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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Esther 1

 

 

Verse 1-2

PERSIAN SPLENDOUR

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est . Ahasuerus] Heb. Ahashverosh. Prince, chief. A name given in Scripture to Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, and to Astyages, king of the Medes (Ezr 4:6; Dan 9:1). India to Ethiopia] describes the king's dominion, but does not definitely fix the date of his reign. The hundred and twenty-seven provinces indicate the σατραπηιαι.

Est . Shushan the palace] The king's favourite winter residence. Shushan the lily, the rose, the joy.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

TIME'S DOINGS WITH HUMAN GREATNESS

Ahasuerus is gone, his royal city has perished, and even his stately palace has left behind only a few insignificant traces. But the simple story of Esther survives. Palaces of marble, as well as mansions made of the less enduring brick, strangely vanish. Strong fortifications disappear. Wonderful it is that material structures seem less enduring than insubstantial thought structures. Suggestive it is that the man Ahasuerus moves a formless shadow across the stage, while his doings and external greatness are vividly represented.

I. This monarch's unknown individuality. The proceedings of Ahasuerus are only such as might be expected from any Persian monarch of that period, possessing irresponsible power, invested with all the signs of extended dominion, surrounded by courtiers who rendered indiscriminate flattery, steeped in luxury and in frivolity, and like one of the governors in India, who told the native princes that they were but dust beneath his feet. The record of the doings of Ahasuerus, therefore, cannot give positive information as to his personality. His position in the Persian dynasty cannot be undoubtedly ascertained; but his place in the Divine economy is certain. The very weakness of his character was a buttress for the Jewish nation. His love of luxury turned out to the "enlargement" of the Jewish people. His immortality is that of those who are saved from oblivion by the greatness of others. Time sooner or later obscures the epitaph. The name written may be Ahasuerus, and future generations will fail to discover the person indicated. The advancing time will weave its mists about the name, and the individual will be lost in darkness. But a Divine book of remembrance is kept, and there the names of the righteous are written in characters of ever-enduring light. Their names shall shine in the all-revealing splendours. Let men strive to work in harmony with, and in furtherance of, all Divine purposes.

II. This monarch's individuality is only declared by the extent of his material kingdom. "This is Ahasuerus which reigned," &c. His kingdom may be measured by the land surveyor and described by the historian. It extended from India to Ethiopia. He embraced in his rule the borders of India on the one side, and Egypt on the other—an extent of country about two thousand five hundred miles in length. He possessed some of earth's loveliest lands. The fertilizing waters of the Nile left rich deposits on one portion of his territory, and another almost reached the sources of the sacred Ganges, while the Euphrates washed the walls of Babylon, and was fed by streams that flowed near the royal city of Susa. The Black Sea, famous in the history of modern conflicts, and the Caspian, were partly included in the territories over which he reigned. Lands and cities of historic fame were compelled to pay him tribute, and some of the noblest races on earth obeyed his commands. But the moral king is nobler, and has a more extensive and a more permanent kingdom. Even the material universe is the believer's possession, intended for his spiritual development. Death strips the earthly king of his royal robes, and leaves him unthroned; but death lets the moral king into a larger sphere, and the results of his earthly conquests he will enjoy in heaven. The kingliest men have owned only a few feet of land, and sometimes not enough land for a tomb, according to short-sighted views of ownership.

III. This monarch's greatness consisted in external display. The throne on which the king sat was a chair made of gold, adorned with a costly carpet, upon which none might sit, on pain of death. There was also a footstool of gold. The king held a golden sceptre in his right hand. Close behind stood an eunuch bearing a fan, and with his mouth covered, for fear his breath should be offensive to the mighty monarch. Such are the pomp and circumstance with which Oriental monarchs endeavoured to separate themselves from, and raise themselves above, their fellow-creatures. This is greatness in the estimation of the children of this world. But true greatness is superior to mere gorgeous externals. The one disappears when the showy livery is removed, but the other abides through all changes. Lazarus was great in his rags; Dives was mean in his purple and fine linen. A great soul ennobles the meanest surroundings.

IV. This monarch's proud position is not to be envied. There are many who would regard Ahasuerus with envy, as, amid a group of attendants, he paced those terraced heights on which the palace of Shushan was erected, as he watched the gentle gliding of the sweet waters of the Eulœus, as he listened to the music of pipers and harpists, as he pleased himself with the natural and artistic beauties of the scene, and as he gazed upon the flat and fertile plains that stretched at the base of the royal palace. The riches both of art and of nature seemed to combine in order to make existence pleasant. But no human lot is without its admixture of pain. From the high places of the earth we catch the echo of those wailing cries that mingle with the mocking sounds of revelry. Kings are but men, and their hearts too are touched by the painful hand of sorrow. The inscription over an imaginative palace is, "Here is the abode of everlasting pleasures and content." But no such inscription can be truthfully placed over the gates of any earthly palace, and certainly it will not describe Shushan the palace. Happy he who wisely keeps the palace of his soul, and finds there the elements of true gladness.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

Est . Ahasuerus. The difficulty of stating positively who was the Ahasuerus spoken of in this passage is almost insuperable. The nearest approach to a settlement of the question is the statement that Ahasuerus was one of the Persian monarchs who lived about the time of Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, and must have been one of those monarchs; for only those three are described by Herodotus as possessing the extent of territory attributed to them in the Book of Esther. Most of our modern critics decide that Ahasuerus is Xerxes, and this conclusion is said to be fortified by a resemblance of character. As Xerxes scourged the sea, and put to death the engineers of his bridge because their work was injured by a storm, so Ahasuerus repudiated his queen Vashti because she would not violate the decorum of her sex, and ordered the massacre of the whole Jewish people to gratify the malice of Haman. Now Herodotus is evidently the father of fables as well as the father of history. In the book Polyhymnia, from which the above instance of foolish conduct is quoted, Herodotus tells us of some prodigies which fairly lead us to doubt his trustworthiness. And we may well agree with Mitford when he affirms that some of the anecdotes related by Herodotus "are utterly inconsistent with the characters to whom they refer. Among the latter I should reckon the ridiculous punishment of the Hellespont by stripes and chains, together with executions equally impolitic as inhuman, and repugnant to what we learn on best authority of the manners of the Persians." The assembly spoken of by Herodotus as called by Xerxes in order to deliberate concerning the Grecian war does not resemble that great feast and assembly which was held by Ahasuerus in Shushan the palace, and which lasted an hundred and fourscore days. Those frightful dreams which Xerxes is said to have had at this period do not speak to us at least of the merriment of Ahasuerus in Shushan. This luxury and splendour only seem to point to the Persian greatness which culminated about this period. The two narrations—the one given by Herodotus as to Xerxes, and the other in the Book of Esther as to Ahasuerus—may appear to agree in point of time, but do not necessarily as to the nature of the events recorded. There is surely an a priori argument in favour of those historians who lived near the time when the events took place which they record, and who had better means of knowing the characters and events whom and which they describe than later authors. It is a fact to be considered that throughout the Book of Esther in the LXX. Artaxerxes is written for Ahasuerus, and that the apocryphal additions of the Book of Esther give this name. Josephus, also, being such a painstaking historian, did not write Artaxerxes for Ahasuerus without good reason. The name Ahasuerus sets forth the dignity of the man rather than distinguishes him from others. It is a general title of the Persian kings, as Pharaoh, Ptolemy, and Cæsar were general names for rulers of other countries. Why should we institute a painful comparison between the believer who is said not to own a foot of land, and the licentious monarch who reigns over one hundred and seven and twenty provinces? For, it is truly observed, some of the vilest men possessed all the great and large dominions of the Persian empire. But if God has bestowed true faith, unfeigned love, and unaffected humility, he has bestowed treasures of inestimably greater value than-all the possessions of Xerxes or of Nero. A man may rule over an extensive kingdom, and yet be a slave; for lusts are tyrannical masters. A man may be a slave in outward condition, and yet be the noblest freeman, the grandest king of all. He is royal who is a member of that kingdom which is to extend from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth, which in fact is to include all nations. Other kingdoms shall fail, but Christ's kingdom of love shall ever endure.

Monarchs will be still adding, and although a man were monarch of the whole world, yea, and had command of the moon and the stars, yet would he still be peeping beyond them for more, more.—Trapp.

An overgrown kingdom which in time would sink with its own weight, and, as usual, would lose its provinces as fast as it gained them. If such a vast power be put into bad hands it is able to do so much the more mischief.—M. Henry.

Est . Sitting is a posture common to judges and kings, but more particularly characteristic of the kings of Persia. The Persian kings are always painted as sitting on a throne under a lofty canopy. This is true of them even in the time of war, and in their journeys. Xerxes, indeed, was present in the battles sitting; thus it was at Thermopylæ, according to Herodotus, and at Salamis, according to Plutarch.—Lange.

This monarch's palatial residence. Shushan is mentioned in three of the sacred books—Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel—as well as by profane writers. Originally it was the capital of the province called in Scripture Elam, and by the classical writers sometimes Cissian, and sometimes Susis, or Susiana; and was situated on the banks of the river Eulai, or Eulœus. Daniel refers to it in the account of his vision as forming part of the Babylonish empire. Its foundations are said to have been laid even before the time of Chedorlaomer. The remains found on the supposed site point to a very remote past. It was comprehended in the Persian empire in the time of Cyrus or Darius, and to the latter is generally given the credit of being the founder or builder of the great palace described in the Book of Esther. It was chosen by the Persian monarch as the capital of his empire on account of its vicinity to Persia, its climatic advantages, and the great excellence of its water. The circumference of Shushan, exclusive of some outlying mounds, was about three miles; but little more than the name of the city remains. The bases of a few columns, having upon them inscriptions which are deciphered with difficulty, are all that is now left of this proud city. Shushan means the lily, the rose, the joy—a name given on account of the fertility of the country, and the abundance of lilies that flourished in the district. This lily no longer flourishes, this Narcissus no more emits its fragrance; the joy and pride of the nations has fallen from its eminence. Thus the flowers of earth perish, but the celestial flowers bloom for evermore. Our Beloved is as the lily of the valley and the rose of Sharon, and he shall evermore unfold his loveliness and emit his Divine fragrance.

The palace of Shushan was one of the architectural wonders of its day, and its size and its magnificence would have attracted considerable attention in modern times. In visiting the ruins of our ancient abbeys we are astonished at the evidences of minuteness and of massiveness which still survive in those gigantic and yet graceful structures. But more profound emotions of sublimity are produced by visiting the ruins of Persepolis, which corresponded to the palace of Shushan in great measure, and from which at least we must gather our conception of what the Shushan palace was like, for nearly all the ruins of the latter have disappeared. In speaking of Persepolis, Porter observes, "Nothing can be more striking than the view of its ruins; so vast and so magnificent, so fallen, mutilated, and silent; the court of Cyrus, and the scene of his bounties; the pavilion of Alexander's triumph, and the awful memorial of the witness of his power." The first object which presented itself was a columned hall of the largest size, which has not been rivalled in space or in beauty by any building either ancient or modern, not even by Egyptian Carnac or Cologne Cathedral. On three sides of the hall were vast porches, supported by twelve columns, while the great central hall had thirty-six, which were a little over sixty feet high. These columns were all fluted, and surmounted by capitals formed into the shape of the heads of bulls, or horses, or wild asses. Heeren supposes these pillars to have supported a roof of cedar, but some authorities doubt whether this large hall could have had a roof. In the grounds we see on one side what is called the queen's house, and on the other the king's house. In looking at the whole group we may see terrace rising above terrace, and building above building, to the height of two hundred feet above the level of the plain. Fabulous creatures in stone frowning like mighty sentinels; the terraces graced with trees, shrubs, and flowers of rich luxuriance, indicating the fertility of the country as well as the skill of the cultivators. Evidences there were on all sides that the wealth, genius, and productive power of that vast empire had been collected and concentrated to the erection and adornment of the stately pile of buildings.

Shushan the palace. The king had a royal establishment in several cities, but at the time here referred to it was in Shushan, which was a favourite spring residence.—Lange.

In this city was the famous palace of Cyrus, which was adorned with marble walls, golden pillars, and great store of precious stones, shining as so many stars from the roof and sides of it, to the dazzling of the eyes of the beholders.—Trapp.

Time sadly overcometh all things, and is now dominant, and sitteth upon a sphinx, and looketh unto Memphis and old Thebes; while his sister Oblivion reclineth semi-somnous on a pyramid, gloriously triumphing, making puzzles of Titanian inscriptions, and turning old glories into dreams. History sinketh beneath her cloud. The traveller, as he paceth amazedly through those deserts, asketh of her who builded them, and she mumbleth something, but what it is he heareth not.—Anonymous.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE WHOLE CHAPTER

This book presents us with impressive views of man with and without grace; of the great instability of human affairs; of the sovereign power, justice, and faithfulness of the Supreme Being. We now call your attention to the first chapter.

I. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus. Commentators differ about him. He was a heathen—a stranger to God—possessing extensive dominions. His was the second of the four great empires. These empires have come to nought; but, brethren, there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in heaven for ever. Let us be numbered among its subjects.

II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, wished to make a display of his greatness: made a feast—the power of Media and Persia present—he exhibited his riches, and honour, and glory. Notice his pride. Beware of pride. Pray that you may habitually remember what you are—poor, fallen sinners.

III. At this feast, though a heathen one, moderation was observed. "And the drinking was according to law: none did compel." Intemperance is an abomination and a degradation; hence we should flee from it.

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. It is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshazzar's feast; we read of Herod's feast. In such entertainments God is liable to be forgotten. Solomon, who with extraordinary diligence, and unparalleled success, had examined and tried the sources of all earthly gratification, tells us, in language which ought never to be out of remembrance, that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting."

V. Let us consider the evil which was occasioned by the feast.—The king ordered the queen to be brought. She refused to come. The wrath of the king was kindled. The result was a council, then the divorcement of the queen. Quarrels, animosities, and heart-burnings are so contrary to that religion of love which a received gospel generates, that we ought to strive to the utmost for the preservation of the opposite virtues. Christ is the Prince of Peace; let us not only trust in his death for salvation, but imitate his meekness and lowliness of heart.

Two short remarks shall close this discourse:—

1. It behoveth us to lead excellent lives, and the higher we are placed in the community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition. Let our lives be continual sermons to those among whom we live.

2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed. "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God."—Hughes.

I. The vast extent of the Persian empire. It comprehended all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west; and from the Black Sea and Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia. This gigantic dominion was divided into 127 provinces or governments, each of which was placed under a satrap, or, in modern language, a pasha, who managed its affairs, and annually transmitted a certain sum as revenue to the king. The seat of government was variable, according to the season of the year, the summer months being spent by the court at Ecbatana, and the winter months at Susa, or, as it is called in this chapter, Shushan, the palace. The form of government in the East has from the earliest times been despotic, one man swaying the destinies of millions, and having under him a crowd of smaller despots, each in his more limited sphere oppressing the people subjected to his rule.

1. Despotism has its occasional fits of generosity and kindness. It is as kind-hearted that Ahasuerus is brought before you in the early part of this chapter. He was spending the winter months at Susa. The retinue of the monarch was vast, and the fountains and gardens were on a scale of grandeur which we cannot well conceive. There, then, the king, but little concerned about the welfare of his subjects, was spending his time, chiefly in selfish ease and unbounded revelry. To him it was of no moment how his people were oppressed by those whom he set over them; his sole concern was to enjoy his pleasures.

2. With all the luxury and temptation to self-indulgence, there was no compulsion employed to draw any one beyond the bounds of temperance. The law was good, but the king himself had too largely used the liberty, and hence his loss of self-control and all sense of propriety. When heated with wine he sent for Vashti, &c. Lessons suggested are—

(1) Extravagancies and follies into which men are betrayed by intemperance.

(2) That which dethrones reason and destroys intellect should surely be avoided.

(3) All the consequences which affect the man individually, and others also, rest upon the head of the transgressor.

(4) Intemperance (a) blots out distinction between right and wrong; (b) foments all the evil passions of the natural heart; (c) destroys the proper exercise of the power of the will; (d) and often inflicts grievous wounds upon the innocent, as the case of Vashti here already demonstrates.

(5) The necessity of guarding against these evils.

II. The evils which arose from the peculiar family arrangements of those countries. We take occasion here to observe two great evils:—

1. The condition of the female sex was that of degradation. The married woman was not really what the Divine institution intended her to be, the true companion and friend of her husband. She was kept in a state of seclusion, real freedom she knew not; she was, in truth, only a slave, having power to command some other slaves. She was without education, and generally unintelligent, frivolous, and heartless. She was guarded with zealous care, as if she had been very precious, but at the same time she was wholly dependent upon the caprices of her lord.

2. Yet, strangely enough, in the second place, it is to be noticed that, as if to afford evidence that the law of nature cannot be trampled upon with impunity, it very frequently happened that the female influence was felt by the despotic husband, so as to make him in reality the slave. Not conscious of it, but imagining that he held the place of absolute authority, he was himself governed; yet not through the power of real affection, but through the imbecile doting which constituted all that he knew of real affection. Common history abounds with illustrations of this fact, and in the sacred history we have examples of the same kind; David, Solomon, and Ahab are instances. There is never a violation of God's righteous appointments, but it is followed by some penalty. From this Book of Esther, it appears very obviously that Ahasuerus, with all his caprices and his stern, imperious self-will, was at first completely under the influence of Vashti, as he afterwards came to be under that of Esther. The whole domestic system being unnaturally constructed, there was, of necessity, derangements in the conducting of it. The despot might be one day all tenderness and submission, and the next day he might, to gratify his humour, exact from his slaves what, a short time afterwards, he would have counted it absolutely wrong in himself to command, and punishable in them to do.

III. The degradation of Vashti. We have to look at the circumstances which are brought before us in the narrative. At a season when sound counsel could scarcely have been expected, and when he who sought it was not in a fit condition to profit by it, the serious question was proposed by the king, "What shall be done to Vashti?" &c. To defer the consideration of so grave a subject to a more fitting season would have been so clearly the path which a wise counsellor would have recommended, that we feel astonished that it was not at once suggested. But the wrath of the king was so strongly exhibited that his compliant advisers did not venture to contradict him. "Memucan answered," &c. Now, with respect to this opinion of the chief counsellor, it may be observed that it was based upon a principle which in itself is unquestionably right, although there was a wrong application made of it. Rank and station, while they command a certain measure of respect, involve very deep responsibility. 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. Thus far Memucan spoke wisely, when he pointed to the example of the queen as that which would certainly have an influence, wherever it came to be known, throughout the empire. But the principle, in the present instance, was wrongly applied when it was made the ground of condemning the conduct of Vashti. The design was to make her appear guilty of an act of insubordination, which it was necessary for the king to punish, if he would promote the good of his subjects, whereas, in reality, she had upon her side all the authority of law and custom, and was to be made the victim both of the ungovernable wrath of the king, who was beside himself with wine, and also of flatterers who, to gratify him, would do wrong to the innocent. See here the danger of flattery.

Let us extract some practical lessons from our subject.

1. The inadequacy of all earthly good to make man truly happy. Surveying the whole scene portrayed in the early verses of this chapter, we might imagine that the sovereign who ruled over this empire, upon whose nod the interests of so many millions depended, and for whose pleasure the product of so many various climes could be gathered together, had surely all the elements of enjoyment at his command.… And yet we must say that the mightiest sovereign of his time, with 127 provinces subject to him, with princes serving him, and slaves kissing the dust at his feet, was not half so happy as the humblest individual here, who knows what is meant by the comforts of home, where he is in the midst of those who love him.

2. A few remarks may be offered upon the domestic question here settled by the king and his counsellors, as to the supremacy of man in his own house. How could they pronounce a sound judgment upon a question which their customs prevented them from rightly knowing?

3. We have in the text a law spoken of which changeth not. And, my friends, there is such a law, but it is not the law of the Medes and Persians, it is the law of the Eternal. Jehovah's law changeth not. And what does it say? "This do and live." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." That seals us all up under wrath. But we turn the page, and we read and see that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." And is not this our conclusion, then—"I will flee from the curse of the immutable law, and shelter myself under the righteousness of Christ, which is also perfect and immutable, that through him and from him I may have mercy and eternal life"?—Dr. Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1

Power. Pompey boasted, that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms; with one scratch of his pen, Ahasuerus could call to his assistance the forces of 127 provinces; but God, by one word of his mouth, one movement of his will, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds to his aid, or bring new creatures into being to do his will.

