And in every province, and in every city, wherever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness…
Persecution always defeats its own object. Viewed as mere policy, it is the worst that can be employed. Persecute error, and it will spread tenfold; persecute truth, and it will spread a hundredfold. Unless, therefore, you wish the principles you hate to gain ground, persecute not at all. Haman, while he brought utter ruin upon himself by his cruel attempt to exterminate the Jews, raised the latter into an incomparably better position than they occupied before. The Jews in their triumph were likely to adopt the same persecuting policy as had been exercised against themselves. It would have been simply the natural result of the treatment they had received. The Romish persecution of Protestants in our own country led Protestants in their turn to persecute the Romanists. The people of the land were, therefore, not without reason, in mortal fear; and many of them through fear became proselytes to the Jewish religion. But a profession of faith made under such circumstances was about the most worthless that could be imagined. The Church of God has had a most chequered history. Sometimes, like the noonday sun, it has shone with unrivalled splendour; sometimes, like the cloud-wrapped moon, its light has been lost in darkness. In the captivity of Egypt it was trodden down by its oppressors; under the leadership of Moses it struggled again into freedom. In the reign of Solomon a temple was built to Jehovah; in the reign of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, the calves were worshipped at Bethel and Dan. And we may add that under the new dispensation, even as under the old, its fortunes have been variable to the last degree. The text contains a graphic description of THE CHURCH IN PROSPERITY. In times of religious depression it is customary with good people to pray for better things - a revival of the religious spirit, an outpouring of the Holy Ghost, an increase of godly enthusiasm. But frequently, when this takes place, those who desire it most are greatly disappointed, just because the form it takes is contrary to their expectation. For ages the Jews longed for the advent of the Messiah, but when he came they put him to death. It is important, therefore, that in seeking religious prosperity our minds should be free from misconceptions. This leads us to notice -
I. THE NATURE OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. It implies -
1. An increase of spirituality among professing Christians. Beware of supposing that the success of a Church is identical with increased membership. This is a fatal mistake, and has led to the most lamentable consequences. True religion consists in spiritual-mindedness. It is the result of a change of heart produced by the Spirit of God. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It follows that a Christian is separate from the world. He views everything in the light of the world to come. He rejoices to suffer affliction with the people of God, for he has respect unto the recompense of the reward. No genuine revival can take place apart from increased purity and unworldliness.
2. An increase of good works among professing Christians. Good works are the necessary concomitants of spiritual-mindedness. "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit." The first proof that a man is born again is the earnestness with which he inquires what he must do. Instances - the multitude on the day of Pentecost, the jailer at Philippi, Saul of Tarsus. The Church is described as a vineyard, for which God hires labourers, whom he rewards according to their services. The absence of works is therefore a sure sign of the absence of spiritual life. What the Spirit said to each of the Churches of Asia was, "I know thy works." No real prosperity can co-exist with indifference and indolence.
3. An increase of sinners saved. "Many of the people of the land became Jews." A most conclusive evidence of their thriving condition. A spiritual, working Church exerts a power which attracts outsiders into its ranks. At the beginning of the apostolic age, when the disciples were in the fervour of their first love, it is recorded that "the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." It is the business of a Church to seek the lost. This duty it owes to itself no less than to the world. Without converts it must gradually decay, and ultimately die. It enjoys the highest success, therefore, only when multitudes of the perishing flock within its gates.
II. THE CAUSES OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. When possessed, to what is it due? When lost, how can it be recovered?
1. It is in one sense the work of God. It was God who laid down the foundation of the Church. "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." And not a single stone has been subsequently placed in the spiritual edifice without his co-operation. "Without me ye can do nothing." "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." If we would have a revival, we must pray God to send down the Comforter to "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."
2. It is in another sense the work of man. The grandest triumphs of the gospel have been achieved by means of human instrumentality. The Protestant reformation, the Methodist revival, the evangelisation of Madagascar. Many ask, "What have we to do?" The answer depends upon the special circumstances of the inquirers. Some are able to preach the word, some to teach the young, some to visit the poor. If your Church be languishing, seek the cause among yourselves. Are you slumbering, inactive, prayerless?
III. THE EFFECTS OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. These are represented here as threefold.
1. Joy. "The Jews had joy and gladness." This is invariably the case; and what more natural? The released captive is glad, the victorious army is jubilant, the flourishing city is full of glee, and shall the Church be different? "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." It is said of the first disciples, after they had witnessed our Lord's ascension, which was to them an earnest of the coming of his kingdom, that they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God."
2. Contentment. "A feast and a good day." With the luxuries they enjoyed they were abundantly satisfied. In religious revivals the means of grace, the services of the sanctuary, the ordinances of religion, are thoroughly appreciated. Duties which in stagnant seasons are a burden become a pleasure. Of the man who is "like a tree planted by the rivers of water," the Psalmist saith, "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night." The prevalence of bitterness, strife, and unrest is a sign of spiritual poverty. Cattle bred in the fertile plains are generally in good condition; cattle bred on the barren hills are not only lean, but grow immense horns.
3. Influence. "The fear of the Jews fell upon them." The power of the Jews was felt in the land, and they were respected accordingly. The world admires power; it is the weak, the puny, the pretentious that are held in contempt. When religion is despised, and its professors treated with scorn, it is time to inquire into the reason. May it not be due to the sentimental, emasculated caricature of godliness that is too frequently set up for the reality? Strong, robust Christian manliness commands the homage even of opponents. When the Church appears in her proper character - a pure, living, active Church - an astonished world asks, "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?" - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.
WEB: In every province, and in every city, wherever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had gladness, joy, a feast, and a good day. Many from among the peoples of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews was fallen on them.