives may have been mixed. Perhaps she was tired with her own exertions. Perhaps she felt that for the time she was not beautiful, and would not look queenly. Perhaps she thought the summons too peremptory, and the bearers of it not dignified enough to come to her with such a message. We cannot certainly tell. All human motives are more or less mixed, and so were hers — but one feels bound to say that by far the most probable cause of her refusal was a deep sense of injury done to her womanhood, and of course to her queenliness, in this sudden call to show herself in such a company, at such a time.
Bad as the conduct of the king was in issuing the order, it does not follow that the queen was right in disobeying it. If the action had been in itself positively immoral, then it would have been her duty to have resisted, whatever the consequences might be. No authority can bind, and no danger should constrain, a woman to do anything which is vicious or essentially immodest. Had Vashti of her own accord gone into the company, had she sought the opportunity, or embraced it joyfully, she would have been convicted of immodesty; but had she complied merely out of respect to authority, and to prevent her husband from being dishonoured by her refusal, in the presence of his subjects, her conduct would have appeared in a very different light in the eyes of all reasonable persons. She was a subject, as well as a wife; and if her royal husband had, when heated with wine, issued an order which reflected on her honour, she, being perfectly sober, might have consulted his. But Vashti was as proud as Ahasuerus was vain, and determined that if he was imperious, she would be haughty and unyielding. She was piqued that such a message should be sent to her in the presence of her maids of honour and the great ladies of Persia, and resolved to show her spirit by setting at nought the request of the king her husband. Instead of making a modest excuse, or sending "a soft answer which turneth away wrath," she gave a flat and peremptory refusal.
Thus the question was publicly forced on all, Is this man, who rules from India to Ethiopia, really a great man, after all? For Vashti disobeyed him; and Vashti was right. There is a higher law than even the will of a king and a husband — the law that gives a woman right to guard her own modesty when those who should guard it for her do not. Vashti obeyed that higher law written by the Creator in the nature of men and women; and we can think nothing but good of her in the matter. Had force been used, her responsibility would have ceased, but she had no right to yield; and the crown royal was a cheap price to pay for her own self-respect.
Did he send a message to Vashti to ask if she would be willing? When was woman ever honoured out of Christ, who redeemed her out of her social estrangement and solitude, and set her forth invested with the queenliness of a God-given beauty and modesty. Hear the king: "Fetch Vashti now, and make a show of her beauty, for she is fair to look upon." All this is in natural order. Selfishness never considers the feelings of others. Selfishness will be gratified at all costs and hazards. When a man's heart is merry with wine all that is most sacred in humanity goes out of him. Who can withhold anything from a ravenous beast? Who should stay his power and say be quiet, be self-controlled, be contented? None. This is human nature when left to itself.
If Ahasuerus is to be identified with Xerxes, it is probable that Vashti is the same as the Amestris who is spoken of by the Greeks as the wife of Xerxes, and whom he must have wedded before his accession to the throne.
But for my part I consider it worthy of all praise, and hold that she was entirely right in what she did. It is true that by the appointment of God the husband is the head of the wife, but the headship is not absolute and autocratic. Here, too, the government must be constitutional and within limits which have been fixed by the Lord Himself. No husband has a right to command a wife to do that which is wrong, and liberty of conscience ought to be as sacred in the home as in the State.
Vashti had good reason to beg to be excused from appearing in a company where too many were merry with wine, and it is probable that if she had sent her humble request to the king to spare her modesty he might have recalled his orders.
She was in no danger of being insulted by indecent words or wanton glances in the presence of her royal husband, whose frown was death to his subjects. She thought she was supporting the honour of her sex. But did not she see that she was affronting her husband and her king not only before his chamberlains but before all his people? It he suffered his own family to trample upon his authority his respectability amongst his other subjects must have been greatly lessened. The queen is the first subject in the kingdom; she ought, therefore, to go before all the other subjects in showing a becoming deference to the king's pleasure. If men expect due obedience from their wives, let them be always reasonable in their commands, otherwise half the guilt of the disobedience of their wives will remain with themselves. Never impose a burden upon your wife which either female delicacy or her particular temper, which you ought to know, will render too heavy for her to bear. Ahasuerus hoped to show to all his princes and people in Shushan how happy he was, and only showed them his misery.