Dignity. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin; to which he replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

Great men. Columbus was the son of a weaver, and a weaver himself. Cervantes was a common soldier. Homer was the son of a small farmer. Demosthenes was the son of a cutler. Terence was a slave. Oliver Cromwell was the son of a London brewer. Howard was an apprentice to a grocer. Franklin was a journeyman printer, and son of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Worcester, was the son of a linen-draper. Daniel Defoe was a hostler, and son of a butcher. Whitfield was the son of an innkeeper at Gloucester. Virgil was the son of a porter. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper. Shakespeare was the son of a woolstapler. Milton was the son of a money scrivener. Robert Burns was a ploughman in Ayrshire. Yet all these rose to eminence.

How to make a feast. "Lord Chief Justice Hall frequently invited his poor neighbours to dinner, and made them sit at table with himself. If any of them were sick, so that they could not come, he would send provisions to them warm from his table."

Favour of God. It was the saying of a wise Roman, "I had rather have the esteem of the Emperor Augustus than his gifts;" for he was an honourable, understanding prince, and his favour very honourable. When Cyrus gave one of his friends a kiss, and another a wedge of gold, he that had the gold envied him that had the kiss as a greater expression of his favour. So the true Christian prefers the privilege of acceptance with God to the possession of any earthly comfort, for in the light of his countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain.—Butler.

Pride of wealth. 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. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel book.—Seeker.

Abuse of wealth. 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.—Ruskin.

Danger. "A boy climbing among the Alps saw some flowers on the verge of a precipice, and sprang forward to get them. The guide shouted his warnings; but the heedless boy grasped the flowers, and fell a thousand feet upon the rocks below with them in his hand. It was a dear price for such frail things, but he is not the only victim of such folly."

Danger of prosperity. When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me, that is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. Then we shall say, as Cardinal Wolsey, when discarded by his prince and abandoned to the fury of his enemies: "If I had served my God as faithfully as my king, he would not have thus forsaken me." Poor man! all the perfumes on earth are unable to prevail over the stench of hell.—Secker.

In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul.—Salter.

When fire is put to green wood there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, the filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a dunghill, so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshiny day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights, &c.—Brooks.

Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away—the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.—Baxter.

We commend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain that, by our abuse, both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Oh, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat indulgence he should kill in himself both the first Adam—his reason, and even the second Adam—his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.—Adams.

An earnest young minister was in the house of a rich friend. He was pressed to take wine, but refused. It was again pressed upon him. At length he yielded to their importunities, and drank a little. Gradually he formed a liking for wine, and at length began taking far too much. By degrees, and almost before he was aware of it, he became a drunkard. He was degraded from his office of the ministry, and sank lower and lower. Years after he had been pressed to drink by his rich friend, he came again to his door; this time to beg for a little food, and was ordered away as a drunken vagabond.

Joseph Ralston, of Philipsburg, Penn., met with a horrible death by freezing. He had been drinking freely, and had, while drunk, to wade the Moshandoo Creek; but, ere he proceeded two-thirds of the way, his limbs refused to perform their office. He grasped a bough of an overhanging tree, unable to advance farther; and soon the fast-congealing water cemented close about him—a tomb of ice which stretched from shore to shore. Two days after he was found there rigid as an icicle, his knees embedded in a sheet of the frozen element seven inches thick, his body inclined a little forwards, his hands clutching the boughs, eyes astare, and despair pictured on his features.—Pittsburgh Despatch.

God trieth men's love to him by their keeping his commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that will not leave a forbidden cup for him. O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple if thou forsake not all for him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of him, and wouldst die rather than forsake him? And thou like to lay down thy life for him, who wilt not leave a cup of drink for him? Canst thou burn at a stake for him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess, for him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!—Baxter.

Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both body and soul. And while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul, yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.—Chrysostom.

"If you have glutted yourselves with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter."—J. Lyth, D.D.

Bountiful King. The Lord, like a most bountiful king, will be angry if any man will ask a small thing at his hands; because he had rather give things of great worth than of small value. His goodness is infinite.—Powell.

Fulness of Christ. I have found it an interesting thing to stand at the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for 6000 years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of lightness fail, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ! Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on through eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour! Image of God! Divine Redeemer! In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy!—Dr. Guthrie.

Wife. "And now let us see whether the word ‘wife' has not a lesson. It literally means a weaver. The wife is the person who weaves. Before our great cotton and cloth factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own. The wool was spun into threads by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who, accordingly, was called the weaver, or the wife; and another remnant of this old truth we discover in the word ‘heirloom,' applied to any old piece of furniture which has come down to us from our ancestors, and which, though it may be a chair or bed, shows that a loom was an important article in every house. Thus the word ‘wife' means weaver; and, as Trench well remarks, ‘in the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupation, as being fitted for her who bears the name.'"

Pleasures. The pleasures of the world surfeit with satisfying, while heavenly pleasures satisfy without surfeiting. The surfeited nature of the sensualist requires a constantly increasing stimulus to rouse his used-up powers, but with each advance in Christian enjoyment there is an increased power to appreciate heavenly joys. The pleasures of the world are like the kiss of Judas, given but to betray; the pleasures of heaven make the soul bright and beautiful, as when the face of Moses was transformed by the vision of God.—J. G. Pilkington.

Pleasures. Pleasures, like the rose, are sweet, but prickly; the honey doth not countervail the sting; all the world's delights are vanity, and end in vexation; like Judas, while they kiss, they betray. I would neither be a stone nor an epicure; allow of no pleasure, nor give way to all; they are good sauce, but naught to make a meal of. I may use them sometimes for digestion, never for food.—Henshaw.

Price of pleasure. Goethe, in his "Faust," introduces for his hero a student longing for the pleasures of knowledge. The devil appears, to seduce him from his pursuit; Faust is to have all possible sensual enjoyment in life, but is to pay for it by yielding his soul to the devil at last. At the end, Mephistopheles, jealous of his claim, appears and carries off his victim, the student's lost soul.

Anger. I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper, arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by him.—Clarke.

Anger subdued. Two good men on some occasion had a warm dispute; and remembering the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," just before sunset one of them went to the other, and knocking at the door, his offended friend came and opened it, and seeing who it was, started back in astonishment and surprise; the other, at the same time, cried out, "The sun is almost down." This unexpected salutation softened the heart of his friend into affection, and he returned for answer, "Come in, brother, come in." What a happy method of conciliating matters, of redressing grievances, and of reconciling brethren!—Arvine.

Hypocrisy. A very capital painter in London exhibited a piece representing a friar habited in his canonicals. View the painting at a distance, and you would think the friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together and held horizontally to his breast, his eyes meekly demissed like those of the publican in the gospel: and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes; the book which seemed to be before him is discovered to be a punch-bowl, into which the wretch is all the while in reality only squeezing a lemon. How lively a representation of a hypocrite!—Salter.

Idols. A man's idol is not necessarily an image of gold; it may be a child of clay, the fruit of his own loins, or the wife of his bosom; it may be wealth, fame, position, success, or business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against all such the Almighty pronounces the decree: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and hurls his resistless missiles of destruction. Either ourselves or our idols must be destroyed.

Idolatry! You cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality; false gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal, worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearthstone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.—Dr. Chapin.

Loss of time. We are doomed to suffer a bitter pang as often as the irrevocable flight of our time is brought home with keenness to our hearts. The spectacle of the lady floating over the sea in a boat, and waking suddenly from sleep to find her magnificent ropes of pearl necklace by some accident detached from its fastening at one end, the loose string hanging down into the water, and pearl after pearl slipping off for ever into the abyss, brings before us the sadness of the case. That particular pearl which at the very moment is rolling off into the unsearchable deep, carries its own separate reproach to the lady's heart, but is more deeply reproachful as the representative of so many other uncounted pearls that have already been swallowed up irrecoverably while yet she was sleeping, of many, besides, that must follow before any remedy can be applied to what we may call this jewelly hemorrhage.

The intrepid judge. One of the favourites of Henry V., when Prince of Wales, having been indicted for some misdemeanour, was condemned, notwithstanding all the interest he could make in his favour, and the prince was so incensed at the issue of the trial that he struck the judge on the bench. The magistrate, whose name was Sir William Gascoigne, acted with a spirit becoming his character. He instantly ordered the prince to be committed to prison, and young Henry, sensible by this time of the insult he had offered to the laws of his country, suffered himself to be quietly conducted to jail by the officers of justice. The king, Henry IV., who was an excellent judge of mankind, was no sooner informed of this transaction, than he cried out in a transport of joy, "Happy is the king who has a magistrate possessed of courage to execute the laws, and still more happy in having a son who will submit to such chastisement."—Arvine.

Flattery. The coin most current among mankind is flattery: the only benefit of which is, that, by hearing what we are not, we may learn what we ought to be.

Whitfield, when flattered, said, "Take care of fire: I carry powder about me."

A flattering priest told Constantine the Great that his virtues deserved the empire of the world here, and to reign with the Son of God hereafter. The emperor cried, "Fie, fie, for shame; let me hear no more such unseemly speeches; but, rather, suppliantly pray to my Almighty Maker, that, in this life and the life to come, I may be reckoned worthy to be his servant."

Excuses. He that does amiss never lacks excuse. Any excuse will serve when one has not a mind to do a thing. The archer that shoots ill has a lie ready. He that excuses himself accuses himself. A bad workman always complains of his tools.

Wicked counsel. A young man devoted himself to a religious life. His ungodly parents sent him many letters to dissuade him. Being fully decided to go on in his chosen course, when any letters came addressed to him he threw them into the fire at once, without opening them. When friends and kindred stand between us and Christ, they must be disregarded.

Sin. Sin is like the little serpent aspis, which stings men, whereby they fall into a pleasant sleep, and in that sleep die.—Swinnock.

Envy. We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find in the dark, and gloomy, and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the king of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes; it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks—I mean the crucifixion of Christ, for the evangelist tells us that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.

The poets imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean-looking as guilt, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in the misfortunes of others; ever unquiet and careful, and continually tormenting herself.—Wit.

Friendship. True friendship can only be made between true men. Hearts are the soul of honour. There can be no lasting friendship between bad men. Bad men may pretend to love each other; but their friendship is a rope of sand, which shall be broken at any convenient season. But if a man have a sincere heart within him, and be true and noble, then we may confide in him.—Spurgeon.

Ingratitude. A petted soldier of the Macedonian army was shipwrecked, and east upon the shore apparently lifeless. A hospitable Macedonian discovered him, revived him, took him to his home, and treated him in a princely manner, and, when he departed, gave him money for his journey. The rescued soldier expressed warm thanks, and promised royal bounty to his benefactor. Instead, when he came before Philip, he related his own misfortunes, and asked to be rewarded by the lands and house of his rescuer. His request was granted, and he returned, and drove out his former host. The latter hastened to lay the true state before the king; when he restored the land, and caused the soldier to be branded in the forehead, "The Ungrateful Guest," as the reward of his baseness.

Conscience wakeful. Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God's judgment, shall come forth clear and expressive.—M‘Cosh.

Guilty conscience. It gives a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. Let Byron describe its anguish, for who felt it more than he?—

"The mind that broods o'er guilty woes

Is like the scorpion girt by fire;

In circle narrowing as it glows,

The flames around their captive close,

Till inly searched by thousand throes,

And maddening in her ire,

One sad and sole relief she knows—

The sting she nourished for her foes;

Whose venom never yet was vain,

Gives but one pang, and cures all pain,

And darts into her desperate brain;

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like scorpion girt with fire.

So writhes the mind remorse has riven,

Unfit for earth, undoomed for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death."

Forgiveness. As the prince or ruler only has power to forgive treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt only the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount. But we know that he is always ready to forgive. "He keeps mercy for thousands, and pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin."

Forgiveness. In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another, and when he was about to be punished, the injured boy begged for his pardon. The master asked. "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The boy replied, "I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should forgive our enemies; and, therefore, I forgive him, and beg he may not be punished for my sake."

At the present day the green turben which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George, Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher and a keeper of a turnpike gate; and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church.—Geikie.


Verses 3-6

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est . The power of Persia] The king's body-guard. The princes, the pashas, or governors of those provinces.

Est . An hundred and fourscore days] We are not obliged to conclude that all or any of the governors were present during the whole period of festivity.—Rawlinson.

Est . Garden of the king's palace] The kingly palace, or series of houses, was situated, in Oriental manner, as is customary also to-day, in a large park.—Lange.

Est . White, green, and blue hangings] Rather, "where was an awning of fine white cotton and velvet." White and blue, or violet, were the royal colours of Persia. Beds of gold and silver] Couches or sofas on which the guests reclined at meals. The cloths were woven with gold and silver threads.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE HUMAN AND THE DIVINE

Such immense assemblages, and feasts for such a lengthened period, were not uncommon to Oriental monarchs. A similar feast was given by the Emperor of China to the whole population of the province.

I. Human preferences. We have not the means of positively declaring why Ahasuerus gave this great feast. The story of Esther simply records the giving of the feast in order to impart unity to the account, and as being necessary to the explanation of after events. But there is good in all; and if there was generosity in this vain and ambitious monarch, it is seen in the fact that he included the lowest as well as the highest in his festive arrangements. But greater still is the Divine benevolence; for Ahasuerus first entertained the magnates, and then condescended to the lowest, while to the poor is the gospel preached. Moral reforms seem first to touch the "small," and then to affect the "great." In primitive times the poor welcomed the gospel, and gladly sat down at the feast of Divine love. What a pity that in these days the poor, to a very large extent, appear to shut themselves out from the gospel feast! The problem now to solve is how to extend the beneficent influences of Christianity beyond the circle of the respectable classes. Ahasuerus surrounded himself with his body-guard—a large and imposing retinue—and with the pachas or governors of the provinces. These were accounted great; but God finds the Divinely great amongst the humanly small. Human distinctions are reversed in Divine estimation. The preferences of earth are not the preferences of heaven. The great of this planet will look small, and the small of human reckoning appear great, when placed beneath the truer light of a sublimer sphere.

II. Human limitation. Ahasuerus gave a feast which lasted one hundred and eighty days at the most; and, according to some authorities, for only seven days. It is highly probable that the same guests did not continue for the whole period of the feast. Each day there would be fresh arrivals. When one company was feasted, another took up the vacated couches in the festive hall. However prolonged the earthly feast, it must at last terminate. The resources of the hosts are exhausted; the capacities of the guests fail; the viands become corrupt; the banqueting-hall crumbles to ruins; the festivities are rudely interrupted; the songs of gladness give place to cries of sadness. But the feast of Divine love is for all time and for all eternity. The resources of the Omnipotent cannot be exhausted. The word limitation can find no place in the celestial vocabulary.

III. Human infelicity. Earthly feasts too prolonged bring damage to the body, sadness and distress to the spirit. The soul of man cannot find in sensual pleasures its true good. In this book we find that merriment was the direct cause of melancholy. Our greatest earthly joys are too often the sources of our deepest sorrows. Pleasure and pain are closely related, and the one is the parent of the other. The harp hangs upon the willows, and though no hand touch the strings, it gives forth a mournful strain. But Divine joys do not end in tears. The pleasures of heaven are free from all attendant pains. The golden harps give forth no wailing sounds. The feasts of the true Paradise are satisfying; and the deeper we drink of the Divine springs, the more satisfaction do we experience. Therefore saith Divine love, "Feast, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved."

IV. Human incompleteness. The feast was given in the court of the garden of the king's palace. A very beautiful place, no doubt. We can picture its splendours, both natural and artificial. Its fruits luscious, its flowers beautiful in form and in colour, its aromas sweetly fragrant, and the whole aspect of the scene enchanting; but our best earthly gardens are incomplete. Man makes a beautiful garden, and is said to have made the wilderness smile; but the smile only conceals the silent sigh. There is a gloomy grotto in every earthly garden. The lilies fade, the oaks and lindens and acacias are blasted; the very fragrance becomes offensive. In God's garden the trail of the serpent is not visible, the reproving question is not heard, the marks of defect are nowhere seen. It is perfect and complete; the result of unerring wisdom, the expression of boundless resources.

Here learn—(a) Immoderate pleasure causes sorrow. Jesus was present at a marriage-feast, and not as a reproving spirit. The Divine love spreads a table in the wilderness covered with sweetest viands, while his songsters raise their joyful notes at the feast. But in the bitterness of the recoil from excessive pleasure, we say of laughter, It is madness, and of mirth, What doeth it? (b) "He that is of a merry (or cheerful) heart hath a continual feast." The appetite for more develops with the increase of the supply. Nature requires little, and grace less. Oh that we could reach the Apostle's sublime altitude—"I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."

A FEAST FOR ALL PEOPLE

This was a glorious feast. But in Isa we have a description of one which far surpasses it. It is the promise of a feast made by God, furnished with the very best provision, for all people, and, therefore, a feast in which we have an undoubted interest. That we may see how much better the Lord's feast is than Ahasuerus's feast, let us consider the Lord's feast, and the benefits which result from attending it.

I. The Lord's feast described. In connection with the feast we notice—

1. The place where it is made. Ahasuerus made his in the palace garden; God makes his in a mountain (Isa ). That means the Church of God on earth, composed of his penitent, believing, grateful, and obedient subjects. This collective body, or community of God's people, is called by Moses "the mount of the Lord" (Num 10:33).

(1) The Church of God on earth, like a mountain, is generally conspicuous. It cannot be hid. It is seen by God with gracious complacency; it is seen by angels with joy, and affectionate care; it is seen by men with avowed contempt; it is seen by devils with envy and malice. They envy the honours of this mountain; they hate its sovereign, and are manifestly opposed to its government.

(2) Hence, like a mountain, it is peculiarly exposed to storms—storms of persecution, temptation, opposition.

(3) But notwithstanding those hostile assaults, like a mountain, it remains immovably secure. God has promised to watch, to be present with, and to keep it.

(4) Like a mountain, it is extensively beneficial. A mountain is a shelter from storms; so is the Church. Do the treasures of heaven drop on the mountains, and break forth in springs for the benefit of man? So the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. But let us observe—

2. The feast itself. This is undoubtedly the gospel feast. It is sometimes called a marriage feast, a great supper, &c. This leads us to observe—

3. The provision with which the feast is furnished. "Fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined." The provisions thus described are such as must be—

(1) Carefully selected.

(2) Dearly purchased.

(3) Supremely excellent and highly gratifying.

4. The guests for whom this feast is promised. "For all people."

(1) This implies that all mankind need the blessings of the gospel.

(2) That those blessings are obtainable by all those who come for them.

II. The benefits which result from attendance at this feast. These we find are great and various. As—

1. The removal of darkness.

2. Deliverance from sorrow. The Lord will wipe away all tears; all tears of guilty distress, of suffering mortality.

3. Exemption from eternal death.

Application:—

1. On coming to this feast, as Christ commands, confidently expect what he promises.

2. When received at this feast, let your whole deportment be answerable to your entertainment. Be humble, thankful, charitable.—Sketches of Sermons. 1838.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

Est . Banquets on so grand a scale, and extending over so great a period, have not been unfrequently provided by the luxurious monarchs of Eastern countries, both in ancient and modern times. The early portion of this festive season, however, seems to have been dedicated to amusement, particularly an exhibition of the magnificence and treasures of the court.—Port. Commentary.

The description of this feast corresponds to the statement of ancient Persian luxury and magnificence which the Greek authors have sent down to us. The vast numbers entertained at their feasts, as well as the long continuance of these feasts, are points noticed by ancient writers.—Kitto.

Such a feast, as that all other feasts were but hunger to it, whether we regard the number of the guests, the largeness of the preparation, or the continuance of time; yet it had an end. But so hath not the feast of a good conscience.—Trapp.

A world of meat; every meal was so set on as if it should have been the last; yet all this long feast hath an end, and all this glory is shut up in forgetfulness.—Bishop Hall.

Epicurus himself, who placed happiness in pleasure, enjoined temperance as a necessary means of this pleasure. An author of our 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.—Rev. Geo. Lawson.

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. On another occasion the same prince said, that he did not understand how a king should taste unmingled joy at a feast, unless he could invite all his subjects to partake; or unless he could be assured, at least, that none of them would go supperless to bed.

Great pleasure is often followed by equally great displeasure. Occasions of joyous feasting commonly end in sorrow.—Starke.

Better is a dinner of herbs with quietness, and the enjoyment of one's self and a friend, than the banquet of wine with all the noise and tumult that needs attend it.—Matthew Henry.

Est . As the king could not furnish a house for so many guests as were invited to his entertainment, pavilions were prepared for them in the palace garden.

Lest the glory of this great king might seem like some coarse picture, only fair afar off, after the princes and nobles of the remote provinces, all the people of Shushan are entertained for seven days, with equal pomp and state. The spacious court of the palace is turned into a royal hall, the walls are of rich hangings, the pillars of marble, the beds of silver and gold; the wine and vessels strive whether should be richer; no man drank in worse than gold. The attendance was answerable to the cheer, and the freedom matched both.—Bishop Hall.