Was Ahasuerus contented with what he had so richly enjoyed? We stand in this chamber of the world to witness a remarkable scene of its madness and folly.
1. Behold the thorough dissatisfaction which attends its joys. See the conscious wretchedness which limits all its pleasures. Man finds an inherent and inseparable element of dissatisfaction in all the scenes of his earthly joys. They do not, they cannot meet his wants. He awakes always to find that his soul is empty, and sad in the consciousness of the fact. Ahasuerus is just as unsatisfied with all his magnificent display and with his six months' pompous festival as the poorest subject of his realm is with his own hard lot. unlimited opportunity of indulgence is nothing, while there is a limited capacity to enjoy and an unlimited craving for enjoyment. Such was Ahasuerus. His heart was empty of joy though filled with madness. He imagines a new spectacle which will awaken a new admiration. He commands his seven chamberlains "to bring Vashti the queen before the king, with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty, for she was fair to look on." But he is not alone. Where is the feast or where the provision of the world for human gratification in which there is nothing left for the heart to desire? Ahasuerus is but a specimen. His folly has been multiplied in myriads of instances, and in every variety in the scale of imitation. It only shows what emptiness there is in the whole of this scheme of sensual gratification.
2. Behold the bitter disappointment. "Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains." Refused to come! — what a disappointment to morbid, vulgar curiosity! What a fall to intoxicated pride! But it was a noble specimen of woman's dignity, modesty, and virtue. All his indulgence is forgotten — the happiness of his palace has passed away. The worldly heart is empty and vexed with itself. His dream of glory has vanished. Its beauty and splendour have withered completely for him. One "dead fly" has destroyed the fragrance of the whole provision. But is this a peculiar case in the disappointment which it describes? Was Ahasuerus the only victim of such conscious mistake in the midst of indulgence? You see the madness, the disappointment in the sensual heart which worldly indulgence everywhere produces. Go where you will, as far as you will, still desire anal imagination press further on. Something is yet demanded to complete your attainment. This is the inevitable law of the result in human pleasure. The brightest portion leaves something still to ask. The highest attainment is as unsatisfying as the lowest.
3. Behold the degradation to which this disappointment has brought its victim. The king is wretched in the presence of them all Ahasuerus is degraded, but he has degraded himself. The man who has sacrificed his virtue, his integrity, his self-respect, may be sure that, sooner or later, his sin will find him out. But this is another lesson in the chamber of worldly indulgence. This is the habitual end of a life of mere sensual gratification. Personal degradation is its habitual result — in some shape or other its final, inevitable result. Moral, outward degradation frequently! Intellectual, conscious degradation, social degradation! what can be more degrading than such a subjection? What can be more degrading than such a slavery to brute appetite and sensual display? It is the defiling and destroying of a mind that might be elevated to God and educated for glory.
In the first place I want you to look upon Vashti the queen. A blue ribbon rayed with white, drawn around her forehead, indicated her queenly position. It was no small honour to be queen in such a realm as that. Hark to the rustle of her robes! See the blaze of her jewels! And yet it is not necessary to have palace and regal robe in order to be queenly. When I see a woman with stout faith in God, putting her foot upon all meanness and selfishness and godless display, going right forward to serve Christ and the race by a grand and glorious service, I say, That woman is a queen, and whether she comes up from the shanty on the common or the mansion of the fashionable square I greet her with the shout, "All hail, Queen Vashti!" When Scarron, the wit and ecclesiastic, as poor as he was brilliant, was about to marry Madame de Maintenon he was asked by the notary what he proposed to settle .upon Mademoiselle. The reply was, "Immortality; the names of the wives of kings die with them; the name of the wife of Scarron will live always." In a higher and better sense upon all women who do their duty God will settle immortality! Not the immortality of earthly fame, but the immortality celestial. And they shall reign for ever and ever! Oh, the opportunity which every woman has of being a queen! The longer I live the more I admire good womanhood. If a man have a depressed idea of womanly character he is a bad man, and there is no exception to the rule. The writings of Goethe can never have any such attractions for me as Shakespeare, because nearly all the womanly characters of the great German have some kind of turpitude.
2. Again, I want you to consider Vashti the veiled. Had she appeared before Ahasuerus and his court on that day with her face uncovered she would have shocked all the delicacies of Oriental society, and the very men who in their intoxication demanded that she come, in their sober moments would have despised her. As some flowers seem to thrive best in the dark lane and in the shadow, and where the sun does not seem to reach them, so God appoints to most womanly natures a retiring and unobtrusive spirit. God once in a while does call an Isabella to a throne, or a Miriam to strike the timbrel at the front of a host, or a Marie Antoinette to quell a French mob, or a Deborah to stand at the front of an armed battalion crying out, "Up! Up! This is the day in which the Lord will deliver Sisera into thy hands." And when women are called to such outdoor work and to such heroic positions God prepares them for it. When I see a woman going about her daily duty — with cheerful dignity presiding at the table; with kind and gentle but firm discipline presiding in the nursery; going out into the world without any blast of trumpets, following in the footsteps of Him who went about doing good — I say, "This is Vashti with a veil on." But when I see a woman of unblushing boldness, loud-voiced, with a tongue of infinite clitter-clatter, with arrogant look, passing through the streets with a masculine swing, gaily arrayed in a very hurricane of millinery, I cry out, "Vashti has lost her veil."
3. Again, I want you to consider Vashti the sacrifice. Who is this that I see coming out of that palace gate of Shushan? She comes homeless, houseless, friendless, trudging along with a broken heart. Who is she? It is Vashti the sacrifice. Oh, what a change it was from regal position to a wayfarer's crust! Ah! you and I have seen it many a time. Here is a home empalaced with beauty. All that refinement and books and wealth can do for that home has been done; but Ahasuerus, the husband and the father, is taking hold on paths of sin. He is gradually going down. Soon the bright apparel of the children will turn to rags; soon the household song will become the sobbing of a broken heart. The old story over again. The house full of outrage and cruelty and abomination, while trudging forth from the palace gate are Vashti and her children. Oh, Ahasuerus, that you should stand in a home by a dissipated life destroying the peace and comfort of that home!
4. Once more, I want you to look at Vashti the silent. You do not hear any outcry from this woman as she goes forth from the palace gate. From the very dignity of her nature you know there will be no vociferation, Sometimes in life it is necessary to make a retort; sometimes in life it is necessary to resist; but there are crises when the most triumphant thing to do is to keep silence. Affliction, enduring without any complaint the sharpness of the pang, and the violence of the storm, and the fetter of the chain, and the darkness of the night — waiting until a Divine hand shall be put forth to soothe the pang and hush the storm and release the captive. An Arctic explorer found a ship floating helplessly about among the icebergs, and going on board he found that the captain was frozen at his log-book, and the helmsman was frozen at the wheel, and the men on the look-out were frozen in their places. That was awful, but magnificent. All the Arctic blasts and all the icebergs could not drive them from their duty. Their silence was louder than thunder. And this old ship of the world has many at their posts in the awful chill of neglect, and frozen of the world's scorn, and their silence shall be the eulogy of the skies, and be rewarded long after this weather-beaten craft of a planet shall have made its last voyage. I thank God that the mightiest influences are the most silent. The fires in a furnace of a factory or of a steamship roar though they only move a few shuttles or a few thousand tons, but the sun that warms the world rises and sets without a crackle or faintest sound. Travellers visiting Mount Etna, having heard of the glories of sunrise on that peak went up to spend the night there and see the sun rise next morning, but when it came up it was so far behind their anticipations that they actually hissed it. The mightiest influences of to-day are like the planetary system — completely silent. Don't hiss the sun!
Therefore was the king very wroth
"Therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him." Literally, he frothed at the mouth and became as a wild boar. The strength of manhood is in self-control. The Oriental king could not brook that his will should be resisted. It is the very highest attainment of Christian education that a man shall accept the resistance of his will as an element in his culture. No man will seek to force his will; he will reason about it, he will be mighty in argument, tender and gentle in persuasion, and if he cannot win the first day or the second day, he may be successful on the third day. But mere force never won a true victory. Conquer by love and you will reign by consent. Let men feel that your wisdom is greater than theirs, and they will say, "God save the king!" The time is coming when every man will have to prove his kingliness not because of the insignia he keeps in the tower, but because of a wise head, a noble heart, and a hand that never refused its offices to an honest cause.