This feast was held, not in the outlying grounds, but in the centre of the group of buildings. And the curtains around this central group of buildings would admit the light and secure warmth,—an arrangement most desirable for a spring residence.

Garden. The world has had a great many beautiful gardens; but not any of them can be compared to the garden which Christ has in his Church. The Church may be compared to a garden, because,

1. It is a place of the choicest flowers. There are sunflowers, snowdrops, lilies.

2. It is a place of the most select fruits. There are the fruits of patience, charity, integrity.—Rev. C. Leach, F.G.S.

The king made a feast unto all the people. This was not amiss, so that care was taken that no irregulars were found amongst them; for kings should carry themselves towards their people as kindly as parents do toward their children, and shepherds toward their sheep. Are they not, therefore, patres patri, fathers of their country and shepherds of their people?

Both unto great and small. Pell-mell, one with another, to show his liberality; which he might better have bestowed in another way than belly cheer, and such open-house keeping to all comers without difference.—Trapp.

Seven days. Too long together to be a feasting, sith at such times men are apt to exceed and outlash; eating that on earth that they must digest in hell, and drowning both bodies and souls in wine and strong drink, as Richard III. did his brother Clarence in a butt of Malmsey.—Trapp.

1. The power of a nation is not its wealth. As individuals, so nations have been ruined by growing too rich. 2. The power of a nation is not its fortifications. Babylon had high walls and good defences, but was overthrown by the Persians. The power of a nation is its virtuous people. Thus—

4. The security and peace of nations consist not in magnificent feasts, but in the good government of its people, the happiness of its people, the education and enlightenment of its people.—Rev. C. Leach, F.G.S.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est ; Est 1:6

SELF-GLORIFICATION

We speak of Oriental magnificence and Oriental love of display, and do not sufficiently remember that there is an English love of display. During the last few years wealth has increased in England; and with the increase of wealth there has grown an increase of ease, of luxury, and of display. Class has vied with class. The order of the day has been ruinous extravagance. The consequence has been disaster and infamy. Pride must have a fall, and the English nation must experience yet further troubles if it does not seek a true reformation of manners.

I. This monarch was able to make a proud display, and to gratify the Oriental taste for magnificence. The wealth possessed by the Persian monarchs at this period must have been vast, for at the commencement of every year the princes came with their costly presents from the different provinces of the extensive empire. The satrapy of Cilicia furnished a goodly number of horses as its yearly tribute. From another part came a long train of large trays placed on men's heads, on which were shells, stuffs of all sorts, and pearls; then many trays filled with sugar and sweetmeats; and after that many mules laden with fruits. A third sent a string of one hundred camels, and as many mules, together with weapons of war. And so from all the widely extended provinces the gifts came. And even India furnished a tribute, consisting of vessels filled with gold, and of ornaments, and of wild asses which were prized for the purpose of stocking the royal parks. It is not, therefore, astonishing that Ahasuerus was able to give the numerous guests "drink in vessels of gold (the vessels being diverse one from another), and royal wine in abundance." The vastness of his resources may also be still more clearly apprehended from a consideration of the fittings and furniture as thus described:—"White stuff variegated with purple hangings, fastened with cords of byssus and purple to silver rings and marble pillars; couches of silver and gold upon a pavement of malachite and marble, and mother-of-pearl, and tortoise-shell." The couches prepared for the guests were covered with cloth woven of gold and silver thread, and were placed upon a tesselated, mosaic-like floor. These imposing white marble pillars were stationary, and formed a permanent part of the palatial residence. How magnificent! Shall we not condone his vanity as he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty? No wonder that he was exalted with pride. How much to feed the spirit of self-glorification!

II. But this proud display was a contemptible exhibition. For it showed (a) The materialism of his nature. No mention here of moral riches. He showed the riches of his kingdom, but never spoke of the virtue of his people. The external was magnified; the internal was dwarfed. It might be, so far, refined materialism; but in any shape materialism is degrading. (b) The narrowness of his view. Great as was the magnificence of this monarch, greater still, by far, is the Creator's magnificence as seen even in this material universe; and this world is but a small part of his empire. Bring together the treasures and glories of all the palaces and mansions of earth; and, being only a small selection, they but tend to show to the reflective mind the vastness of nature's resources. But all this the monarch's mind did not perceive. Self bounded the range of his vision. He was contracted in his views. (c) The childishness of his spirit. The beautiful simplicity of the child is seen in its display of its possessions; but the ignoble childishness of the monarch is seen in the display of his material riches. The Almighty does not make a parade of the riches of his glorious kingdom; but permits them to speak for themselves. Yea, he seems to conceal his treasures; and all goodly pearls reveal themselves only to diligent seekers.

III. This proud display has a sorrowful aspect. He showed his riches … many days. The display only lasted for days after all. This sorrowful word is written on all our earthly possessions. Days mark the period of our stewardship; for all are stewards. The end of the days, though many, even an hundred and fourscore, will come at last. And then whose shall these things be? Then what account will the poor, elated, flattered monarchs be able to give of their stewardship? Let us then (a) follow the example of the Divine King and not of the human. Let not vain breath be spent in blowing the glorifying trumpet Pearls will be found. Let our wealth—material, intellectual, or moral—speak for itself. Let the light of goodness shine out clearly, and then we shall not need to say, See how brightly we illuminate the universe. (b) Let us see the warning word "days" inscribed on all our possessions, on our golden thrones, on our palaces of marble, and over our gardens of delight. This will abate our pride; this will remove the spirit of self-glorification. He that possesses spiritual riches, the gift of Christ Jesus, will find his "days" merge into the bright, unending day of heaven.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est ; Est 1:6

Est . What is greatness if it be not showed? And wherein can greatness be better shown than in the achievements of war and the entertainments of peace?—Bishop Hall.

This is instanced by the Holy Ghost, to set forth the pride and vanity of this great monarch, abusing God's gifts to his own ambition, and priding himself in that wealth which had been gotten by the hard labour of his poor subjects.—Trapp.

This was vainglory, an affectation of pomp to no purpose at all; for none questioned the riches of his kingdom, nor offered to vie with him for honour. If he had showed the riches of his kingdom, and the honour of his majesty, as some of his successors did, in contributing largely towards the building of the temple, and the maintaining of the temple-service, it would have turned to a much better account.—Matthew Henry.

Poor man! he little knew wherein true riches, glory, and royalty consisted.

The princes feasted; the provinces would have to fast.

Upon a pavement of red and blue. These are those things that make us desirous to live long here. Will these save a man from sickness? Do not these outward gauds and gaieties carry away the heart from the love of better things?—Trapp.

Wealth, honour, and draperies are poor things to put a dying head upon.

If the feast of an earthly monarch be so magnificent, what will be the feast of the King of kings in heaven? There will be unfading splendour, and pleasures without exhaustion or satiety. All things are ready for this feast; we are all invited. May we accept the gracious invitation, seek and find the wedding garment, and sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb.—Henry and Scott.

1. The folly of building upon "riches" and "honour." It is idolatrous in principle. It puts the creature in the place of the Creator. It looks no higher than this life. God, heaven, eternity, are all sacrificed for pleasure. It is destructive in its issues. "A house on the sand." "A broken cistern." "A lifeless tree."

2. The wisdom of building upon the true riches. It is pious in its principle. It refers all to God. Exalts him in the soul, and renders to him his just honour. It is elevated in its aim. Heaven—eternity. Mean is the ambition of the man who aims at universal empire when compared with the Christian's aim. He aims at the possession and enjoyment of God.—Rev. C. Leach, F.G.S.

An ancient father, when he first set his foot in Rome, at that time the mistress and wonder of the world, made this pious observation: "If an earthly kingdom is so glorious, how glorious must the new Jerusalem be!" If you account those men happy who were feasted in the royal gardens of Shushan, how blessed must those men be who are admitted to an eternal feast in Christ's Father's House! Gold and silver and pearls are but poor emblems of its celestial splendour.—Rev. G. Lawson.

The owner of this must have been very much prospered.

1. Prosperity should lead to praise.

2. As a matter of fact, prosperity is often hostile to the spiritual life.

3. To permit the pleasures of life to absorb our attention is degrading to the nature entrusted to us by God.

4. It is destructive to the happiness which thus is mistakenly sought. Application:

1. To the rich and prosperous: be on your guard. To the poor: murmur not that prosperity has been denied you; wealth is the eternal ruin of many.—B. Thompson.

It is not your riches of this world, but your riches of grace, that shall do your souls good. "Not my wealth, nor my blood, but my Christianity makes me noble," quoth that noble martyr Romanus. And though the philosopher merrily, when he was asked whether were better, wisdom or riches, answered, Riches: "for I have often," said he, "seen poor wise men at rich fools' doors, but never rich fools at poor wise men's doors;" yet wealth may be joined with wisdom, goodness with greatness. Mary and Martha may be sisters; righteousness and riches may dwell together.—Adams.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE WHOLE CHAPTER

This book presents us with impressive views of man with and without grace; of the great instability of human affairs; of the sovereign power, justice, and faithfulness of the Supreme Being. We now call your attention to the first chapter.

I. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus. Commentators differ about him. He was a heathen—a stranger to God—possessing extensive dominions. His was the second of the four great empires. These empires have come to nought; but, brethren, there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in heaven for ever. Let us be numbered among its subjects.

II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, wished to make a display of his greatness: made a feast—the power of Media and Persia present—he exhibited his riches, and honour, and glory. Notice his pride. Beware of pride. Pray that you may habitually remember what you are—poor, fallen sinners.

III. At this feast, though a heathen one, moderation was observed. "And the drinking was according to law: none did compel." Intemperance is an abomination and a degradation; hence we should flee from it.

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. It is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshazzar's feast; we read of Herod's feast. In such entertainments God is liable to be forgotten. Solomon, who with extraordinary diligence, and unparalleled success, had examined and tried the sources of all earthly gratification, tells us, in language which ought never to be out of remembrance, that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting."

V. Let us consider the evil which was occasioned by the feast.—The king ordered the queen to be brought. She refused to come. The wrath of the king was kindled. The result was a council, then the divorcement of the queen. Quarrels, animosities, and heart-burnings are so contrary to that religion of love which a received gospel generates, that we ought to strive to the utmost for the preservation of the opposite virtues. Christ is the Prince of Peace; let us not only trust in his death for salvation, but imitate his meekness and lowliness of heart.

Two short remarks shall close this discourse:—

1. It behoveth us to lead excellent lives, and the higher we are placed in the community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition. Let our lives be continual sermons to those among whom we live.

2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed. "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God."—Hughes.

I. The vast extent of the Persian empire. It comprehended all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west; and from the Black Sea and Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia. This gigantic dominion was divided into 127 provinces or governments, each of which was placed under a satrap, or, in modern language, a pasha, who managed its affairs, and annually transmitted a certain sum as revenue to the king. The seat of government was variable, according to the season of the year, the summer months being spent by the court at Ecbatana, and the winter months at Susa, or, as it is called in this chapter, Shushan, the palace. The form of government in the East has from the earliest times been despotic, one man swaying the destinies of millions, and having under him a crowd of smaller despots, each in his more limited sphere oppressing the people subjected to his rule.

1. Despotism has its occasional fits of generosity and kindness. It is as kind-hearted that Ahasuerus is brought before you in the early part of this chapter. He was spending the winter months at Susa. The retinue of the monarch was vast, and the fountains and gardens were on a scale of grandeur which we cannot well conceive. There, then, the king, but little concerned about the welfare of his subjects, was spending his time, chiefly in selfish ease and unbounded revelry. To him it was of no moment how his people were oppressed by those whom he set over them; his sole concern was to enjoy his pleasures.

2. With all the luxury and temptation to self-indulgence, there was no compulsion employed to draw any one beyond the bounds of temperance. The law was good, but the king himself had too largely used the liberty, and hence his loss of self-control and all sense of propriety. When heated with wine he sent for Vashti, &c. Lessons suggested are—

(1) Extravagancies and follies into which men are betrayed by intemperance.

(2) That which dethrones reason and destroys intellect should surely be avoided.

(3) All the consequences which affect the man individually, and others also, rest upon the head of the transgressor.

(4) Intemperance (a) blots out distinction between right and wrong; (b) foments all the evil passions of the natural heart; (c) destroys the proper exercise of the power of the will; (d) and often inflicts grievous wounds upon the innocent, as the case of Vashti here already demonstrates.

(5) The necessity of guarding against these evils.

II. The evils which arose from the peculiar family arrangements of those countries. We take occasion here to observe two great evils:—

1. The condition of the female sex was that of degradation. The married woman was not really what the Divine institution intended her to be, the true companion and friend of her husband. She was kept in a state of seclusion, real freedom she knew not; she was, in truth, only a slave, having power to command some other slaves. She was without education, and generally unintelligent, frivolous, and heartless. She was guarded with zealous care, as if she had been very precious, but at the same time she was wholly dependent upon the caprices of her lord.

2. Yet, strangely enough, in the second place, it is to be noticed that, as if to afford evidence that the law of nature cannot be trampled upon with impunity, it very frequently happened that the female influence was felt by the despotic husband, so as to make him in reality the slave. Not conscious of it, but imagining that he held the place of absolute authority, he was himself governed; yet not through the power of real affection, but through the imbecile doting which constituted all that he knew of real affection. Common history abounds with illustrations of this fact, and in the sacred history we have examples of the same kind; David, Solomon, and Ahab are instances. There is never a violation of God's righteous appointments, but it is followed by some penalty. From this Book of Esther, it appears very obviously that Ahasuerus, with all his caprices and his stern, imperious self-will, was at first completely under the influence of Vashti, as he afterwards came to be under that of Esther. The whole domestic system being unnaturally constructed, there was, of necessity, derangements in the conducting of it. The despot might be one day all tenderness and submission, and the next day he might, to gratify his humour, exact from his slaves what, a short time afterwards, he would have counted it absolutely wrong in himself to command, and punishable in them to do.

III. The degradation of Vashti. We have to look at the circumstances which are brought before us in the narrative. At a season when sound counsel could scarcely have been expected, and when he who sought it was not in a fit condition to profit by it, the serious question was proposed by the king, "What shall be done to Vashti?" &c. To defer the consideration of so grave a subject to a more fitting season would have been so clearly the path which a wise counsellor would have recommended, that we feel astonished that it was not at once suggested. But the wrath of the king was so strongly exhibited that his compliant advisers did not venture to contradict him. "Memucan answered," &c. Now, with respect to this opinion of the chief counsellor, it may be observed that it was based upon a principle which in itself is unquestionably right, although there was a wrong application made of it. Rank and station, while they command a certain measure of respect, involve very deep responsibility. 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. Thus far Memucan spoke wisely, when he pointed to the example of the queen as that which would certainly have an influence, wherever it came to be known, throughout the empire. But the principle, in the present instance, was wrongly applied when it was made the ground of condemning the conduct of Vashti. The design was to make her appear guilty of an act of insubordination, which it was necessary for the king to punish, if he would promote the good of his subjects, whereas, in reality, she had upon her side all the authority of law and custom, and was to be made the victim both of the ungovernable wrath of the king, who was beside himself with wine, and also of flatterers who, to gratify him, would do wrong to the innocent. See here the danger of flattery.

Let us extract some practical lessons from our subject.

1. The inadequacy of all earthly good to make man truly happy. Surveying the whole scene portrayed in the early verses of this chapter, we might imagine that the sovereign who ruled over this empire, upon whose nod the interests of so many millions depended, and for whose pleasure the product of so many various climes could be gathered together, had surely all the elements of enjoyment at his command.… And yet we must say that the mightiest sovereign of his time, with 127 provinces subject to him, with princes serving him, and slaves kissing the dust at his feet, was not half so happy as the humblest individual here, who knows what is meant by the comforts of home, where he is in the midst of those who love him.

2. A few remarks may be offered upon the domestic question here settled by the king and his counsellors, as to the supremacy of man in his own house. How could they pronounce a sound judgment upon a question which their customs prevented them from rightly knowing?

3. We have in the text a law spoken of which changeth not. And, my friends, there is such a law, but it is not the law of the Medes and Persians, it is the law of the Eternal. Jehovah's law changeth not. And what does it say? "This do and live." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." That seals us all up under wrath. But we turn the page, and we read and see that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." And is not this our conclusion, then—"I will flee from the curse of the immutable law, and shelter myself under the righteousness of Christ, which is also perfect and immutable, that through him and from him I may have mercy and eternal life"?—Dr. Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1

Power. Pompey boasted, that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms; with one scratch of his pen, Ahasuerus could call to his assistance the forces of 127 provinces; but God, by one word of his mouth, one movement of his will, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds to his aid, or bring new creatures into being to do his will.

Dignity. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin; to which he replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

Great men. Columbus was the son of a weaver, and a weaver himself. Cervantes was a common soldier. Homer was the son of a small farmer. Demosthenes was the son of a cutler. Terence was a slave. Oliver Cromwell was the son of a London brewer. Howard was an apprentice to a grocer. Franklin was a journeyman printer, and son of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Worcester, was the son of a linen-draper. Daniel Defoe was a hostler, and son of a butcher. Whitfield was the son of an innkeeper at Gloucester. Virgil was the son of a porter. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper. Shakespeare was the son of a woolstapler. Milton was the son of a money scrivener. Robert Burns was a ploughman in Ayrshire. Yet all these rose to eminence.

How to make a feast. "Lord Chief Justice Hall frequently invited his poor neighbours to dinner, and made them sit at table with himself. If any of them were sick, so that they could not come, he would send provisions to them warm from his table."

Favour of God. It was the saying of a wise Roman, "I had rather have the esteem of the Emperor Augustus than his gifts;" for he was an honourable, understanding prince, and his favour very honourable. When Cyrus gave one of his friends a kiss, and another a wedge of gold, he that had the gold envied him that had the kiss as a greater expression of his favour. So the true Christian prefers the privilege of acceptance with God to the possession of any earthly comfort, for in the light of his countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain.—Butler.

Pride of wealth. 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. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel book.—Seeker.

Abuse of wealth. 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.—Ruskin.

Danger. "A boy climbing among the Alps saw some flowers on the verge of a precipice, and sprang forward to get them. The guide shouted his warnings; but the heedless boy grasped the flowers, and fell a thousand feet upon the rocks below with them in his hand. It was a dear price for such frail things, but he is not the only victim of such folly."

Danger of prosperity. When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me, that is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. Then we shall say, as Cardinal Wolsey, when discarded by his prince and abandoned to the fury of his enemies: "If I had served my God as faithfully as my king, he would not have thus forsaken me." Poor man! all the perfumes on earth are unable to prevail over the stench of hell.—Secker.

In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul.—Salter.

When fire is put to green wood there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, the filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a dunghill, so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshiny day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights, &c.—Brooks.

Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away—the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.—Baxter.

We commend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain that, by our abuse, both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Oh, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat indulgence he should kill in himself both the first Adam—his reason, and even the second Adam—his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.—Adams.

An earnest young minister was in the house of a rich friend. He was pressed to take wine, but refused. It was again pressed upon him. At length he yielded to their importunities, and drank a little. Gradually he formed a liking for wine, and at length began taking far too much. By degrees, and almost before he was aware of it, he became a drunkard. He was degraded from his office of the ministry, and sank lower and lower. Years after he had been pressed to drink by his rich friend, he came again to his door; this time to beg for a little food, and was ordered away as a drunken vagabond.

Joseph Ralston, of Philipsburg, Penn., met with a horrible death by freezing. He had been drinking freely, and had, while drunk, to wade the Moshandoo Creek; but, ere he proceeded two-thirds of the way, his limbs refused to perform their office. He grasped a bough of an overhanging tree, unable to advance farther; and soon the fast-congealing water cemented close about him—a tomb of ice which stretched from shore to shore. Two days after he was found there rigid as an icicle, his knees embedded in a sheet of the frozen element seven inches thick, his body inclined a little forwards, his hands clutching the boughs, eyes astare, and despair pictured on his features.—Pittsburgh Despatch.

God trieth men's love to him by their keeping his commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that will not leave a forbidden cup for him. O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple if thou forsake not all for him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of him, and wouldst die rather than forsake him? And thou like to lay down thy life for him, who wilt not leave a cup of drink for him? Canst thou burn at a stake for him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess, for him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!—Baxter.

Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both body and soul. And while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul, yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.—Chrysostom.

"If you have glutted yourselves with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter."—J. Lyth, D.D.