I.THE DEFORMITY OF ANGER. What an ugly thing is anger.
II.THE DISGRACE OF ANGER.
III.THE DANGER OF ANGER.
Scientific Illustrations, etc.
Regular ill-temper is altogether a different thing from passion. The one corrodes incessantly like an acid or metal, the other discharges desperate shocks like the electric shocks of the gymnotus, and spends itself. Do not get in the way of passionate men until their batteries are discharged. The exhaustion of these batteries is only a matter of time and opportunity. And you may watch the process calmly, and be instructed by Humboldt's description of the way in which the gymnotes use their batteries, and see if you discover therein any resemblance to and lesson for passionate persons. He tells us that the gymnotes abound in the vicinity of Calaboza in South America, and the Indians, well aware of the danger of encountering them when their powers are in vigour, collect from twenty to thirty horses, drive them into the pools, and when the gymnotes have exhausted their electric batteries on the poor horses they can be taken without risk. Time and repose are needed before the batteries are ready to act again. The first assault of the gymnotes, says Humboldt, was chiefly to be dreaded. In fact, after a time the eels resembled discharged batteries. Their muscular motion continued active, but they had lost the power of giving energetic shocks. When the combat had endured for a quarter of an hour the horses seemed to be less in fear. They were no longer seen to fall backwards, and the gymnotes, swimming with their bodies half out of the water, were now flying from the horses and making for the shore. The Indians then began to use their harpoons, and by means of long cords attached to them drew the fish out of the water. When the batteries of his passion have been discharged many a passionate man has also afforded a similarly easy conquest to those who have just watched and waited.
Scientific Illustrations, etc.
The panther rarely attacks man without being provoked; but it is irritated at the merest trifle, and its anger is manifested by the lightning rapidity of its onset, which invariably results in the speedy death of the imprudent being who has aroused its fury. Avoid passionate people, for they are like the panther.
Surely a palace will be a sanctuary. The palace of this man was worse than a stable. Surely in the presence of beauty men must grow beautiful! This man looked on beauty but did not see it, and perpetrated the irony of living amongst beautiful things until he became ghastly and hideous. Never did Pleasure hold such carnival; never were such Saturnalia known in all the earth. Yet the men did not retire from it heroes and chief of virtue and beneficence; they staggered away half beast and half devil.
Sometimes we say, looking upon the abodes of poverty, "What can we expect here of decency, moral education, and progress? See how the poor are huddled and crowded together! What can be looked for here but a "hotbed bringing forth a most evil harvest?" All that is right. But if there is any argument in it at all it is an argument that covers a large space. Here is a man who has room enough, he has everything at his command; if he wants gold or silver or precious stones he can have them by a nod of his head, what can we expect here but piety, contentment, thankfulness, moral progress? Family life under such a canopy must be a daily doxology, a sweet, hallowed thing more of heaven than of earth. We must beware of the sophism in both sides of this popular argument. Character is not in circumstances. The poorest people have, in no solitary instances easily numbered, most vividly illustrated the purest and noblest character. There are kings who are paupers, there are paupers who are kings. We owe everything to moral education — we owe nothing to kingly splendour.
What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law.
Here let us remark the great advantage of laws. Law is mind without passion; and it is better to have a code of laws, however bad, than to have none but the will of a man. Had the king on this occasion acted according to his passion, it is more than probable that the scene might have terminated more tragically; but he acted "according to law." Secondly, we see the great advantage of counsel. "In the multitude of counsellors there is safety," says the wise man. This is more especially the case with those who have the lives, the property, and even the religion of others, to consider and determine upon. What an advantage is it to have for counsellors good men, who hate covetousness, who have the welfare of their country at heart, and especially those who act under the fear of God!
And Memucan answered before the king.
If they had been wise, as counsellors ought to be, they would have been in no haste to give judgment in a matter so important as that which was submitted to them. They would have delayed till passion had cooled, and right reason had been restored. But, half-intoxicated they proceeded to give judgment at once, falling in with the humours of royalty, and hastening to do what could not afterwards be recalled.
It is the punishment of despots to be surrounded by flatterers, and the words of counsellors are but the dicta of their whims and conceits.
There is a general lesson suggested by what passed between the king and his counsellors as to the danger of flattery. It is natural to all men to desire to have their opinions confirmed and approved by others. The feeling of self-approbation, which forms one element of happiness, is gratified and strengthened when several persons give their verdict in favour of a choice which we have made or a course of action which we have judged it right to pursue. But then, when men occupy exalted stations, and have it in their power to reward richly those who are in any way instrumental to the advancement of their comfort and happiness, they are exposed to the very serious calamity of having counsels and opinions poured into their ear for the purpose of pleasing them, and not of presenting truth to them or guiding them rightly through difficulties. There is hardly any one, indeed, who is exempted from the influence of flattery. It is less and less exercised as wealth and power diminish; but when a man is possessed of anything that can afford gratification to others, he will find some to fall in with his wishes and approve of his opinions, until all he has is expended. Perhaps it is in the condition of absolute poverty alone that the voice of flattery is not heard. Whether we have or have not wherewithal to bribe others to our way of thinking and feeling, and to secure their approval of our conduct, certain it is that we have a flatterer in our own hearts whose insidious attempts to mislead us we should guard against most anxiously. In every man there is a conflict between inclination and the power of conscience. This conflict arises and is carried on without reference to a man's religious knowledge or belief. The heathen were as conscious of it as those are who possess the oracles of God. When unlawful desire prompts in one direction, there is another influence, the natural conscience, which points in a different way, and has its strong arguments to repress the cravings of desire. Now all the reasonings against the conviction of what is right are just so many self-flatteries by which we are seduced into sin. And their strength is too great. They put a false colouring upon the objects of human pursuit, they make what is wrong appear right and what is hurtful seem innocent, and thus the maxim is verified, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." We may wonder at the folly of Artaxerxes in allowing himself to be guided by the judgment of men who only spoke what they supposed would please him! But all men have as good reason — yea, Christ's own people have as good reason — to wonder at the strange flatteries by which at one time their progress heavenward is interrupted, and at other times their will is enlisted on the side of what is positively evil.
The flattery and the falsehood of the world. The king is surrounded by admirers and friends. They are "wise men who knew the times." One faithful but persecuted woman is the object of their hostility and the subject of their counsel. But ah, where is the faithful man among them all? Why is there no one to take the side of persecuted innocence and injured virtue? What an aspect this council exhibits of the mind and motives of guilty men! How rarely do the rich and great listen to the voice of truth or find the fidelity of real friendship! To maintain the side of truth and virtue against wealth and pride and power in the world is a signal mark of the great and noble mind. Thus hand joins in hand in the perpetration of human sin. Is this peculiar? Nay, this is the transgression with which the world aboundeth. What swarms of flatterers hang about the path of self-indulgent youth! See that daughter of wealth and fashion. How is sheled on from step to step in the blandishments of her career. There is none to restrain, none to warn, and she has no real friend to whom she can be induced to listen. Memucans abound wherever appetite asks an excuse for the gratification it seeks.
2. See the total want of domestic confidence, the violation of that pure and mutual family dependence which follows in the train of earthly selfishness and sensuality. What a reason this prince of the kingdom of Persia gives for his cruel and unjust advice! "This deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women," etc. Memucan's grand fear alleged is that all the wives in Persia will prove either too virtuous to be degraded or too rebellious to be governed. Nothing marks a debased and consciously criminal mind more clearly and habitually than its suspicion and incredulity of the virtue and integrity of others. This painful and disgraceful fact is brought before us in our present illustration. It is the family relation of which Memucan speaks. What is it that maintains in our households the spirit and dominion of mutual confidence? I answer, not the world or the pursuit of the world, but the power of true religion. Take this great principle of life and truth from the household, let the world rule there in its pride of covetousness, or in its lust of indulgence, and how soon and how thoroughly are domestic happiness, dignity and peace sacrificed and cast away! Mutual suspicion, recrimination, alienation, separation, divorce, hatred, persecution, murder, all follow in the legitimate train of succession as natural and too often habitual results. Half the talent and ingenuity of the world is exercised in plans for counterworking and over reaching the schemes of other people, or in self-defence against their violence or fraud. What an exhibition this makes of human sin! The children of the world expend their life and time and powers in suspecting, watching, guarding, forestalling each other.