Bountiful King. The Lord, like a most bountiful king, will be angry if any man will ask a small thing at his hands; because he had rather give things of great worth than of small value. His goodness is infinite.—Powell.

Fulness of Christ. I have found it an interesting thing to stand at the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for 6000 years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of lightness fail, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ! Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on through eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour! Image of God! Divine Redeemer! In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy!—Dr. Guthrie.

Wife. "And now let us see whether the word ‘wife' has not a lesson. It literally means a weaver. The wife is the person who weaves. Before our great cotton and cloth factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own. The wool was spun into threads by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who, accordingly, was called the weaver, or the wife; and another remnant of this old truth we discover in the word ‘heirloom,' applied to any old piece of furniture which has come down to us from our ancestors, and which, though it may be a chair or bed, shows that a loom was an important article in every house. Thus the word ‘wife' means weaver; and, as Trench well remarks, ‘in the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupation, as being fitted for her who bears the name.'"

Pleasures. The pleasures of the world surfeit with satisfying, while heavenly pleasures satisfy without surfeiting. The surfeited nature of the sensualist requires a constantly increasing stimulus to rouse his used-up powers, but with each advance in Christian enjoyment there is an increased power to appreciate heavenly joys. The pleasures of the world are like the kiss of Judas, given but to betray; the pleasures of heaven make the soul bright and beautiful, as when the face of Moses was transformed by the vision of God.—J. G. Pilkington.

Pleasures. Pleasures, like the rose, are sweet, but prickly; the honey doth not countervail the sting; all the world's delights are vanity, and end in vexation; like Judas, while they kiss, they betray. I would neither be a stone nor an epicure; allow of no pleasure, nor give way to all; they are good sauce, but naught to make a meal of. I may use them sometimes for digestion, never for food.—Henshaw.

Price of pleasure. Goethe, in his "Faust," introduces for his hero a student longing for the pleasures of knowledge. The devil appears, to seduce him from his pursuit; Faust is to have all possible sensual enjoyment in life, but is to pay for it by yielding his soul to the devil at last. At the end, Mephistopheles, jealous of his claim, appears and carries off his victim, the student's lost soul.

Anger. I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper, arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by him.—Clarke.

Anger subdued. Two good men on some occasion had a warm dispute; and remembering the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," just before sunset one of them went to the other, and knocking at the door, his offended friend came and opened it, and seeing who it was, started back in astonishment and surprise; the other, at the same time, cried out, "The sun is almost down." This unexpected salutation softened the heart of his friend into affection, and he returned for answer, "Come in, brother, come in." What a happy method of conciliating matters, of redressing grievances, and of reconciling brethren!—Arvine.

Hypocrisy. A very capital painter in London exhibited a piece representing a friar habited in his canonicals. View the painting at a distance, and you would think the friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together and held horizontally to his breast, his eyes meekly demissed like those of the publican in the gospel: and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes; the book which seemed to be before him is discovered to be a punch-bowl, into which the wretch is all the while in reality only squeezing a lemon. How lively a representation of a hypocrite!—Salter.

Idols. A man's idol is not necessarily an image of gold; it may be a child of clay, the fruit of his own loins, or the wife of his bosom; it may be wealth, fame, position, success, or business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against all such the Almighty pronounces the decree: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and hurls his resistless missiles of destruction. Either ourselves or our idols must be destroyed.

Idolatry! You cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality; false gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal, worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearthstone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.—Dr. Chapin.

Loss of time. We are doomed to suffer a bitter pang as often as the irrevocable flight of our time is brought home with keenness to our hearts. The spectacle of the lady floating over the sea in a boat, and waking suddenly from sleep to find her magnificent ropes of pearl necklace by some accident detached from its fastening at one end, the loose string hanging down into the water, and pearl after pearl slipping off for ever into the abyss, brings before us the sadness of the case. That particular pearl which at the very moment is rolling off into the unsearchable deep, carries its own separate reproach to the lady's heart, but is more deeply reproachful as the representative of so many other uncounted pearls that have already been swallowed up irrecoverably while yet she was sleeping, of many, besides, that must follow before any remedy can be applied to what we may call this jewelly hemorrhage.

The intrepid judge. One of the favourites of Henry V., when Prince of Wales, having been indicted for some misdemeanour, was condemned, notwithstanding all the interest he could make in his favour, and the prince was so incensed at the issue of the trial that he struck the judge on the bench. The magistrate, whose name was Sir William Gascoigne, acted with a spirit becoming his character. He instantly ordered the prince to be committed to prison, and young Henry, sensible by this time of the insult he had offered to the laws of his country, suffered himself to be quietly conducted to jail by the officers of justice. The king, Henry IV., who was an excellent judge of mankind, was no sooner informed of this transaction, than he cried out in a transport of joy, "Happy is the king who has a magistrate possessed of courage to execute the laws, and still more happy in having a son who will submit to such chastisement."—Arvine.

Flattery. The coin most current among mankind is flattery: the only benefit of which is, that, by hearing what we are not, we may learn what we ought to be.

Whitfield, when flattered, said, "Take care of fire: I carry powder about me."

A flattering priest told Constantine the Great that his virtues deserved the empire of the world here, and to reign with the Son of God hereafter. The emperor cried, "Fie, fie, for shame; let me hear no more such unseemly speeches; but, rather, suppliantly pray to my Almighty Maker, that, in this life and the life to come, I may be reckoned worthy to be his servant."

Excuses. He that does amiss never lacks excuse. Any excuse will serve when one has not a mind to do a thing. The archer that shoots ill has a lie ready. He that excuses himself accuses himself. A bad workman always complains of his tools.

Wicked counsel. A young man devoted himself to a religious life. His ungodly parents sent him many letters to dissuade him. Being fully decided to go on in his chosen course, when any letters came addressed to him he threw them into the fire at once, without opening them. When friends and kindred stand between us and Christ, they must be disregarded.

Sin. Sin is like the little serpent aspis, which stings men, whereby they fall into a pleasant sleep, and in that sleep die.—Swinnock.

Envy. We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find in the dark, and gloomy, and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the king of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes; it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks—I mean the crucifixion of Christ, for the evangelist tells us that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.

The poets imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean-looking as guilt, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in the misfortunes of others; ever unquiet and careful, and continually tormenting herself.—Wit.

Friendship. True friendship can only be made between true men. Hearts are the soul of honour. There can be no lasting friendship between bad men. Bad men may pretend to love each other; but their friendship is a rope of sand, which shall be broken at any convenient season. But if a man have a sincere heart within him, and be true and noble, then we may confide in him.—Spurgeon.

Ingratitude. A petted soldier of the Macedonian army was shipwrecked, and east upon the shore apparently lifeless. A hospitable Macedonian discovered him, revived him, took him to his home, and treated him in a princely manner, and, when he departed, gave him money for his journey. The rescued soldier expressed warm thanks, and promised royal bounty to his benefactor. Instead, when he came before Philip, he related his own misfortunes, and asked to be rewarded by the lands and house of his rescuer. His request was granted, and he returned, and drove out his former host. The latter hastened to lay the true state before the king; when he restored the land, and caused the soldier to be branded in the forehead, "The Ungrateful Guest," as the reward of his baseness.

Conscience wakeful. Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God's judgment, shall come forth clear and expressive.—M‘Cosh.

Guilty conscience. It gives a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. Let Byron describe its anguish, for who felt it more than he?—

"The mind that broods o'er guilty woes

Is like the scorpion girt by fire;

In circle narrowing as it glows,

The flames around their captive close,

Till inly searched by thousand throes,

And maddening in her ire,

One sad and sole relief she knows—

The sting she nourished for her foes;

Whose venom never yet was vain,

Gives but one pang, and cures all pain,

And darts into her desperate brain;

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like scorpion girt with fire.

So writhes the mind remorse has riven,

Unfit for earth, undoomed for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death."

Forgiveness. As the prince or ruler only has power to forgive treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt only the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount. But we know that he is always ready to forgive. "He keeps mercy for thousands, and pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin."

Forgiveness. In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another, and when he was about to be punished, the injured boy begged for his pardon. The master asked. "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The boy replied, "I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should forgive our enemies; and, therefore, I forgive him, and beg he may not be punished for my sake."

At the present day the green turben which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George, Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher and a keeper of a turnpike gate; and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church.—Geikie.


Verse 7-8

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est . Royal wine] A very costly wine, called the Chalybonian wine, that the Persian kings used to drink.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

UNWISE LIBERALITY, BUT A WISE REGULATION

Here is liberality shown not merely by a warmth of feeling, or by a flow of well-expressed sentiments, but by the extent of its bestowals. No one could justly complain that Ahasuerus was of a niggardly turn of mind on this occasion. All was done on a large and generous scale, "according to the state of a king." Costly vessels adorned the festive board, the rich Chalybonian wine foamed and sparkled in the golden tankards. There was no stint at this royal entertainment. The generous man commands our admiration, if not our esteem. And while we seek to show the unwisdom of this king's course of proceeding, we do not refuse our meed of praise for the generous spirit which he displayed.

I. This monarch's liberality was unwise, for it was an encouragement to drunkenness. According to Grecian information, an exceedingly large quantity of wine was drunk at Persian feasts. Now, if the king's provision and the king's decree were intended, or were calculated, to promote extensive drinking, and were a permission to each guest not to stint himself as to the amount of wine he drank, then it was not wise; for moderation is desirable, as all allow. Even strong drinkers admit the advantages of temperance. A certain king asked a philosopher how he was to behave himself, and the philosopher replied, "Remember always that you are a king." This the inebriate cannot do, for alcohol, though it may quicken the imagination, enfeebles both the will, the memory, and the judgment. The drunkard is a slave, and not a king, though he sit on a Persian throne. No drunkard can inherit the kingdom of heaven. The rich wines of earth spoil the taste, so that the spirit cannot appreciate the richer wines of heaven.

II. This monarch's liberality was unwise, even if it were not an encouragement to drunkenness. Alcohol is useless as an article of diet, and wines are drunk for the sake of the alcohol which they contain. Alcohol is treated as an alien in all its travels through the body, and no part welcomes it as a friend, or provides for it a home. If alcohol impairs the power of the physical system, if, further, it blunts the reason, prevents the critical faculty from exercising its fine power of drawing the line between the evil and the good, and lessens the authority of moral control, then surely it should not be received by him who is a self-denying practiser of that which is morally good; then surely the sincere follower of Christ should abstain.

III. This monarch's liberality was unwise, even if it were an encouragement to merriment. The respectable drinker professes to take alcohol, not through the promptings of animalism, but for the sake of the genial excitement and the feeling of good fellowship it promotes. The feast is dull when alcohol does not furnish its exhilarating influence. It excites the intellect, promotes conversation, and gives a charm to existence, its advocates seem to declare. But the laughter engendered by alcohol is as the crackling of thorns under a pot. Yea, it is worse. The thorns crackle and expire without any unpleasant consequences, but this laughter crackles with a noise that is ominous of coming troubles. An even flow of pleasure, the product of the harmonious and healthy working of all the parts of a man's nature, is more to be preferred than that undue excitement which produces a fearful relapse and a painful recoil.

IV. This monarch's unwise liberality was in some measure atoned for by the wisdom of his regulation. The spirit of the regulation made by this Persian monarch may be brought out by the statement that every man was allowed to please himself. And this, so far, is wise. Let there be no forced drinking at the feast. We may go further, and say, Let the man be a teetotaller without asking unpleasant questions, and letting him feel that his course requires an apology. The social tyranny of the past has received a blow through the advance of temperance principles from which it will not recover; but we still feel too much of its power at our public feasts. Surely a man ought to be allowed to refuse wine in the same way as he would refuse any other article at the table.

Let wise men learn to abstain. Hooker says that "a greater good is to be chosen before a less." Some men declare that it is good to take alcoholic beverages, but it is plainly proved that it is a greater good not to take; therefore let the not-taking be the purpose of every well-instructed nature. If we seek the preservation of bodily health we must not take. If reason is to rule, if the balance of the moral nature is to be preserved, if body, soul, and spirit are to be presented an acceptable and holy and living sacrifice to God by Christ Jesus, we must beware of alcoholic drinks; we must exercise wise and joyful restraints at all festive gatherings; we must recognize the truth that we are greater, and bow to greater things than that of allowing the soul to be slave of the body, the moral nature to be moulded by fashion, and the reason to be tyrannized over by foolish customs.

I. The drunkard's excuses, by which he endeavours to defend or palliate his crime.

1. Good fellowship. But can friendship be founded on vice; especially on a vice which notoriously impairs the memory and the sense of obligation, leads to the betrayal of secrets, and stirs up strife and contention? Instead of promoting conversation, it destroys it by destroying the very capacity of communicating rational and agreeable thought. The drunkard may make his company merry, but they laugh at, not with him, and merely because they are delighted with the sight of one sillier than themselves.

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 his 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. To drink to drown remorse is especially absurd, for all that the drunkard can expect from this course is the benefit of travelling some part of the road to eternal misery with his eyes covered.

3. The drunkard has other excuses. He says that he is so exposed to care and business that he cannot avoid drinking to excess, or that he is of so easy and flexible a temper that he cannot resist the importunities of his friends, as he calls them. Thus he is for softening his vice into a sort of virtue, and calling that good nature which his creditor calls villany, and his family cruelty.

II. The drunkard's woe. This is made up of the miserable effects, as well temporal as spiritual, of his favourite vice.

1. Poverty.

2. Contempt.

3. Ill health.

4. An untimely death. Consider, too, the spiritual evils that spring from and punish the vice of drunkenness.

1. The understanding is depraved and darkened.

2. The will is enfeebled and dethroned. The passions are inflamed and rendered ungovernable.

3. Regard for men, reverence for God, are destroyed. Drunkenness travels with a whole train of other vices, and requires the whole width of the broad way to give it room.—Clapham's Selected Sermons.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

Here was no compulsion, either as to the measure or the quality of the draught: every man's rule was his own choice. Who can but blush to see forced healths in Christian banquets, when the civility of many pagans commands liberty!—Bishop Hall.

The bounties of Providence are continual evidence of God's tender care towards 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 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 use of God's mercies.—Hughes.

Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart to the Lord.—Paul, the Apostle.

There was no forcing of healths or urging of them; every man drank as he pleased; so that if there were any that drank to excess, it was their own fault. This caution of a heathen prince, even then when he would show his generosity, may shame many that are called Christians, that think they do not sufficiently show their good housekeeping nor bid their friends welcome unless they make them drunk, and, under pretence of sending the health round, send the sin round and death with it. There is a woe to them that do so; let them read it and tremble (Hab ). It is robbing men of their reason, their richest jewel, and making them fools, the greatest wrong that can be.—Matthew Henry.

"The man who would compel his fellows to wound their own souls, by sinning against God, must be viewed in no better light than a barbarian who puts a sword into their hands, and requires them to sheathe it in their own bowels."

We are not told in the present passage that the king on this occasion exceptionally permitted moderation, especially to such of his guests as were, according to their ancestral customs, addicted to moderation, and who would else have been compelled to drink moderately; for the words with which this verse concludes, while they imply also a permission to each to drink as little as he chooses, are specially intended to allow every one to take much.—Berthau.

Est . I. This shows the common sense of the king. He behaved much better in this matter than many who are known as gentlemen. Many are lost through being importuned to drink against their wish.

II. This would test the moral strength of the guests. Wise men will not eat and drink more than the laws of temperance allow. If any drank too much, it was his own fault; there was no compulsion. He could blame neither the king nor the law.

III. The tenth verse shows, however, that wine mastered the king. He would suffer no man to be compelled to drink to excess, yet set the example of excessive drinking. The law provided for moderation, but the king went beyond all that. In eating, drinking, and everything we do, let us remember the chief end of man.—Rev. C. Leach, F.G.S.

Drunkenness. Drunkenness is an abomination to God and a degradation to man. By this sin the creature which is inferior only to the angels makes himself lower than the brute.

I. See the peril of moderate drinking. It creates the appetite for drink. We have no natural taste for it; it increases as well as creates the appetite. Supply creates demand; it grows with what it feeds on. It gives the appetite entire control. The man becomes first a slave, then a victim.

II. See the madness of drunkenness. It beclouds the intellect, destroys the personality, and debases the image of God.

III. See the woes of drunkenness. There is the woe of physical consequences; there is the woe of a distracted mind; there is the woe of perverted powers; there is the woe of morel defects; and there is the woe of God's malediction. This is written in both volumes of the Scripture.—Rev. C. Leach, F.G.S.

There is no homogeneity between alcohol and any part of man's physical system. Tissue does not assimilate it; the blood cells are distorted in shape and imperfect in action through its pernicious influence; the nervous system is deranged, and the nerve centres are quickened to undue action, by its irritating power; the digestive processes are arrested by its precipitating properties; the liquor sanguinis flows with greater ease and purity when not impregnated with its subtle poison; animal heat is promoted by oleaginous substances, but ultimately lowered by the injurious action of alcohol; and the cerebrum can decide difficult questions with greater clearness, and the cerebellum can hold the reins of government with more perfect mastery, when alcohol does not disturb. Alcoholic drinks are injurious, for they impair the body's power of resisting both the approaches of pestilence and the changes of climate. Life in God's world must be preserved on God's conditions of truth, sobriety, and industry. The man who takes alcoholic drinks in moderation may suppose that he will escape damage, but it is a delusion, for the man who drinks his daily drams will not only gradually but surely impair the physical nature, but have a blunted conscience, and a solution of continuity in the powers of ratiocination and memory. We cannot be unacquainted with their properties of producing a pharisaic self-complacency in certain classes.

According to the state of the king. For whom it was not unlawful to feast, so to show his liberality towards his peers and courtesy to his people. But that which was blameworthy in him was—

1. His vain-glory.

2. His prodigality.

3. His misspending of time,

4. His neglect of business.

5. His contempt of the true God, not once acknowledged by him or his guests. Lastly, their profane mirth and jollity, without the least note of sanctity or respect to God's glory.—Trapp.

In abundance, according to the state of the king, according to the hand = power of the king, means that the great quantity did honour to the power of the king, or that it corresponded to the ability and riches of the king.—Lange.

The kingly character. The true king is the able man. Able he should be not only from the abundance of his material resources, and the advantages of his situation, but from the greatness of his moral nature. Every man who is morally able is a king. But this true kingship is only possible by virtue of spiritual alliance with the King Christ Jesus. He was the gloriously able Man. He has such a store of ability that he can make all his followers able.

I. It was not according to the state of a king

(1) to make a vain parade. The man conscious of his strength or of his wisdom need never and will never boast his powers. There will be fit occasion when he speaks of his ability. The sun shines without directing attention to his rays.

(2) To place temptation in the way of his subjects. Heaven's King tempteth no man to evil; he seeketh to make all kingly. There is a royal benevolence in his nature and royal beneficence in his proceedings. The kingly are those who imitate this blessed pattern. This unkingly earth needs more kingly men of this true type.

(3) To be weak and capricious. Poor Ahasuerus was not an able man. He was like a poor reed tossed by the gusts of passion and the whirlwinds of caprice. He sat on a throne, but did not wield the sceptre of a firm will. He was himself governed.

II. It was according to the state of a king

(1) to be munificent. The hand of some kings is grasping. But the true conception of the kingly hand is to be open in order to spread blessings. The more munificent and the more kingly. Let there be large and unostentatious bestowals of material, intellectual, and moral wealth, and thus we shall be kingly.

(2) To work for moral elevation. Oh that kings would work for the moral as well as the material progress of the nations! Some do neither. They pauperize the nations in order to enrich themselves, and see not that the wealth of the people is the wealth of the people's sovereign. The kings are few. We want an increase of moral kings who shall be king-creators. We need a larger royal race to throw broad-cast royal seed from which shall spring a goodly harvest of kingly men.

(3) To embody and manifest moral strength. That king will not do much in the way of moral elevation who is himself an example of immoral degradation. In order to lift others we must ourselves be lifted. In order to make others able we must ourselves be able. Strength imparted is strength increased. The greater number of kings we create and the more kingly we become. The more we enthrone others and the more splendid does our throne appear.

The common people are like tempered wax, whereon the vicious seal of greatness makes easy impression. It was a custom for young gentlemen in Athens to play on recorders; at length Alcibiades, seeing his blown cheeks in a glass, threw away his pipe, and they all followed him. Our gallants, instead of recorders, embrace scorching lust, staring pride, staggering drunkenness, till their souls are more blown than those Athenians' cheeks. I would some Alcibiades would begin to throw away these vanities, and all the rest would follow him. Thus spreads example, like a stone thrown into a pond, that makes circle to beget circle, till it spread to the banks. Judas's train soon took fire in the suspectless disciples; and Satan's infections shoot through some great star the influence of damnation into the ear of the commonalty. Let the experience hereof make us fearful of examples.—Adams.