3. The actual crime to which this course of indulgence in sensuality must lead. The king assents at once to the cruel and unjust advice which he receives. "The saying pleased the king and princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan." The self-indulgent monarch finds himself involved in the grievous injustice and wrong which has been the result of his own sin. This is the regular process through which the worldly and the ungodly habitually travel. I do not mean to say that they are all allowed to attain this result of open crime. The providence of a gracious God often interposes to keep men back from the results of their own choice. Merciful indeed is this inter position. Who can tell to what an extent of wickedness a rebellious world would run but for the interference of this unseen Divine restraint? But such a restraint is a special and peculiar interposition in the case of individuals. When intemperance sinks into poverty and rejection — when fraud and robbery bring the victim to a felon's cell — when vanity and indecorous exposure prove the destruction of female virtue — when anger and revenge result in bloodshed and murder — men are not astonished. They recognise in all these the natural issues of the principles we have traced.
4. See how surely the day of regret must come to human guilt. The king has finished his purpose and the advice of his attendants. But he is far from peace. Sin can never satisfy the sinner. "After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her." Human wrath cannot last for ever. The whirl of the excitement passes, and then comes the bitterness of the memory of sin. The soul is filled with remorse — literally, a biting, gnawing of itself. It is the fearful result of human sin. This is the chamber of the world. In all these there comes the question that will be answered, "What fruit had ye then of those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of these things is death." This is ever the result. What remembered follies crowd upon the mind! The soul looks inward and holds communion with itself. A thousand Vashtis are remembered, what they have done and what they have suffered. It is a deeply convincing hour. New and wonderful light is poured in upon the conscience. This is the end of the sensual indulgence of the world.
I.THE COURTLY ORATOR.
II.HIS CUNNING FLATTERY.
III.HIS VICIOUS REASONING.
IV.HIS TIME-SERVING POLICY.
V.HIS UNFEELING NATURE.
Sketches of Sermons.
Ahasuerus was guilty of it. Remark that this practice —
I.IS IDOLATROUS IN ITS PRINCIPLES.
II.IT IS GROVELLING IN ITS AIM.
III.IT IS UNREASONABLE IN ITS FOUNDATION
IV.IT IS DESTRUCTIVE IN ITS ISSUE. Learn —
1. There is no safety in man.
2. To put your trust in the Lord.
Not only kings, but also private persons, often need wise counsels, especially when they are hurried away by their passions. But our loss is, that at such times we are uncommonly unfit to receive counsel.
()Fit counsellors few: — Every man is not fit to be a counsellor.
For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women
Fashions and maxims usually go downward from one class of society to another. Customs, adopted by the higher orders as their rule, gradually make their way until at length they pervade all ranks.
"What the queen doth will be done by all," was his statement, and we must feel the truthfulness of it. It embodies a maxim peculiarly applicable to the followers of Christ. They are supposed to be separate from the sinful world by the very circumstance of their being Christ's. Then, if they become worldly — if they act inconsistently — their acts do not terminate in and with themselves. What they say and do produces effects far beyond their Own calculation and their own sphere. A word spoken for Christ may bear fruit where they would not have been prepared to look for such a result.
Among the laws of the Persians and the Medea, that it be not altered.
He who prides himself on never reversing his judgments should be extremely cautious about forming them. Obstinacy may refuse to change its opinions; wisdom will be guilty of no such rashness.