The drinking was according to the law; none did compel. The king had expressly appointed "that they should do according to every man's pleasure." Of course there is the question whether, if some man's "pleasure" should take him beyond the bounds of temperance and propriety, any restraint would be put upon him? It seems as if there would be. The enforcement of that part of the rule, if it existed, was probably left with the "officers of the house." The dangerous time was at the end of a feast, as we shall see. Meantime, it is enough to observe that there is to be no compulsion; the inebriating cup is not to be pressed on the unwilling guest. That custom apparently had been but too common among the Persians and their imitators. 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 disgusted 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.

It is humiliating to remember that no long time has elapsed in this country since the very same objectionable and repulsive habit against which this public law of the Persians was directed, prevailed in some of the social circles of this country. It was a point of hospitality to press the bottle even on the unwilling guest. The generous host hardly felt that he had done his duty until his guests were reeling, and if some of them were under the table the triumph of his beneficence was complete. You might easily cull from the poets of the last century, both of England and Scotland, descriptions and allusions pointing to a state of things which, happily, has now passed away. This, indeed, is our reason for dwelling on such a subject—repulsive enough in itself—for even a few moments. It is always helpful to observe any signs of a real progress, and, undoubtedly, in the course of a generation or two, we have in this particular made very great progress. Within the whole sphere of what is called society, anything approaching compulsion would not be tolerated, and in fact is never attempted.

Whether we do not, on a wider scale, as a people in fact, and with the force of law, practise compulsion still, and 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? If the spirit of that old Persian law were expressed in our own legislation about drink, it would, as we cannot help feeling, be all the better for the morals and manners of our time, for the sobriety of the working-classes, and for the safety of the young. "Men are not made virtuous by Act of Parliament" has grown to be a kind of axiom on this and some other subjects; and many a one rides off on it, easily and gaily, as though he had performed some feat in logic. But the axiom is one which ought to be disputed. It is not broadly and roundly true. Indeed a part of it is untrue; for Acts of Parliament, when they are wise and suitable to the people for whom they are framed, do help, instrumentally, to make men virtuous. So Acts of Parliament, when they are unwise and evil, help, instrumentally, to make men vicious. When temptations and inducements to excess are made too strong for the feeble resistance they meet with, and made so partly by legislation, is it not clear that the State herself becomes a temptress, and to that extent does "compel"? She makes the law under which—in whatever way the responsibility may be shared—there are so many victims. She gathers the tax which intemperance pays to sustain her magnificence and power. She must therefore have some corresponding ability to promote goodness and morality in their exterior forms. She can refuse to tempt, or to sanction temptation. She can keep the path of virtue and obedience, as far as it is in her care, open. In one word, as we have it on the highest authority, she can be "the minister of God" to men "for good."

So much we have thought it right to say in contravention of the dictum of the let-alone philosophy which is so much applied to this and some kindred subjects. But we cordially assent to the view that virtue and goodness in the deeper sense are first of all from above—from the Father of lights, from the untempted, untempting God, all-generous, ever-merciful—and then that in earthly form they are the result and product of the free action and mutual intercourse of human minds. Let the moral and intellectual power of the community, in its full force, come to the rescue. Direct conflict with evil can only take us a certain length even if it be successful. The inculcation and the production of goodness among our fellow-men will take us at once into illimitable fields, and set us on a pathway of progress unending. When we have large increase of knowledge among the people, some corresponding elevation of social sentiment, and some refinement of taste, and some improvement in the structure of houses, and amusements which are not corrupting and yet are really amusing—we may hope confidently to see the same process taking place among the masses of the people, in relation to temperance, which has been accomplished so largely among the higher classes. It is a vast and various problem. It is a long question. We can only do our own part by adopting sound principles, and, still more, by the uniform practice of moderation in all things, because we are of those who believe that "the Lord is at hand." Whether we eat, therefore, or drink, or whatsoever we do, let us do all to his glory.—Raleigh.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE WHOLE CHAPTER

This book presents us with impressive views of man with and without grace; of the great instability of human affairs; of the sovereign power, justice, and faithfulness of the Supreme Being. We now call your attention to the first chapter.

I. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus. Commentators differ about him. He was a heathen—a stranger to God—possessing extensive dominions. His was the second of the four great empires. These empires have come to nought; but, brethren, there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in heaven for ever. Let us be numbered among its subjects.

II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, wished to make a display of his greatness: made a feast—the power of Media and Persia present—he exhibited his riches, and honour, and glory. Notice his pride. Beware of pride. Pray that you may habitually remember what you are—poor, fallen sinners.

III. At this feast, though a heathen one, moderation was observed. "And the drinking was according to law: none did compel." Intemperance is an abomination and a degradation; hence we should flee from it.

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. It is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshazzar's feast; we read of Herod's feast. In such entertainments God is liable to be forgotten. Solomon, who with extraordinary diligence, and unparalleled success, had examined and tried the sources of all earthly gratification, tells us, in language which ought never to be out of remembrance, that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting."

V. Let us consider the evil which was occasioned by the feast.—The king ordered the queen to be brought. She refused to come. The wrath of the king was kindled. The result was a council, then the divorcement of the queen. Quarrels, animosities, and heart-burnings are so contrary to that religion of love which a received gospel generates, that we ought to strive to the utmost for the preservation of the opposite virtues. Christ is the Prince of Peace; let us not only trust in his death for salvation, but imitate his meekness and lowliness of heart.

Two short remarks shall close this discourse:—

1. It behoveth us to lead excellent lives, and the higher we are placed in the community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition. Let our lives be continual sermons to those among whom we live.

2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed. "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God."—Hughes.

I. The vast extent of the Persian empire. It comprehended all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west; and from the Black Sea and Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia. This gigantic dominion was divided into 127 provinces or governments, each of which was placed under a satrap, or, in modern language, a pasha, who managed its affairs, and annually transmitted a certain sum as revenue to the king. The seat of government was variable, according to the season of the year, the summer months being spent by the court at Ecbatana, and the winter months at Susa, or, as it is called in this chapter, Shushan, the palace. The form of government in the East has from the earliest times been despotic, one man swaying the destinies of millions, and having under him a crowd of smaller despots, each in his more limited sphere oppressing the people subjected to his rule.

1. Despotism has its occasional fits of generosity and kindness. It is as kind-hearted that Ahasuerus is brought before you in the early part of this chapter. He was spending the winter months at Susa. The retinue of the monarch was vast, and the fountains and gardens were on a scale of grandeur which we cannot well conceive. There, then, the king, but little concerned about the welfare of his subjects, was spending his time, chiefly in selfish ease and unbounded revelry. To him it was of no moment how his people were oppressed by those whom he set over them; his sole concern was to enjoy his pleasures.

2. With all the luxury and temptation to self-indulgence, there was no compulsion employed to draw any one beyond the bounds of temperance. The law was good, but the king himself had too largely used the liberty, and hence his loss of self-control and all sense of propriety. When heated with wine he sent for Vashti, &c. Lessons suggested are—

(1) Extravagancies and follies into which men are betrayed by intemperance.

(2) That which dethrones reason and destroys intellect should surely be avoided.

(3) All the consequences which affect the man individually, and others also, rest upon the head of the transgressor.

(4) Intemperance (a) blots out distinction between right and wrong; (b) foments all the evil passions of the natural heart; (c) destroys the proper exercise of the power of the will; (d) and often inflicts grievous wounds upon the innocent, as the case of Vashti here already demonstrates.

(5) The necessity of guarding against these evils.

II. The evils which arose from the peculiar family arrangements of those countries. We take occasion here to observe two great evils:—

1. The condition of the female sex was that of degradation. The married woman was not really what the Divine institution intended her to be, the true companion and friend of her husband. She was kept in a state of seclusion, real freedom she knew not; she was, in truth, only a slave, having power to command some other slaves. She was without education, and generally unintelligent, frivolous, and heartless. She was guarded with zealous care, as if she had been very precious, but at the same time she was wholly dependent upon the caprices of her lord.

2. Yet, strangely enough, in the second place, it is to be noticed that, as if to afford evidence that the law of nature cannot be trampled upon with impunity, it very frequently happened that the female influence was felt by the despotic husband, so as to make him in reality the slave. Not conscious of it, but imagining that he held the place of absolute authority, he was himself governed; yet not through the power of real affection, but through the imbecile doting which constituted all that he knew of real affection. Common history abounds with illustrations of this fact, and in the sacred history we have examples of the same kind; David, Solomon, and Ahab are instances. There is never a violation of God's righteous appointments, but it is followed by some penalty. From this Book of Esther, it appears very obviously that Ahasuerus, with all his caprices and his stern, imperious self-will, was at first completely under the influence of Vashti, as he afterwards came to be under that of Esther. The whole domestic system being unnaturally constructed, there was, of necessity, derangements in the conducting of it. The despot might be one day all tenderness and submission, and the next day he might, to gratify his humour, exact from his slaves what, a short time afterwards, he would have counted it absolutely wrong in himself to command, and punishable in them to do.

III. The degradation of Vashti. We have to look at the circumstances which are brought before us in the narrative. At a season when sound counsel could scarcely have been expected, and when he who sought it was not in a fit condition to profit by it, the serious question was proposed by the king, "What shall be done to Vashti?" &c. To defer the consideration of so grave a subject to a more fitting season would have been so clearly the path which a wise counsellor would have recommended, that we feel astonished that it was not at once suggested. But the wrath of the king was so strongly exhibited that his compliant advisers did not venture to contradict him. "Memucan answered," &c. Now, with respect to this opinion of the chief counsellor, it may be observed that it was based upon a principle which in itself is unquestionably right, although there was a wrong application made of it. Rank and station, while they command a certain measure of respect, involve very deep responsibility. 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. Thus far Memucan spoke wisely, when he pointed to the example of the queen as that which would certainly have an influence, wherever it came to be known, throughout the empire. But the principle, in the present instance, was wrongly applied when it was made the ground of condemning the conduct of Vashti. The design was to make her appear guilty of an act of insubordination, which it was necessary for the king to punish, if he would promote the good of his subjects, whereas, in reality, she had upon her side all the authority of law and custom, and was to be made the victim both of the ungovernable wrath of the king, who was beside himself with wine, and also of flatterers who, to gratify him, would do wrong to the innocent. See here the danger of flattery.

Let us extract some practical lessons from our subject.

1. The inadequacy of all earthly good to make man truly happy. Surveying the whole scene portrayed in the early verses of this chapter, we might imagine that the sovereign who ruled over this empire, upon whose nod the interests of so many millions depended, and for whose pleasure the product of so many various climes could be gathered together, had surely all the elements of enjoyment at his command.… And yet we must say that the mightiest sovereign of his time, with 127 provinces subject to him, with princes serving him, and slaves kissing the dust at his feet, was not half so happy as the humblest individual here, who knows what is meant by the comforts of home, where he is in the midst of those who love him.

2. A few remarks may be offered upon the domestic question here settled by the king and his counsellors, as to the supremacy of man in his own house. How could they pronounce a sound judgment upon a question which their customs prevented them from rightly knowing?

3. We have in the text a law spoken of which changeth not. And, my friends, there is such a law, but it is not the law of the Medes and Persians, it is the law of the Eternal. Jehovah's law changeth not. And what does it say? "This do and live." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." That seals us all up under wrath. But we turn the page, and we read and see that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." And is not this our conclusion, then—"I will flee from the curse of the immutable law, and shelter myself under the righteousness of Christ, which is also perfect and immutable, that through him and from him I may have mercy and eternal life"?—Dr. Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1

Power. Pompey boasted, that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms; with one scratch of his pen, Ahasuerus could call to his assistance the forces of 127 provinces; but God, by one word of his mouth, one movement of his will, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds to his aid, or bring new creatures into being to do his will.

Dignity. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin; to which he replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

Great men. Columbus was the son of a weaver, and a weaver himself. Cervantes was a common soldier. Homer was the son of a small farmer. Demosthenes was the son of a cutler. Terence was a slave. Oliver Cromwell was the son of a London brewer. Howard was an apprentice to a grocer. Franklin was a journeyman printer, and son of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Worcester, was the son of a linen-draper. Daniel Defoe was a hostler, and son of a butcher. Whitfield was the son of an innkeeper at Gloucester. Virgil was the son of a porter. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper. Shakespeare was the son of a woolstapler. Milton was the son of a money scrivener. Robert Burns was a ploughman in Ayrshire. Yet all these rose to eminence.

How to make a feast. "Lord Chief Justice Hall frequently invited his poor neighbours to dinner, and made them sit at table with himself. If any of them were sick, so that they could not come, he would send provisions to them warm from his table."

Favour of God. It was the saying of a wise Roman, "I had rather have the esteem of the Emperor Augustus than his gifts;" for he was an honourable, understanding prince, and his favour very honourable. When Cyrus gave one of his friends a kiss, and another a wedge of gold, he that had the gold envied him that had the kiss as a greater expression of his favour. So the true Christian prefers the privilege of acceptance with God to the possession of any earthly comfort, for in the light of his countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain.—Butler.

Pride of wealth. 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. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel book.—Seeker.

Abuse of wealth. 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.—Ruskin.

Danger. "A boy climbing among the Alps saw some flowers on the verge of a precipice, and sprang forward to get them. The guide shouted his warnings; but the heedless boy grasped the flowers, and fell a thousand feet upon the rocks below with them in his hand. It was a dear price for such frail things, but he is not the only victim of such folly."

Danger of prosperity. When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me, that is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. Then we shall say, as Cardinal Wolsey, when discarded by his prince and abandoned to the fury of his enemies: "If I had served my God as faithfully as my king, he would not have thus forsaken me." Poor man! all the perfumes on earth are unable to prevail over the stench of hell.—Secker.

In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul.—Salter.

When fire is put to green wood there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, the filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a dunghill, so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshiny day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights, &c.—Brooks.

Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away—the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.—Baxter.

We commend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain that, by our abuse, both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Oh, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat indulgence he should kill in himself both the first Adam—his reason, and even the second Adam—his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.—Adams.

An earnest young minister was in the house of a rich friend. He was pressed to take wine, but refused. It was again pressed upon him. At length he yielded to their importunities, and drank a little. Gradually he formed a liking for wine, and at length began taking far too much. By degrees, and almost before he was aware of it, he became a drunkard. He was degraded from his office of the ministry, and sank lower and lower. Years after he had been pressed to drink by his rich friend, he came again to his door; this time to beg for a little food, and was ordered away as a drunken vagabond.

Joseph Ralston, of Philipsburg, Penn., met with a horrible death by freezing. He had been drinking freely, and had, while drunk, to wade the Moshandoo Creek; but, ere he proceeded two-thirds of the way, his limbs refused to perform their office. He grasped a bough of an overhanging tree, unable to advance farther; and soon the fast-congealing water cemented close about him—a tomb of ice which stretched from shore to shore. Two days after he was found there rigid as an icicle, his knees embedded in a sheet of the frozen element seven inches thick, his body inclined a little forwards, his hands clutching the boughs, eyes astare, and despair pictured on his features.—Pittsburgh Despatch.

God trieth men's love to him by their keeping his commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that will not leave a forbidden cup for him. O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple if thou forsake not all for him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of him, and wouldst die rather than forsake him? And thou like to lay down thy life for him, who wilt not leave a cup of drink for him? Canst thou burn at a stake for him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess, for him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!—Baxter.

Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both body and soul. And while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul, yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.—Chrysostom.

"If you have glutted yourselves with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter."—J. Lyth, D.D.

Bountiful King. The Lord, like a most bountiful king, will be angry if any man will ask a small thing at his hands; because he had rather give things of great worth than of small value. His goodness is infinite.—Powell.

Fulness of Christ. I have found it an interesting thing to stand at the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for 6000 years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of lightness fail, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ! Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on through eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour! Image of God! Divine Redeemer! In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy!—Dr. Guthrie.

Wife. "And now let us see whether the word ‘wife' has not a lesson. It literally means a weaver. The wife is the person who weaves. Before our great cotton and cloth factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own. The wool was spun into threads by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who, accordingly, was called the weaver, or the wife; and another remnant of this old truth we discover in the word ‘heirloom,' applied to any old piece of furniture which has come down to us from our ancestors, and which, though it may be a chair or bed, shows that a loom was an important article in every house. Thus the word ‘wife' means weaver; and, as Trench well remarks, ‘in the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupation, as being fitted for her who bears the name.'"

Pleasures. The pleasures of the world surfeit with satisfying, while heavenly pleasures satisfy without surfeiting. The surfeited nature of the sensualist requires a constantly increasing stimulus to rouse his used-up powers, but with each advance in Christian enjoyment there is an increased power to appreciate heavenly joys. The pleasures of the world are like the kiss of Judas, given but to betray; the pleasures of heaven make the soul bright and beautiful, as when the face of Moses was transformed by the vision of God.—J. G. Pilkington.

Pleasures. Pleasures, like the rose, are sweet, but prickly; the honey doth not countervail the sting; all the world's delights are vanity, and end in vexation; like Judas, while they kiss, they betray. I would neither be a stone nor an epicure; allow of no pleasure, nor give way to all; they are good sauce, but naught to make a meal of. I may use them sometimes for digestion, never for food.—Henshaw.

Price of pleasure. Goethe, in his "Faust," introduces for his hero a student longing for the pleasures of knowledge. The devil appears, to seduce him from his pursuit; Faust is to have all possible sensual enjoyment in life, but is to pay for it by yielding his soul to the devil at last. At the end, Mephistopheles, jealous of his claim, appears and carries off his victim, the student's lost soul.

Anger. I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper, arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by him.—Clarke.

Anger subdued. Two good men on some occasion had a warm dispute; and remembering the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," just before sunset one of them went to the other, and knocking at the door, his offended friend came and opened it, and seeing who it was, started back in astonishment and surprise; the other, at the same time, cried out, "The sun is almost down." This unexpected salutation softened the heart of his friend into affection, and he returned for answer, "Come in, brother, come in." What a happy method of conciliating matters, of redressing grievances, and of reconciling brethren!—Arvine.

Hypocrisy. A very capital painter in London exhibited a piece representing a friar habited in his canonicals. View the painting at a distance, and you would think the friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together and held horizontally to his breast, his eyes meekly demissed like those of the publican in the gospel: and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes; the book which seemed to be before him is discovered to be a punch-bowl, into which the wretch is all the while in reality only squeezing a lemon. How lively a representation of a hypocrite!—Salter.

Idols. A man's idol is not necessarily an image of gold; it may be a child of clay, the fruit of his own loins, or the wife of his bosom; it may be wealth, fame, position, success, or business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against all such the Almighty pronounces the decree: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and hurls his resistless missiles of destruction. Either ourselves or our idols must be destroyed.

Idolatry! You cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality; false gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal, worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearthstone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.—Dr. Chapin.

Loss of time. We are doomed to suffer a bitter pang as often as the irrevocable flight of our time is brought home with keenness to our hearts. The spectacle of the lady floating over the sea in a boat, and waking suddenly from sleep to find her magnificent ropes of pearl necklace by some accident detached from its fastening at one end, the loose string hanging down into the water, and pearl after pearl slipping off for ever into the abyss, brings before us the sadness of the case. That particular pearl which at the very moment is rolling off into the unsearchable deep, carries its own separate reproach to the lady's heart, but is more deeply reproachful as the representative of so many other uncounted pearls that have already been swallowed up irrecoverably while yet she was sleeping, of many, besides, that must follow before any remedy can be applied to what we may call this jewelly hemorrhage.

The intrepid judge. One of the favourites of Henry V., when Prince of Wales, having been indicted for some misdemeanour, was condemned, notwithstanding all the interest he could make in his favour, and the prince was so incensed at the issue of the trial that he struck the judge on the bench. The magistrate, whose name was Sir William Gascoigne, acted with a spirit becoming his character. He instantly ordered the prince to be committed to prison, and young Henry, sensible by this time of the insult he had offered to the laws of his country, suffered himself to be quietly conducted to jail by the officers of justice. The king, Henry IV., who was an excellent judge of mankind, was no sooner informed of this transaction, than he cried out in a transport of joy, "Happy is the king who has a magistrate possessed of courage to execute the laws, and still more happy in having a son who will submit to such chastisement."—Arvine.

Flattery. The coin most current among mankind is flattery: the only benefit of which is, that, by hearing what we are not, we may learn what we ought to be.

Whitfield, when flattered, said, "Take care of fire: I carry powder about me."