And let the king give her royal estate unto another
Perhaps you look back upon scenes different from those in which now from day to day you mingle. You have exchanged the plenty and luxuriance of your father's house for privation and trials known to God and your own heart. The morning of life was flushed with promise. Troops of calamities since then have made desperate charge upon you. Darkness has come. Sorrows have swooped like carrion birds from the sky, and barked like jackals from the thicket. You stand amid your slain, anguished and woe-struck. Rizpah on the rock. So it has been in all ages. Vashti must doff the spangled robes of the Persian Court, and go forth blasted from the palace gate. Hagar exchanges Oriental comfort for the wilderness of Beersheba. Mary Queen of Scots must pass out from flattery and pomp to suffer ignominious death in the Castle of Fotheringay. The wheel of fortune keeps turning, and mansions and huts exchange, and he who rode in the chariot pushes the barrow, and instead of the glare of festal lights is the simmering of the peat fire, and in place of Saul's palace is the rock, the cold rock, the desolate rock. But that is the place to which God comes. Jacob with .his head on a stone saw the shining ladder.
We cannot but remark upon the facility with which divorce took place in that land of Persia. We cannot be too thankful that we live not where such unjust laws obtain. Nor can we too zealously guard the sacred obligations of wedded life. Perhaps many cases of unhappiness might be traced to a similar cause to that which brought about the separation of Ahasuerus and Vashti. Any mere trifle becomes sufficient as an excuse for separation. We have heard of a quarrel and divorce taking place because one asserted that there were a certain number of windows in a house opposite and the other denied it. Each maintained their point with obstinacy, and neglected to settle their difference by counting them.
The character of Ahasuerus illustrates the Nemesis of absolutism by showing how unlimited power is crushed and dissolved beneath the weight of its own immensity. The very vastness of hie domains overwhelms the despot. He is the slave of his own machinery of government. But this is not all. The man who is exalted to the pedestal of a god is made dizzy by his own altitude. Absolutism drove Caligula mad; it punished Xerxes with childishness. The silly monarch who would decorate a tree with the jewellery of a prince in reward for its fruitfulness, and flog and chain the Hellespont as a punishment for its tempestuousness, is not fit to be let out of the nursery. When the same man appears on the pages of Scripture under the name of Ahasuerus, his weakness is despicable.
All the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.
All the wives too are included, for they are all "to give honour to their husbands, both to the great and small." Well, the great, the really great, will get the honour easily, and could do very well probably without the helpful edict. Where there is real greatness, which, in Christian speech, we may translate into real goodness, it is the wife's joy to render what it is the husband's pride to wear. But the honour is to be given "both to the great and small!" "Ay, there's the rub." If this insurrectionary torch should go through the land, what will become of the small ones? — the selfish, the spiteful, the meddlesome, the rude, the mean, the silly, the helpless, the good-for-nothing? They are all to have honour! As if a decree could really get it, or keep it from them. Wouldn't the better plan be, in that case, and in many a case besides, that the small shall try to grow larger? Let them be ashamed of their littleness, and rise out of it into something like nobleness. Let them love and help their wives, and care for their children, and honour will come as harvest follows sowing. But unless they do something like that, one fears that all the edicts that can be devised and promulgated will leave them as it finds them — "small."
And does not this history teach us that the great law of domestic happiness is love? No Persian decrees are required to execute the mandates of love, nor can any royal commandment make a household happy without it. The true way for all queens to rule is to "stoop to conquer." Let their husbands call themselves as much as they please "the lords of creation," and let them seem to hold the reins, but it is theirs to tell them how to drive. This is the more excellent way. The dispute about the sphere of the sexes is as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural. It is God's will that man should be the head and woman the heart of society. If he is its strength, she is its solace. If he is its wisdom, she is its grace and consolation. Domestic strife is always a great evil, but it becomes doubly so when it occurs before company, as happened with the king of Persia, and when professed friends come in and make bad worse. It is then the wound becomes incurable.
2. Let us learn to guard against all excesses, not only in feasting and in the loss of time, but of feeling and passion. How inconsiderate, how rash, how sinful was Herod's oath and terrible decree against John the Baptist! And scarcely less wicked were the king's unjust and cruel proceedings against his wife. It was a maxim with General Jackson to take much time to deliberate — to think out the right resolution — but when once the resolution was taken, then to think only of executing it.
3. How emphatic a lesson is here of human vanity! The great monarch of such a vast empire is not able to govern himself. And all the grandeur of half a year's feasting is spoiled by the disobedience of his queen. This was the dead fly in his pot of ointment.