A flattering priest told Constantine the Great that his virtues deserved the empire of the world here, and to reign with the Son of God hereafter. The emperor cried, "Fie, fie, for shame; let me hear no more such unseemly speeches; but, rather, suppliantly pray to my Almighty Maker, that, in this life and the life to come, I may be reckoned worthy to be his servant."

Excuses. He that does amiss never lacks excuse. Any excuse will serve when one has not a mind to do a thing. The archer that shoots ill has a lie ready. He that excuses himself accuses himself. A bad workman always complains of his tools.

Wicked counsel. A young man devoted himself to a religious life. His ungodly parents sent him many letters to dissuade him. Being fully decided to go on in his chosen course, when any letters came addressed to him he threw them into the fire at once, without opening them. When friends and kindred stand between us and Christ, they must be disregarded.

Sin. Sin is like the little serpent aspis, which stings men, whereby they fall into a pleasant sleep, and in that sleep die.—Swinnock.

Envy. We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find in the dark, and gloomy, and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the king of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes; it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks—I mean the crucifixion of Christ, for the evangelist tells us that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.

The poets imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean-looking as guilt, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in the misfortunes of others; ever unquiet and careful, and continually tormenting herself.—Wit.

Friendship. True friendship can only be made between true men. Hearts are the soul of honour. There can be no lasting friendship between bad men. Bad men may pretend to love each other; but their friendship is a rope of sand, which shall be broken at any convenient season. But if a man have a sincere heart within him, and be true and noble, then we may confide in him.—Spurgeon.

Ingratitude. A petted soldier of the Macedonian army was shipwrecked, and east upon the shore apparently lifeless. A hospitable Macedonian discovered him, revived him, took him to his home, and treated him in a princely manner, and, when he departed, gave him money for his journey. The rescued soldier expressed warm thanks, and promised royal bounty to his benefactor. Instead, when he came before Philip, he related his own misfortunes, and asked to be rewarded by the lands and house of his rescuer. His request was granted, and he returned, and drove out his former host. The latter hastened to lay the true state before the king; when he restored the land, and caused the soldier to be branded in the forehead, "The Ungrateful Guest," as the reward of his baseness.

Conscience wakeful. Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God's judgment, shall come forth clear and expressive.—M‘Cosh.

Guilty conscience. It gives a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. Let Byron describe its anguish, for who felt it more than he?—

"The mind that broods o'er guilty woes

Is like the scorpion girt by fire;

In circle narrowing as it glows,

The flames around their captive close,

Till inly searched by thousand throes,

And maddening in her ire,

One sad and sole relief she knows—

The sting she nourished for her foes;

Whose venom never yet was vain,

Gives but one pang, and cures all pain,

And darts into her desperate brain;

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like scorpion girt with fire.

So writhes the mind remorse has riven,

Unfit for earth, undoomed for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death."

Forgiveness. As the prince or ruler only has power to forgive treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt only the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount. But we know that he is always ready to forgive. "He keeps mercy for thousands, and pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin."

Forgiveness. In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another, and when he was about to be punished, the injured boy begged for his pardon. The master asked. "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The boy replied, "I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should forgive our enemies; and, therefore, I forgive him, and beg he may not be punished for my sake."

At the present day the green turben which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George, Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher and a keeper of a turnpike gate; and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church.—Geikie.


Verse 9

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

VASHTI, THE PERSIAN MONARCH'S QUEEN

I. Her significant name. Those critics who determine the personality of Ahasuerus do not speak so positively about the personality of Vashti. We read her name, but cannot tell either her ancestors or the place of her birth. It may be supposed that she came from Yezd, for the women of this province were esteemed the most beautiful in Persia. The proverb is, that to live happy a man must have a wife of Yezd, eat the bread of Yezdecas, and drink the wine of Shiraz. However, she stands before us in a great measure unknown. She plays her part in the drama, and then disappears from the stage, but does not pass away without imparting useful lessons. Her very name is significant, and means in old Persian "the best." She was good of countenance, and doubtless possessed "the light of that dark eye" which made the power of Eastern women, "wondrous strong, yet lovely in their strength." There was a charming grace in her motion, and a pleasant witchery in her voice. Her "long locks foiled the painter's power." She was so lovely, that after the assembled magnates had been satiated with beautiful sights, she must be brought forth to minister to the pleasure of natures cloyed with the very excess of beauty and the brilliance of regal splendours. The wise man says that "favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised." Physical beauty is the gift of God, and by no means to be despised; but that beauty is vain which is the only means employed to procure favour, and which conceals internal unloveliness. But surely there may be the combination of physical beauty and moral loveliness. If we cannot find in nature either the flower well shaped and beautifully tinted that gives forth sweet fragrance, or the bird of beautiful plumage that can send out rich music, yet surely the beautiful woman may by Divine grace give forth the sweet fragrance of godliness, and her deeds become so many glad songs in this weeping world. And much may be done for religion by strong-minded and spiritually-gifted Vashtis. Even many professing Christian women may learn useful moral lessons from one whose religious tenets they might reject. Whatever view may be taken of her conduct, this is plain, that she was not a mere plaything for man, that she was not ready to sacrifice the moral sense in order to feed her own vanity by ministering to the bacchanalian caprice of a despot. Many names are given at random, and do not set forth the attributes of the persons to whom they are applied. A woman may be called Vashti, and yet not be the best either physically, or intellectually, or morally. Certain it is that many bear the better name of Christian who are not Christlike. The outward beauty is not increased by the outshining of inward loveliness; the "marred" countenance is not rendered attractive by the pervasive and far-gleaming influence of a soul "full of grace and truth." The Christian should be the best, if not in physical beauty, if not in intellectual grace and power, yet in that spiritual loveliness which can make all attractive. Better than the name that proclaims either physical beauty or glorious ancestry, better than the boasted titles of earth, is that name which tells of Divine grace in the soul, which links us on to the sublime ancestry of God's true heroes, and betokens our Divine royalty.

II. Vashti the queen also gives a feast. It is asserted that Vashti was one of the king's inferior wives, dignified with the title of queen. And this statement is supported by a reference to Herodotus. Now in the book to which the reference is here made we find that the great historian relates that the Persians made this statement to King Amyntas—that it is a custom with us Persians, when we have given a great feast, to introduce our concubines and lawful wives to sit by our side. But the statement was evidently made for an illegitimate and licentious purpose, and is not, therefore, to be received as a correct representation of Persian customs. And if it were, the appeal proves too much, for it shows that Vashti was neither a lawful wife nor a concubine, for both are said to be introduced to the feasts. The separation of men and women is in accordance with existing Oriental customs, which oblige women to feast separately from the men, even on the same occasions of rejoicing. And this was plainly the custom in the time of Ahasuerus. Certainly it was a special favour shown unto Esther when the king and Haman attended the banquet she had prepared. If Vashti were a mere concubine she would not have been sent for with such courteous formality, and she would not have ventured to refuse to comply with the despot's command. The feast is said to be in the palace, as if to mark the separation more distinctly. And she gave the feast to the ladies either in her own apartments, or in some portion of the royal dwelling placed at her disposal. According to this custom men must feast together, and women must be excluded. But the Divine word teaches the better rule, that men should never so conduct themselves as to make it expedient to exclude the society of virtuous women. For the woman is the complement of the man. Each from each, each to each, should both receive and give. Perfect manhood cannot be attained except there be the refining touch of a woman's gentle hand. And perfect womanhood cannot be reached unless a man's influence is at work imparting strength. But this above all—no man should go where a virtuous and high-souled woman cannot enter. Christianity has still a great work to do in teaching men that all pleasures should be forbidden in which wives and children cannot participate. The feasting is injurious where pure and sensitive spirits are not regarded as welcome guests.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

It is remarkable in this third feast—

I. That the women feasted within doors. Not in the open court, as their husbands did.

II. That they feasted apart from the men. Which, whether it were of pride, because Vashti would keep state by herself, or of necessity, because either the custom of the country or the king's jealousy would not allow her presence among so many of the opposite sex, yet surely this may condemn our most lascivious mingling of both sexes together in dancing and such like meetings, where nothing is more usual than lustful looks. Lot, feasting and drinking wine with his own daughters fell into sin. The Israelites doing the like with the daughters of Moab were ensnared and subverted. The dancing damsel so inflamed that old goat Herod, that, like a madman, he sweareth to give her her desire to the half of his kingdom.—Trapp.

I cannot but envy the modesty of heathen dames. Vashti the queen and her ladies, with all the several ranks of the sex, feast apart, entertaining each other with a bashful courtesy, without wantonness, without that wild scurrility which useth to haunt promiscuous meetings. Oh shameful unchastity of those loose Christians, who must feed their lust while they fill their bellies, and think the feast imperfect where they may not satiate their eye no less than their palate.—Bishop Hall.

While the king showed the honour of his majesty, the queen and her ladies showed the honour of their modesty, which is truly the majesty of the fair sex.—M. Henry.

The king did not grudge to his queen and the women of Shushan the pleasures which he allowed himself and his male subjects, so far as they could be enjoyed without indecency.

It would have been dangerous to morals and inconsistent with received usages for the queen and ladies of Shushan to have associated with the other sex in their banquet; but they had a feast by themselves, in which, doubtless, they respected the laws of decorum and temperance.

Let not women be locked in their chambers as if they were criminals that must be locked under close restraint; but let them not use their liberty for an occasion to the gratification of idleness, or a spirit of dissipation. Let them beware of that society that would corrupt their morals or stain their character.—Rev. George Lawson.

The name Vashti has probably a connection with the old Persian vahisti (the best), or with the related behisht. In modern Persian Vashti signifies a beautiful woman. Vashti gave the feast to the ladies in the king's palace, i.e. either in her own apartments, which also were in the royal residence, or in some other dwellings there which were placed at her disposal for this festive occasion.—Lange.

The condition of woman in antiquity was little better than that of a slave. She was the property of her husband, if married; if unmarried, she was the plaything or slave of man, never his equal. The morality of married life, which is the strength and glory of any people, was hardly known. Pompey and Germanicus were singular in the fidelity that marked their marriage relations on both sides, and were famous through the singularity. The utter impurity of the men reacted in a similar self-degradation of the other sex. In Rome marriages became, as a rule, mere temporary connections. In order to escape the punishments inflicted on adultery in the time of Tiberius, married women, including even women of illustrious families, enrolled themselves on the official lists as public prostitutes. St. Paul only spoke the language which every one who knows the state of morals of those days must use, when he wrote the well-known verses in the opening of his Epistle to the Romans. The barbarians of the German forests, alone of the heathen world, retained a worthy sense of the true dignity of woman. "No one there laughs at vice," says Tacitus, "nor is to seduce and to be seduced called the fashion." "Happy indeed," continues the Roman, thinking of the state of things around him, "those states in which only virgins marry, and where the vows and heart of the bride go together. Infidelity is very rare among them." The traditions of a purer time still lingered beyond the Alps; the after-glow of light that had set elsewhere.—Geikie.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE WHOLE CHAPTER

This book presents us with impressive views of man with and without grace; of the great instability of human affairs; of the sovereign power, justice, and faithfulness of the Supreme Being. We now call your attention to the first chapter.

I. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus. Commentators differ about him. He was a heathen—a stranger to God—possessing extensive dominions. His was the second of the four great empires. These empires have come to nought; but, brethren, there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in heaven for ever. Let us be numbered among its subjects.

II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, wished to make a display of his greatness: made a feast—the power of Media and Persia present—he exhibited his riches, and honour, and glory. Notice his pride. Beware of pride. Pray that you may habitually remember what you are—poor, fallen sinners.

III. At this feast, though a heathen one, moderation was observed. "And the drinking was according to law: none did compel." Intemperance is an abomination and a degradation; hence we should flee from it.

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. It is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshazzar's feast; we read of Herod's feast. In such entertainments God is liable to be forgotten. Solomon, who with extraordinary diligence, and unparalleled success, had examined and tried the sources of all earthly gratification, tells us, in language which ought never to be out of remembrance, that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting."

V. Let us consider the evil which was occasioned by the feast.—The king ordered the queen to be brought. She refused to come. The wrath of the king was kindled. The result was a council, then the divorcement of the queen. Quarrels, animosities, and heart-burnings are so contrary to that religion of love which a received gospel generates, that we ought to strive to the utmost for the preservation of the opposite virtues. Christ is the Prince of Peace; let us not only trust in his death for salvation, but imitate his meekness and lowliness of heart.

Two short remarks shall close this discourse:—

1. It behoveth us to lead excellent lives, and the higher we are placed in the community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition. Let our lives be continual sermons to those among whom we live.

2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed. "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God."—Hughes.

I. The vast extent of the Persian empire. It comprehended all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west; and from the Black Sea and Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia. This gigantic dominion was divided into 127 provinces or governments, each of which was placed under a satrap, or, in modern language, a pasha, who managed its affairs, and annually transmitted a certain sum as revenue to the king. The seat of government was variable, according to the season of the year, the summer months being spent by the court at Ecbatana, and the winter months at Susa, or, as it is called in this chapter, Shushan, the palace. The form of government in the East has from the earliest times been despotic, one man swaying the destinies of millions, and having under him a crowd of smaller despots, each in his more limited sphere oppressing the people subjected to his rule.

1. Despotism has its occasional fits of generosity and kindness. It is as kind-hearted that Ahasuerus is brought before you in the early part of this chapter. He was spending the winter months at Susa. The retinue of the monarch was vast, and the fountains and gardens were on a scale of grandeur which we cannot well conceive. There, then, the king, but little concerned about the welfare of his subjects, was spending his time, chiefly in selfish ease and unbounded revelry. To him it was of no moment how his people were oppressed by those whom he set over them; his sole concern was to enjoy his pleasures.

2. With all the luxury and temptation to self-indulgence, there was no compulsion employed to draw any one beyond the bounds of temperance. The law was good, but the king himself had too largely used the liberty, and hence his loss of self-control and all sense of propriety. When heated with wine he sent for Vashti, &c. Lessons suggested are—

(1) Extravagancies and follies into which men are betrayed by intemperance.

(2) That which dethrones reason and destroys intellect should surely be avoided.

(3) All the consequences which affect the man individually, and others also, rest upon the head of the transgressor.

(4) Intemperance (a) blots out distinction between right and wrong; (b) foments all the evil passions of the natural heart; (c) destroys the proper exercise of the power of the will; (d) and often inflicts grievous wounds upon the innocent, as the case of Vashti here already demonstrates.

(5) The necessity of guarding against these evils.

II. The evils which arose from the peculiar family arrangements of those countries. We take occasion here to observe two great evils:—

1. The condition of the female sex was that of degradation. The married woman was not really what the Divine institution intended her to be, the true companion and friend of her husband. She was kept in a state of seclusion, real freedom she knew not; she was, in truth, only a slave, having power to command some other slaves. She was without education, and generally unintelligent, frivolous, and heartless. She was guarded with zealous care, as if she had been very precious, but at the same time she was wholly dependent upon the caprices of her lord.

2. Yet, strangely enough, in the second place, it is to be noticed that, as if to afford evidence that the law of nature cannot be trampled upon with impunity, it very frequently happened that the female influence was felt by the despotic husband, so as to make him in reality the slave. Not conscious of it, but imagining that he held the place of absolute authority, he was himself governed; yet not through the power of real affection, but through the imbecile doting which constituted all that he knew of real affection. Common history abounds with illustrations of this fact, and in the sacred history we have examples of the same kind; David, Solomon, and Ahab are instances. There is never a violation of God's righteous appointments, but it is followed by some penalty. From this Book of Esther, it appears very obviously that Ahasuerus, with all his caprices and his stern, imperious self-will, was at first completely under the influence of Vashti, as he afterwards came to be under that of Esther. The whole domestic system being unnaturally constructed, there was, of necessity, derangements in the conducting of it. The despot might be one day all tenderness and submission, and the next day he might, to gratify his humour, exact from his slaves what, a short time afterwards, he would have counted it absolutely wrong in himself to command, and punishable in them to do.

III. The degradation of Vashti. We have to look at the circumstances which are brought before us in the narrative. At a season when sound counsel could scarcely have been expected, and when he who sought it was not in a fit condition to profit by it, the serious question was proposed by the king, "What shall be done to Vashti?" &c. To defer the consideration of so grave a subject to a more fitting season would have been so clearly the path which a wise counsellor would have recommended, that we feel astonished that it was not at once suggested. But the wrath of the king was so strongly exhibited that his compliant advisers did not venture to contradict him. "Memucan answered," &c. Now, with respect to this opinion of the chief counsellor, it may be observed that it was based upon a principle which in itself is unquestionably right, although there was a wrong application made of it. Rank and station, while they command a certain measure of respect, involve very deep responsibility. 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. Thus far Memucan spoke wisely, when he pointed to the example of the queen as that which would certainly have an influence, wherever it came to be known, throughout the empire. But the principle, in the present instance, was wrongly applied when it was made the ground of condemning the conduct of Vashti. The design was to make her appear guilty of an act of insubordination, which it was necessary for the king to punish, if he would promote the good of his subjects, whereas, in reality, she had upon her side all the authority of law and custom, and was to be made the victim both of the ungovernable wrath of the king, who was beside himself with wine, and also of flatterers who, to gratify him, would do wrong to the innocent. See here the danger of flattery.

Let us extract some practical lessons from our subject.

1. The inadequacy of all earthly good to make man truly happy. Surveying the whole scene portrayed in the early verses of this chapter, we might imagine that the sovereign who ruled over this empire, upon whose nod the interests of so many millions depended, and for whose pleasure the product of so many various climes could be gathered together, had surely all the elements of enjoyment at his command.… And yet we must say that the mightiest sovereign of his time, with 127 provinces subject to him, with princes serving him, and slaves kissing the dust at his feet, was not half so happy as the humblest individual here, who knows what is meant by the comforts of home, where he is in the midst of those who love him.

2. A few remarks may be offered upon the domestic question here settled by the king and his counsellors, as to the supremacy of man in his own house. How could they pronounce a sound judgment upon a question which their customs prevented them from rightly knowing?

3. We have in the text a law spoken of which changeth not. And, my friends, there is such a law, but it is not the law of the Medes and Persians, it is the law of the Eternal. Jehovah's law changeth not. And what does it say? "This do and live." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." That seals us all up under wrath. But we turn the page, and we read and see that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." And is not this our conclusion, then—"I will flee from the curse of the immutable law, and shelter myself under the righteousness of Christ, which is also perfect and immutable, that through him and from him I may have mercy and eternal life"?—Dr. Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1

Power. Pompey boasted, that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms; with one scratch of his pen, Ahasuerus could call to his assistance the forces of 127 provinces; but God, by one word of his mouth, one movement of his will, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds to his aid, or bring new creatures into being to do his will.

Dignity. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin; to which he replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

Great men. Columbus was the son of a weaver, and a weaver himself. Cervantes was a common soldier. Homer was the son of a small farmer. Demosthenes was the son of a cutler. Terence was a slave. Oliver Cromwell was the son of a London brewer. Howard was an apprentice to a grocer. Franklin was a journeyman printer, and son of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Worcester, was the son of a linen-draper. Daniel Defoe was a hostler, and son of a butcher. Whitfield was the son of an innkeeper at Gloucester. Virgil was the son of a porter. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper. Shakespeare was the son of a woolstapler. Milton was the son of a money scrivener. Robert Burns was a ploughman in Ayrshire. Yet all these rose to eminence.

How to make a feast. "Lord Chief Justice Hall frequently invited his poor neighbours to dinner, and made them sit at table with himself. If any of them were sick, so that they could not come, he would send provisions to them warm from his table."

Favour of God. It was the saying of a wise Roman, "I had rather have the esteem of the Emperor Augustus than his gifts;" for he was an honourable, understanding prince, and his favour very honourable. When Cyrus gave one of his friends a kiss, and another a wedge of gold, he that had the gold envied him that had the kiss as a greater expression of his favour. So the true Christian prefers the privilege of acceptance with God to the possession of any earthly comfort, for in the light of his countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain.—Butler.

Pride of wealth. 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. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel book.—Seeker.

Abuse of wealth. 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.—Ruskin.

Danger. "A boy climbing among the Alps saw some flowers on the verge of a precipice, and sprang forward to get them. The guide shouted his warnings; but the heedless boy grasped the flowers, and fell a thousand feet upon the rocks below with them in his hand. It was a dear price for such frail things, but he is not the only victim of such folly."

Danger of prosperity. When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me, that is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. Then we shall say, as Cardinal Wolsey, when discarded by his prince and abandoned to the fury of his enemies: "If I had served my God as faithfully as my king, he would not have thus forsaken me." Poor man! all the perfumes on earth are unable to prevail over the stench of hell.—Secker.

In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul.—Salter.

When fire is put to green wood there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, the filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a dunghill, so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshiny day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights, &c.—Brooks.

Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away—the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.—Baxter.

We commend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain that, by our abuse, both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Oh, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat indulgence he should kill in himself both the first Adam—his reason, and even the second Adam—his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.—Adams.

An earnest young minister was in the house of a rich friend. He was pressed to take wine, but refused. It was again pressed upon him. At length he yielded to their importunities, and drank a little. Gradually he formed a liking for wine, and at length began taking far too much. By degrees, and almost before he was aware of it, he became a drunkard. He was degraded from his office of the ministry, and sank lower and lower. Years after he had been pressed to drink by his rich friend, he came again to his door; this time to beg for a little food, and was ordered away as a drunken vagabond.

Joseph Ralston, of Philipsburg, Penn., met with a horrible death by freezing. He had been drinking freely, and had, while drunk, to wade the Moshandoo Creek; but, ere he proceeded two-thirds of the way, his limbs refused to perform their office. He grasped a bough of an overhanging tree, unable to advance farther; and soon the fast-congealing water cemented close about him—a tomb of ice which stretched from shore to shore. Two days after he was found there rigid as an icicle, his knees embedded in a sheet of the frozen element seven inches thick, his body inclined a little forwards, his hands clutching the boughs, eyes astare, and despair pictured on his features.—Pittsburgh Despatch.

God trieth men's love to him by their keeping his commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that will not leave a forbidden cup for him. O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple if thou forsake not all for him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of him, and wouldst die rather than forsake him? And thou like to lay down thy life for him, who wilt not leave a cup of drink for him? Canst thou burn at a stake for him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess, for him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!—Baxter.

Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both body and soul. And while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul, yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.—Chrysostom.

"If you have glutted yourselves with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter."—J. Lyth, D.D.

Bountiful King. The Lord, like a most bountiful king, will be angry if any man will ask a small thing at his hands; because he had rather give things of great worth than of small value. His goodness is infinite.—Powell.

Fulness of Christ. I have found it an interesting thing to stand at the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for 6000 years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of lightness fail, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ! Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on through eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour! Image of God! Divine Redeemer! In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy!—Dr. Guthrie.

Wife. "And now let us see whether the word ‘wife' has not a lesson. It literally means a weaver. The wife is the person who weaves. Before our great cotton and cloth factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own. The wool was spun into threads by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who, accordingly, was called the weaver, or the wife; and another remnant of this old truth we discover in the word ‘heirloom,' applied to any old piece of furniture which has come down to us from our ancestors, and which, though it may be a chair or bed, shows that a loom was an important article in every house. Thus the word ‘wife' means weaver; and, as Trench well remarks, ‘in the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupation, as being fitted for her who bears the name.'"

Pleasures. The pleasures of the world surfeit with satisfying, while heavenly pleasures satisfy without surfeiting. The surfeited nature of the sensualist requires a constantly increasing stimulus to rouse his used-up powers, but with each advance in Christian enjoyment there is an increased power to appreciate heavenly joys. The pleasures of the world are like the kiss of Judas, given but to betray; the pleasures of heaven make the soul bright and beautiful, as when the face of Moses was transformed by the vision of God.—J. G. Pilkington.

Pleasures. Pleasures, like the rose, are sweet, but prickly; the honey doth not countervail the sting; all the world's delights are vanity, and end in vexation; like Judas, while they kiss, they betray. I would neither be a stone nor an epicure; allow of no pleasure, nor give way to all; they are good sauce, but naught to make a meal of. I may use them sometimes for digestion, never for food.—Henshaw.

Price of pleasure. Goethe, in his "Faust," introduces for his hero a student longing for the pleasures of knowledge. The devil appears, to seduce him from his pursuit; Faust is to have all possible sensual enjoyment in life, but is to pay for it by yielding his soul to the devil at last. At the end, Mephistopheles, jealous of his claim, appears and carries off his victim, the student's lost soul.

Anger. I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper, arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by him.—Clarke.

Anger subdued. Two good men on some occasion had a warm dispute; and remembering the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," just before sunset one of them went to the other, and knocking at the door, his offended friend came and opened it, and seeing who it was, started back in astonishment and surprise; the other, at the same time, cried out, "The sun is almost down." This unexpected salutation softened the heart of his friend into affection, and he returned for answer, "Come in, brother, come in." What a happy method of conciliating matters, of redressing grievances, and of reconciling brethren!—Arvine.

Hypocrisy. A very capital painter in London exhibited a piece representing a friar habited in his canonicals. View the painting at a distance, and you would think the friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together and held horizontally to his breast, his eyes meekly demissed like those of the publican in the gospel: and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes; the book which seemed to be before him is discovered to be a punch-bowl, into which the wretch is all the while in reality only squeezing a lemon. How lively a representation of a hypocrite!—Salter.

Idols. A man's idol is not necessarily an image of gold; it may be a child of clay, the fruit of his own loins, or the wife of his bosom; it may be wealth, fame, position, success, or business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against all such the Almighty pronounces the decree: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and hurls his resistless missiles of destruction. Either ourselves or our idols must be destroyed.

Idolatry! You cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality; false gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal, worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearthstone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.—Dr. Chapin.

Loss of time. We are doomed to suffer a bitter pang as often as the irrevocable flight of our time is brought home with keenness to our hearts. The spectacle of the lady floating over the sea in a boat, and waking suddenly from sleep to find her magnificent ropes of pearl necklace by some accident detached from its fastening at one end, the loose string hanging down into the water, and pearl after pearl slipping off for ever into the abyss, brings before us the sadness of the case. That particular pearl which at the very moment is rolling off into the unsearchable deep, carries its own separate reproach to the lady's heart, but is more deeply reproachful as the representative of so many other uncounted pearls that have already been swallowed up irrecoverably while yet she was sleeping, of many, besides, that must follow before any remedy can be applied to what we may call this jewelly hemorrhage.

The intrepid judge. One of the favourites of Henry V., when Prince of Wales, having been indicted for some misdemeanour, was condemned, notwithstanding all the interest he could make in his favour, and the prince was so incensed at the issue of the trial that he struck the judge on the bench. The magistrate, whose name was Sir William Gascoigne, acted with a spirit becoming his character. He instantly ordered the prince to be committed to prison, and young Henry, sensible by this time of the insult he had offered to the laws of his country, suffered himself to be quietly conducted to jail by the officers of justice. The king, Henry IV., who was an excellent judge of mankind, was no sooner informed of this transaction, than he cried out in a transport of joy, "Happy is the king who has a magistrate possessed of courage to execute the laws, and still more happy in having a son who will submit to such chastisement."—Arvine.

Flattery. The coin most current among mankind is flattery: the only benefit of which is, that, by hearing what we are not, we may learn what we ought to be.

Whitfield, when flattered, said, "Take care of fire: I carry powder about me."

A flattering priest told Constantine the Great that his virtues deserved the empire of the world here, and to reign with the Son of God hereafter. The emperor cried, "Fie, fie, for shame; let me hear no more such unseemly speeches; but, rather, suppliantly pray to my Almighty Maker, that, in this life and the life to come, I may be reckoned worthy to be his servant."

Excuses. He that does amiss never lacks excuse. Any excuse will serve when one has not a mind to do a thing. The archer that shoots ill has a lie ready. He that excuses himself accuses himself. A bad workman always complains of his tools.

Wicked counsel. A young man devoted himself to a religious life. His ungodly parents sent him many letters to dissuade him. Being fully decided to go on in his chosen course, when any letters came addressed to him he threw them into the fire at once, without opening them. When friends and kindred stand between us and Christ, they must be disregarded.

Sin. Sin is like the little serpent aspis, which stings men, whereby they fall into a pleasant sleep, and in that sleep die.—Swinnock.

Envy. We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find in the dark, and gloomy, and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the king of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes; it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks—I mean the crucifixion of Christ, for the evangelist tells us that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.

The poets imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean-looking as guilt, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in the misfortunes of others; ever unquiet and careful, and continually tormenting herself.—Wit.

Friendship. True friendship can only be made between true men. Hearts are the soul of honour. There can be no lasting friendship between bad men. Bad men may pretend to love each other; but their friendship is a rope of sand, which shall be broken at any convenient season. But if a man have a sincere heart within him, and be true and noble, then we may confide in him.—Spurgeon.

Ingratitude. A petted soldier of the Macedonian army was shipwrecked, and east upon the shore apparently lifeless. A hospitable Macedonian discovered him, revived him, took him to his home, and treated him in a princely manner, and, when he departed, gave him money for his journey. The rescued soldier expressed warm thanks, and promised royal bounty to his benefactor. Instead, when he came before Philip, he related his own misfortunes, and asked to be rewarded by the lands and house of his rescuer. His request was granted, and he returned, and drove out his former host. The latter hastened to lay the true state before the king; when he restored the land, and caused the soldier to be branded in the forehead, "The Ungrateful Guest," as the reward of his baseness.

Conscience wakeful. Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God's judgment, shall come forth clear and expressive.—M‘Cosh.

Guilty conscience. It gives a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. Let Byron describe its anguish, for who felt it more than he?—

"The mind that broods o'er guilty woes

Is like the scorpion girt by fire;

In circle narrowing as it glows,

The flames around their captive close,

Till inly searched by thousand throes,

And maddening in her ire,

One sad and sole relief she knows—

The sting she nourished for her foes;

Whose venom never yet was vain,

Gives but one pang, and cures all pain,

And darts into her desperate brain;

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like scorpion girt with fire.

So writhes the mind remorse has riven,

Unfit for earth, undoomed for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death."

Forgiveness. As the prince or ruler only has power to forgive treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt only the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount. But we know that he is always ready to forgive. "He keeps mercy for thousands, and pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin."

Forgiveness. In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another, and when he was about to be punished, the injured boy begged for his pardon. The master asked. "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The boy replied, "I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should forgive our enemies; and, therefore, I forgive him, and beg he may not be punished for my sake."

At the present day the green turben which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George, Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher and a keeper of a turnpike gate; and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church.—Geikie.


Verses 10-14

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est . Vashti refused to come] It was regarded as something unheard of if the queen appeared in public unveiled.—Lange. Vashti means the best.

Est . Which knew the times] Astrologers and magicians; generally to be learned.

Est . The seven princes] refers in the present case to the seven Amshaspands, in others to the days of the week, or the seven planets.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est ; Est 1:14

A CATALOGUE OF NAMES

Names are applied to persons and things to set forth their distinguishing characteristics, and to separate one from the other. The name of the person should represent and bring before us the person so designated. But the names of these seven eunuchs and seven princes do not give us any indication of their peculiar properties. These names are names only. The persons named are lost in the oblivion of the past.

I. Human names are needful to the perfection of the historic record. This Book of Esther is a history as well as a drama. For the consistency of the drama, and to the perfection of the historic record, there must be the record of names. We may wish to know something about the persons named, but the historian cannot always check his narration to describe every person to whom allusion must be made. All he has to do is to give a faithful and general account of the transactions recorded.

II. Human names are useful as being incidental testimonies to the veracity of the history. A long list of names is dry reading. It sometimes makes an unpleasant break in the even flow of the narrative, but it gives an air of truthfulness to the record. It shows that the writer either has much skill, or is speaking about real transactions with which he is familiar. We have no just reason to suppose that these sacred writers were endowed with the worldly cunning which led them to conjure and insert names for the purpose of making their myths appear something more than mythical compositions. There is the evident absence of all deep art in their compositions. There is a simplicity which speaks of veracity.

III. Human names are recognized by the Divine mind. Language itself must be of Divine origin. We cannot conceive human language having come into existence in any other way. Names, then, are part of the Divine plan. The God of order must approve of those names which are needful to the orderly movements of society. They are plentifully employed in the Divine book. There are distinctions on earth, and names are needful to preserve those distinctions. There are distinctions in heaven, and perhaps names will continue in that sublimer sphere.

IV. Human names may be entered on the historic page and the owners sink away into obscurity. These seven eunuchs and seven princes have for us no deep interest; their glory is gone, their names only abide. How touching it is to reflect that the greater part by far of the race become only meaningless names! We have even no certain data for the interpretation of these names. They have generally but little resemblance to known Persian names. But we may go further. The best known names of the present will be crowded out of prominence by the names of coming celebrities. There are vast multitudes in this country who do not know the names, and still fewer who are acquainted with the characters, of those great men who have fashioned our country's history. So passes speedily away all human glory. The name of Christian will ever abide.

V. Human names may be entered on the historic page without any merit on the part of the owners. If historic scrolls contained only the names of the meritorious, if even of the meritorious from a human standpoint, how short would be the list! The work of the historian would be very considerably abridged. These names are inserted on account of their connection with the sacred story.

VI. Human names may be recorded in a sacred list and yet the owners not themselves be sacred. This number seven was peculiarly sacred to the Persians. If these eunuchs and princes had been of sacred character, if they had been known for deeds of goodness, we may reasonably suppose that the Divine penman would have paused in order to testify of their noble characters. This course is from time to time pursued in the Bible. Many that are unsacred have their names written on the sacred lists of earth. It is difficult, yea impossible, to keep our sacred lists perfect. The names of the unworthy and the impure will get inserted. The sacred list of heaven alone is perfect. Characters, not reputations, are considered in Divine judgments. Not the skilful utterers, but the consistent doers of Divine words will be written on Divine lists.

VII. Better than the celebrity of human names is the immortality of noble deeds. The most celebrated of human names will vanish. Noble deeds alone are immortal. When the names now blazoned forth on the pages of history, or trumpeted in the ears of the world, are known no more, then will be remembered the names of God's faithful ones. For God is not unrighteous to forget their works and their labours of love.

"Be good, my child, and let who will be clever—

Do noble deeds, not dream them all day long;

And so make life, death, and that vast forever

One grand, deep song."—Charles Kingsley.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est ; Est 1:14

It is to be added, also, that mere genealogies, bare narratives of the number of years which persons, called by such and such names, lived, do not carry the air of fiction; perhaps do carry some presumption of veracity; and all unadorned narratives, which have nothing to surprise, may be thought to carry somewhat of the like presumption too.—Butler's Analogy.

Every human name more or less historic. Some persons exercise a direct historic influence; others are but incidentally associated with the great facts of time.—Dr. Parker.

In a similar way, many of the driest portions of the historic books—the genealogies, for example—minister to the same end. The mere frequency and copiousness of such matter, untinctured with the smallest trace of mythological influences, and attended, as it often is, with a break in the continuity and interest in the narrative, is, pro tanto, a voucher that the writings in which they occur are neither fiction nor myth.… We can understand the moderate use which Homer or De Foe may have made of such matter; that is, just so far as to impart a general air of verisimilitude. But whole pages together of nothing but names are so preposterously beyond all imaginable necessities of allusion, and so destructive of all interest in the reader, that we may safely infer that the introduction of such matter, to the extent we find it in the Bible, will admit of no such solution. As little will it admit of a mythical origin; for though myths may be a gradual and insensible growth of the popular imagination, they are yet true to the principles on which they have been constructed and embellished, to amuse or instruct; and neither the one purpose nor the other can be answered by whole chapters containing nothing but long catalogues of names.—The Superhuman Origin of the Bible, by Henry Rogers.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

FALSE MERRIMENT AND ITS RESULT

"When the heart of the king was merry with wine" he sent the seven eunuchs—which refers in the present case to the seven Amshaspands, in others the number refers to the days of the week, or the seven planets—"to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him."

I. Here is false merriment. There is a merriment which is wholesome, and there is a merriment which is injurious. That merriment which is the outcome of a nature working harmoniously will do good, and will leave pleasant reflections; but that merriment which is the outcome of a nature where alcohol has sunk into temporary oblivion all unpleasant views, and has unduly excited into delirious joy, will work damage, and when it has gone a bitter memory will remain. The last state of the man's heart made merry with wine is always worse than the state before the heart was reached by the delusive liquor. The false, both in nature and in morals, cannot be without either attendant or consequent evils. Better no merriment than that which is purchased at the expense of future repose. Let the heart of man be merry with the new wine of heaven.

II. Here false merriment leads to a foolish command. When the heart is thus merry with wine the head gets wrong. The directing portion of the brain is disordered and weakened by alcohol. Strange freaks are performed, and the merry heart too often becomes a broken heart. Very suggestive is the statement "when the heart of the king was merry with wine." Nothing is said about the head. The stomach is too often the strongest force in a drunkard's frame. Ahasuerus, in his maudlin state, did not dream that his beloved and beautiful queen would dare to be disobedient. He gave a foolish command. His folly brought its bitter fruit. He sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. Let us be careful how and whom we command.

III. A foolish command leads to a humiliating refusal. It never occurred to this proud and merry-making monarch that a woman would venture to refuse, when courtiers fawned and flattered, and when princes rendered obeisance. In the very climax of his glory and his merriment he received a blow which was more humiliating than defeat on the battle-field. What a consternation when Vashti refused to come! If there was one thing more than another calculated to make this king sober, it was the tidings that Vashti refused to come. Our troubles come from quarters where we least expect them.

IV. This humiliating refusal leads to a still more humiliating display. Sometimes fools are so silly as not to see that they have been humiliated. But Ahasuerus had not been rendered senseless by the copious draughts of rich wine; he had just enough sense left to see that he had received a great affront; "therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him." A king in a childish passion. How unkingly! This royal child asked for his queen to be brought, as an over-spoilt child asks for a fresh toy to gratify a surfeited nature, and then begins to cry and make a farcical scene because the request is refused. If there was one manly spirit present at the scene, he must have blushed for his country to see it governed by such a pitiful specimen of manhood. Here learn—

1. That human greatness reveals human weakness. Earthly kings are not omnipotent. Only God is all-powerful; and oftentimes with the small hand of his weakest creatures he touches the strong man and makes him tremble. In the day of proudest successes we receive the most humiliating strokes.

2. An uncurbed will must meet with strange rebuffs. A Persian monarch's command was not to be disputed, and thus he did not learn to respect the rights of others. While we uphold our own rights, and maintain a proper dignity, we must remember that others have rights. Spoiled children must come to grief.

3. That at Divine feasts alone do we find the best at the last. Where Ahasuerus and his like preside the best wine is drunk first, and at the conclusion the guests are only too glad to escape without personal harm. Where Christ presides the joyful guests exclaim, Thou hast kept the good wine till now.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

1. It was certainly the king's weakness to send for the queen into his presence when drunk.

(1) He dishonoured himself as a husband. He ought to have protected, and not exposed, his wife.

(2) He diminished himself as a king in commanding that from his wife which she might refuse, much to the honour of her virtue.

2. Perhaps it was not her wisdom to deny him.

(1) She refused, though he sent his command by seven honourable messengers.

(2) Had she come, while she did it in pure obedience, it had been no reflection upon her modesty.—M. Henry.

1. Great pleasure is often followed by equally great displeasure.

2. Occasions of joyous feasting commonly end in sorrow.

3. Although beauty is a gift of God, still one should not make a boast of it, nor yet be proud of it.

4. Pride occasions much sorrow, and often plunges into destruction.

Est . Therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him. ANGER. I. THE DEFORMITY OF ANGER. What an ugly thing is anger, dispossessing a man of his soul (which is possessed by patience), and disfiguring his body with fieriness of eyes, furiousness of the looks, distortion of the face, inflammation of the nostrils. The Hebrews call anger Aph, because therein the nose riseth, the colour changeth, the tongue stammereth, the teeth gnash, the hands clasp, the feet stamp, the pulse beats, the heart pants, the whole man swells like a toad, glows like a devil, tormenting himself before his time; whence many heathens have advised the angry man to look at his face in a glass, and so grow ashamed of his distemper.

II. THE DISGRACE OF ANGER. The Holy Ghost hath stigmatized the angry person for a fool in grain, such an one as exalts folly, sets it upon high to be seen of all, and proclaims himself a fool; yea, the worst of fools; for "proud, haughty scorner is his name that dealeth in proud wrath;" that is his title. Thus God loads such a man with disgrace. And whereas he thinks by his big looks and high terms to carry it among men (as Lamech did), when he hath gotten revenge especially; the Apostle purposely disgraceth revenge of injury by a word signifying disgrace, loss of victory, or impotency of mind. And, indeed, it is unmanliness of spirit, and little wit in the head, that causeth a great deal of passion in the heart, as we see in infants and sick people. Thunder, hail, tempest, neither trouble nor hurt the celestial bodies; no more doth anger great minds. The tops of some mountains are said to be so high above the middle region of air, that not so much as the dust of them is moved out of the place from year's end to year's end: so is it here. Great spirits and men of understanding are, like the upper region, in a perpetual serenity; or, at least, like the highest planets, that of all the rest are thought to be lowest in course, or like a diamond that is neither bruised nor cut.