4. Alas! that so lovely a place as a garden should have been the scene of such revelry and sinning. A garden is associated with some of our holiest and saddest thoughts. Sin fastened on our race in a garden. It was in a garden the curse was pronounced, and there too the great promise of a Redeemer was given. And it was in a garden the Messiah entered the lists of mortal combat to bruise the old serpent's head. Instead, then, of making our gardens the scenes of sinful mirth and dissipation, as did the Persian king, let us make them oratories for pious breathings to heaven — let them give us thoughts of God and of the love and sufferings of His Son Jesus Christ. It is to Him we owe all our pleasures in the creatures and gifts of providence, as well as the hope of eternal life. And so also let the garden be a preacher to us of our frailty.
This is truly a Divine appointment, but it is not made in an arbitrary manner, like, for instance, a positive institution of the Jews, which might be this way or that way with equal propriety — the thing deriving its sacred character chiefly from the fact of the appointment. Even a Divine appointment could not make the wife supreme, human nature continuing what it is. For one thing, woman is weaker than man physically, and supremacy goes with strength. All kinds of force have their ultimate source in God, and when He makes man permanently stronger than woman, no doubt He means some corresponding authority to rest where the permanent strength does. No doubt strength may be abused, is most shamefully abused in some instances, by the husband. But the way to prevent the abuse of strength is not, surely, to attempt to transfer its proper responsibilities to weakness? Weakness may be abused as much as strength, and in some ways even more. Again, there are many things of less or more importance which come to require a single ultimate decision. One must say how this thing is to be. Practical action must be taken one way or other. Who shall decide? Is the husband to submit to the wife? He decides with whom God has lodged the responsibility. But the truth is that in a properly regulated, or rather a properly inspired home, the question of authority in its bald form never arises. The husband's rule and the wife's obedience are alike unconscious, and alike easy. The sweet laws of nature, the good laws of God, make them one. This leads us to say, on the other hand, with equal emphasis, that the authority of the husband is clearly a limited authority. Common sense ought to teach a man that there is a large sphere of the practical family life where he ought to leave the wife and mother practically supreme. His interference at all (whatever may be the abstract right) will not help the industry, the order, the peace of the household. But, rising higher, look at the grand fact that the authority of the husband over the wife has, and must have, clear and strong, and altogether impassable limits.
Bear rule in his own house
"In his own house" — who has a house of his own? The house is a prison until somebody else shares it. The house belongs to all the people that are in it — part to the husband, part to the wife, part to the children, part to the servants, right through all the household line. Develop the notion of partnery, co-responsibility; let every one feel a living interest in the place: then the house shall be built of living stones, pillared with righteousness, roofed with love. It is here that Christianity shines out with unique lustre. Obedience is right for all parties, but the obedience has to be in the Lord; it is to be the obedience of righteousness, a concession to wisdom, a toll paid to honour, which is to be returned in love and gratitude. Christianity has made our houses homes. We owe everything that is socially beneficent to Christianity.
A man living at a hotel is like a grape-vine in a flower-pot — movable, carried around from place to place, docked at the root and short at the top. Nowhere can a man get real root-room, and spread out his branches till they touch the morning and the evening, but in his own house.
The important thing, in order to our understanding the story, is that we should keep these first links in our hand, and should mark the working of "another King." Into the administration of our Lord Jesus Christ no mistake can creep, and so perfect is His grasp that mosaic pavements, golden couches, throngs of noblemen, fawning courtiers, excess of wine, swelling vanity, and a woman's firmness, are all, without the slightest knowledge on the part of any actor in the drama, made to bring about a purpose of His, the execution of which is more than four years distant. Had Ahasuerus not been the proud voluptuary he was; had he not made his great feast; had he not in the last day of it let slip or thrown away the reins of sound reason and run his head against a first law of nature; had his vanity taken any other direction than that of wishing to parade the queen's beauty; had Vashti been less of a true woman; had the courtiers been honester than they were — then there would have been no vacant place for Esther to fill, and the plot of Haman might have thriven. But we have this song, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain."
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