III. THE DANGER OF ANGER. It consumes the body; it confounds the soul. Fevers, colics, palsies, pleurisies, apoplexies, inflammation, consumption, are caused by it, while it dries up the radical moisture (that balsam of the body), boils the heart into brine, and, viper-like, makes an end of the owner; who, as he lived undesired, so he dies unlamented, as Nerva, Valentinian, and other choleric kings and persons of great note, who hereby have wrought their own ruth and ruin. And for the poor soul it is indisposed, by unadvised anger, for prayer or any other duty to God or man. He is laid open, like an unwalled city, to many sins, mischiefs, and miseries; temporal, spiritual, and eternal. He that lives and dies in this fury becomes a prey to the furies of hell.—Trapp.

Est ; Est 1:12.—What has thus degraded the king? Wine. The king was happy in the obedience of princes, but unhappy in the disobedience of his wife. What a disappointment! He showed the glory of his kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty many days; but he also showed that, with all his glory, he could not command a woman. Disputes between husbands and wives are bad at any time, but much worse in the presence of company. Though a mighty king, he was also a poor slave. He drank wine to excess. He issued an unrighteous command. He was carried away by anger. Rich man! Yet how poor, with all thy wealth. A sober slave is more respected, and more to be respected, than a drunken king. "I will not come," said Vashti; and all the persuasion of the great men could not persuade her. When asked to violate our conscience, let us dare to say, No. If husbands expect obedience from their wives, let them be reasonable in their commands. The guilt of disobedience sometimes rests upon him who issues the command. "Husbands, provoke not your wives to anger." They have given themselves to and for you. Wives, do not dishonour those husbands who have chosen you before all others. Perhaps Vashti thought, What means this uncouth motion? More than six months hath this feast continued, and all this while we have enjoyed the wanton liberty of our sex. Were the king himself this command could not be sent. It is the wine, and not he, that is guilty of this errand: is it for me to humour him in so vain a desire? Will it agree with our modest reservedness to offer ourselves to be gazed at by millions of eyes? Who knows what wanton attempt may follow upon this ungoverned excess? This very message argues that wit and reason hath yielded their place to that besotting liquor. Vashti refuseth to come.… The blood that is once inflamed with wine is apt to boil with rage. It vexes him to think that those nobles whom he meant to send away astonished with the demonstration of his power and majesty should now say, "What boots it Ahasuerus to rule afar off when he cannot command at home? In vain doth he boast to govern kings, while he is checked by a woman."—Bishop Hall.

And his anger burned within him; as Nebuchadnezzar's also did upon a like occasion, hotter than his seven times' heated oven, or than the mountain Etna doth. Moses' anger waxed hot in him, so that he knew not well what he did in it, it raised such a smoke. Jonah was ready to burst with anger; his blood boiled at his heart as brimstone doth at the match. Therefore is the heart set so near the lungs, that when it is heated with anger it may be allayed and cooled by the blast and moisture thereof. Josephus saith that he brake off the feast upon this occasion.—Trapp.

We see that God reserves the best for the last. God's last works are his best works. The new heaven and the new earth are the best; the second wine that Christ created himself was the best; spiritual things are better than natural. A Christian's last is his best. God will have it so for the comfort of Christians, that every day they live they may think, my best is behind, my best is to come; that every day they rise they may think, I am nearer heaven one day than I was before, I am nearer death, and therefore nearer Christ. What a solace is this to a gracious heart! A Christian is a happy man in his life, but happier in his death, because then he goes to Christ; but happiest of all in heaven, for then he is with Christ. How contrary to a carnal man, that lives according to the sway of his own base lusts! He is miserable in his life, most miserable in his death, but most miserable of all after death. I beseech you lay this to heart. Methinks, considering that death is but a way for us to be with Christ, which is far better, this should sweeten the thinking of death to us, and we should comfort ourselves daily that we are nearer happiness.—Sibbes.

Ahasuerus went from bad to worse, as we all do whenever we fail to practise the self-denial of obedience to God. Pride, luxury, excess in wine, mad upsetting of the first laws of nature, these came first; then followed in its order furious anger, which may do anything. He was stung in the apple of his eye. When I am bringing to so triumphant a finish the pageant planned since I came to the throne, when everybody is thinking how supremely grand I am above all men, to be thus humiliated by a woman! Ah, sire! had you respected yourself you would have been spared all the humiliation.—Symington.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

VASHTI'S DILEMMA

There are great crises in the history of individuals as well as of nations. An arrestive hand checks our progress. We are compelled to pause and deliberate. Such a crisis had now arrived in the history of Vashti. The great turning-point of her life now appears. The question is, Shall I be unqueenly, and thus remain a queen? or shall I be queenly, and become unqueened? Summon up thy heroism, Vashti; all thy fortitude will now be required.

I. She receives an unkingly message. Doubtless the seven chamberlains would give the king's message in true courtly style; but even courtly words may indicate unkingly intentions. It was so in this case. Vashti was to leave the company of her guests, and put on the crown royal, which was a high-pointed turban; and consequently she was to appear in entire royal apparel. We may suppose that her person was to be graced with costly robes of splendid colours from the province of Cashmir, and with garments made of the finely-wrought and richly-variegated silks of the Medians. Pearls from the Persian Gulf would flash their varied and chastened colours. Rich jewels would not be wanting to increase the splendour. And gold from the distant parts of the empire would manifest the vastness of the king's resources, and tend to set forth the charms of the queen's person. Being purified with oil of myrrh and sweet odours, she would emit a pleasant fragrance by her every motion, as well as display her beauty in new and attractive aspects to the beholders. No purpose was to be served beyond that of showing the people and the princes her beauty. She was to throw aside her self-respect, to divest herself of true queenly attributes, and appear with her face unveiled, in order that the courtly revellers might feast upon her countenance; and thus she was to do that which was abhorrent to an Eastern woman's sense of propriety. No wonder if her spirit rebelled against such unkingly purposes. The kings of time are cruel to their favourites. At first they may be loaded with honours; but afterwards, if any offence is given, the honours are taken away, and the favourites made to feel that it would have been better for them to have remained in obscurity. A despot's guests are not to be envied, for the arbitrary and unreasonable nature of his commands may turn their laughter into weeping. But in the long run despots are cruel to themselves. "The merciful man doeth good to his own soul; but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh." However, let us remember that the King of heaven is no unreasoning despot. His commandments are not grievous, and are for the highest good of those to whom they are given. The guests at Divine feasts need never fear that he will send unkingly messages. And should they disobey there will be given opportunity for confession and time for amendment. This merciful king bears long and compassionately even with hardened offenders. Blessed indeed are those who serve the King of heaven, and sit down at Divine feasts!

II. She displays a queenly spirit. If Vashti were simply a vain woman,—proud of her mere physical beauty,—it may be fairly conjectured that the desire to display her charms would overpower the spirit of self-assertion, which some suppose to be the explanation of her conduct. This was undoubtedly the one opportunity of her life for reaching the climax of earthly glory. It was indeed a great occasion when womanly vanity would induce compliance; but Vashti rose superior to the seductive prospect. Many of our modern Vashtis would have rushed to the banqueting-hall, and the spirit of self-assertion would not have been allowed to overmaster the spirit of vanity. Not only women, but many men have sacrificed far more than Vashti was called upon to sacrifice in order to obtain a portion even of that applause which would have greeted the queenly beauty had she, with winning smiles and graceful movements, presented herself at the king's command. But she refused to go, and nobly braved the worst consequences rather than violate her modesty, and appear in public unveiled. For anything we know to the contrary, she may have tried reasonable methods in order to extricate herself from the difficult position. But who can reason with a despot who has been made unreasonable by wine, and whose smallest caprice must not be thwarted? The narrative simply states the result, that she refused to go at the command of the monarch. However, if Vashti's assailants still persist that she was an arrogant and supercilious beauty,—that she was intoxicated with admiration and with her exalted position,—there is something to admire in that daring spirit which was ready to brave death rather than obey a command which appeared to her unreasonable: for she would know that a Persian monarch's rage might mean death to the offender. Certainly obedience is due to those in authority; but the command of conscience is superior to the commands of husbands, or of kings. The commands of conscience should be supreme; but there is a danger lest the voice of mere caprice be confounded with the voice of conscience. The commands must be prayerfully and carefully examined. The voices must be tried. Have they a Divine sound? Then all must follow the directions of the all-imperative voice, though it leads to banishment, to spoliation, and even to death.

III. Her queenly spirit was not appreciated. It provoked the wrath of the king, and his anger burned in him. And the courtiers and great ladies did not appear to her defence. There is ever a natural tendency for the strong to oppress the weak. Throughout all ages women have found it difficult to get their due from men. Christianity has been woman's great elevator and benefactor; and she has been, as is most fitting, its most faithful adherent and propagator. But still woman's weakness is too often trespassed upon by manly strength. To be on the side of right, if supported by might, excites little or no opposition; but to be on the side of right when it is the side of weakness is to be guilty of folly and of rebellion against constituted authority. Even to this day the inebriated Ahasuerus has his apologists, though they may not mean it; and the unqueened Vashti is followed in her retirement with the pitying sneer of those who assert that she failed because she was not a sagacious woman. The banished Vashtis ought to receive full credit for the heroism of their conduct. Shameful it is that those who profess to believe in persecuted apostles, in slain reformers, and in a crucified Jesus, should always be carefully looking about for some error in conduct, for some failure in policy, in order to account for the non-success of those whom society has banished from its palaces. Not only ancient, but modern critics would account for the beheading of John by the statement that he made a rude and personal attack; for the stoning of Stephen, by the suggestion that he spoke truth in an unpalatable form; for the unpopularity of Paul, that his bodily presence was weak; and for the banishment of Vashti, by the supposition that she was arrogant and unwise in her method of refusal. The Vashtis must be prepared for some depreciation if they resolutely adhere to, and firmly follow, that which they believe to be true, and noble, and virtuous. But this may be their consolation, that time is on their side, and that the Great Supreme accepts sincerity of motive; yes, though the consequent action be not the wisest. For he is not a hard task-master. Let the true-hearted Vashtis rejoice, for their judgment is with God.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." Ahasuerus formerly behaved like a king. His wine, and the vessels in which it was drunk, were royal, according to the state of the king; but now his behaviour is like one of the vain fellows. He boasts of the extraordinary beauty of his wife. In defiance of the manners of the Persians, and of the laws of decency, he will now have her brought into a drunken assembly of princes and peasants for a public show. What is it that has thus degraded the great king? An honest peasant that knows how to guide his affairs, and to govern his family with discretion, is more truly royal than Ahasuerus, exposing his shame before his people. Wine has transformed him from a king to a clown, or something below a clown. It is said, that the Spartans used to compel their slaves to intoxicate themselves, that they might show them in their cups to their children, and thus produce in their minds a perpetual detestation of this worse than beastly vice. You have no occasion to bring drunken men into the presence of your children. Scripture gives you pictures of this vice sufficient for your admonition and theirs. It is plain from the instance before us, that a sober slave is more respectable than a drunken king.

She was fair to look upon, and all the princes and people must, for once, be gratified with a sight of her shining countenance, that they might admire the king's happiness in the possession of such unrivalled beauty. Vain man! Did he not know that the most glorious beauty of the human face as of the visible creation, is but a fading flower? Still less did he know, that this beauty, in a day's time, would be no longer his property, and that he would lose the possession of it by his own folly. Let those who have wives, however beautiful, be as though they had them not; for the fashion of this world passeth away.

Vashti had good reason to beg to be excused from appearing in a company where too many were merry with wine. She is too often imitated by women who have promised obedience to their husbands. They will allege, that the meaning of their promise was that they were to obey their husbands in all reasonable things. If by reasonable things they meant things in which they could give obedience with a good conscience, the limitation would be very proper. But a more frequent meaning which they have for the expression is, things which please their own humours. If these only are the matters in which they are disposed to yield obedience, the promise ought never to have been made; for whenever they conform themselves to their own humours, rather than to the known will of their husbands, they break a solemn promise.

If husbands expect due obedience from their wives, let them be always reasonable in their commands. You see, that all the authority of the greatest king in the world could not make Vashti obedient to a foolish command. She will rather encounter the king's wrath; and "the wrath of a king is like messengers of death."

Therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him. He was confounded and shocked at the unexpected disappointment. He hoped to show to all his people and princes in Shushan how happy he was, and only showed them his misery.—Rev. G. Lawson.

Then took place the succession of violent scenes, so thoroughly characteristic of Oriental despotism, but which to the Hebrew historian was so familiarized, that they appear to fill him rather with admiration than astonishment and horror—the order for the queen to unveil herself—contrary to the immemorial usage of Persia, and therefore the sure sign of the king's omnipotence—before the assembled court, the rage of the king at her refusal, and her instantaneous divorce. In the annual Persian representation of the tragedy of the sons of Ali, an English ambassador is brought as begging their lives; and to mark his nationality a boy dressed up as an unveiled woman accompanies him as the ambassadress.—Stanley's Jewish Church and Note.

The queen refused to appear at the king's command as delivered by the eunuchs, because she did not choose to stake her dignity as a queen and a wife before his inebriated guests. The audacity of Persians in such a condition is evident from history.—Keil.

While Ahasuerus was intent to show how far the limits of his empire extended, by calling to his court the governors of the most distant provinces, he found in close proximity, yea, in his very house, insubordination to his will. Though he knew how to punish it, yet he could not conquer it, nor turn it into obedience to his wishes. There is, therefore, a power higher than that of man, were he even the mightiest ruler of earth. To disobey human commands may be dangerous, may bring temporal disadvantage, but to despise God's laws is degrading, and will bring eternal ruin.—Lange.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

THE SEVEN WISE MEN

"Where shall wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding?" At first sight we may naturally look for it in the palaces of kings, for they have the opportunity of gathering round them the choicest spirits in the realm. They have money at their command; and money answereth all things. The wise man's wisdom is too often a mere article of barter, and is sold to the highest bidder. The prospect of money sometimes causes the wise man to prostitute his wisdom to foolish purposes. But the wisdom of courtiers is not always directed by highest moral motives. The wisdom may be great, but the moral power weak. True wisdom is oftener found in lowly hearts and true. A poor wise man may by his wisdom deliver the city; and yet no man remember that same poor man. Poverty has its drawbacks. Little wisdom counts for much where there is much wealth, sounding titles, and an exalted position.

I. The character of these wise men. In general we may say that they were men of learning and men of business. Observation was joined with meditation to the extension of their knowledge. They were not mere bookworms, but studied men and things. They might judge the times by heavenly phenomena as astrologers; but, like the princes of Issachar, they also may have been "men who knew the times, what Israel ought to do." The perfectly wise man must study men as well as books. It is well to know human law and judgment; it is better to know Divine law. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." This defines the nature of true wisdom. "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding."

II. The favour granted to these wise men. Ancient kings preserved their dignity by exclusiveness. Only a few were admitted to familiar intercourse. These wise men saw the king's face. This earth's grandest King frequented the thronged highways. He was the guest of publicans and of sinners. His greatness was not dependent upon the pomp of circumstances. His royalty could stand the rude stare of the multitude. The eye of faith, though possessed by the lowliest, may still see the face of heaven's King. "The pure in heart shall see, and do see, God."

III. The exalted position occupied by these wise men. They sat the first in the kingdom. Many would regard them with envy. But highest seats are not always the most pleasant. Golden chairs may be uneasy; silken couches may have their pricking thorns. A wise man may sit the first in the kingdom to-day, and tomorrow he may be elevated to the gallows on which Haman was hung. Lofty seats are dizzy and dangerous places. Christ's spiritual kingdom affords safe and pleasant seats for all its subjects.

IV. The noble qualities of these wise men were ignobly used. They knew the times, so as to trim their sails to the best advantage for themselves. Their wisdom was a mere marketable commodity. It was ready to be used anyhow for the procuring of either wealth, or place, or power. They knew law and judgment, but they knew that what was law for the despot was not law for the oppressed subject. Prudence is a virtue; but prudence may be degraded into mere timeserving policy. There is a wisdom which dares to do right, and brave all consequences.

V. The vision with which these men were favoured had no transforming power. They saw the king's face, but did not catch the inspiriting influence of a mighty soul. There must have been in that wide realm faces better worth seeing than that of the weak-minded despot. We cannot gather from this account that these wise men were any nobler for this favoured vision. The face of heaven's King has transforming power. Its light dispels the darkness of humanity; its Divine influences rain down and change the very faces of beholders. "But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." The likeness is being now and here fashioned. Each Christian's face should bear the impress of royalty. Christians too should emit transforming and purifying influences.

VI. The exalted position occupied by these wise men was not employed for the advantage of the oppressed. Where is the use of being great if we cannot use our greatness to help the little? High seats should be occupied not for self-glorification, but to lift up our fellows out of the pits of wretchedness. We do not read that these men bent from their proud positions to rescue a condemned woman—condemned before she had been heard, and banished without an opportunity of saying a word in justification of her conduct. Surely it is better to err on the side of mercy. Let those in high places consider the weaknesses and the awful temptations of those in low places.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

Whereshould the perfection of wisdom be, if not in the courts of great princes? or what can the treasuries of monarchs purchase more valuably precious than learned and judicious attendance? or what can be so fit for honour as the wisest? These were his oracles in all his doubts; these are now consulted in this difficulty. Neither must their advice be secretly whispered in the king's ear, but publicly delivered in the audience of all the princes. It is a perilous way that these sages are called to go, betwixt a husband and wife, especially of such power and eminency.—Bishop Hall.

As he had seven chamberlains to execute his orders, so he had seven counsellors to direct his orders. The greater power a man hath, the greater need he hath for advice, that he may not abuse his power.—M. Henry.

Of these Persian privy counsellors it is said—

1. That they were wise men.

2. They were skilful in the times, that is, well versed in histories, and well furnished with experiences.

3. That they knew the laws, which they had ready, and at their fingers' ends, as we say.

4. They also knew judgment, that is, equity and moderation, without which utmost right might be utmost wrong, as, indeed, it proved in the case in hand.—Trapp.

Which knew the times. The good man can say, like the psalmist, "My times are in thy hand." "The sovereign Arbiter of destiny holds in his own power all the issues of our life; we are not waifs and strays upon the ocean of fate, but are steered by infinite wisdom toward our desired haven. Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads, an anodyne for care, a grave for despair."

Est . The kings of Persia did not suffer themselves to be seen by all persons on all occasions. These were a favoured few. But all that love the Lord shall see the "King's face" in heaven. That will be a happy sight. The sorrows of life will then be past; death will then be destroyed; heaven and all its joys will be ours for ever.

Which sat the first in the kingdom. A great privilege which depended upon wealth, and upon the favour of the king. They who sit with Christ in his kingdom will have no title because of earthly position. It will be because of goodness, and the grace and mercy which saves us.—Rev. C. Leach, F.G.S.

He that would mount cares not what attendance he dances at all hours, upon whose stairs he sits waiting, what enormities he soothes, what deformities he imitates, what base offices he does prostrate himself to, so he may rise. The poor man envies the great for his honour; the great perhaps envies the poor more for his peace, for as he lives obscurely, so securely. He that rightly knows the many public and more secret vexations incident to honour would not, as that king said of his crown, stoop to take it up, though it lay at his feet before him. When the Lord hath set thee up as high as Haman in the court of Ahasuerus, or promoted thee to ride with Joseph in the second chariot of Egypt; were thy stock of cattle exceeding Job's; did thy wardrobe put down Solomon's, and thy cupboard of plate Belshazzar's when the vessels of God's temple were the ornature; yet all these are but the gifts of Wisdom's left hand, and the possessors may be under the malediction of God.

How many rich merchants have suddenly lost all! how many noblemen sold all! how many wealthy heirs spent all! Few Sundays pass over our heads without collections for shipwrecks, fires, and other casualties; demonstrative proofs that prosperity is inconstant, riches casual. And for honour, we read that Belisarius, an honourable peer of the empire, was forced in his old age to beg from door to door. Frederic, a great emperor, was so low brought that he sued to be made but the sexton of a church.—Adams.

"A great English writer has pictured an imaginary character as having a sweet look of goodness, which drew out all that was good in others. There must have been some such Divine attraction to the poor and outcast in the looks and whole person of our Lord."—Geikie. This King's face has not only a sweet look of goodness, but a transforming power of goodness. To see aright this King's face is not only to have our goodness drawn out, but to have the badness expelled, and fresh goodness imparted. By the process of devoutly and lovingly gazing we are experiencing the process of being changed into the same Divine image.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE WHOLE CHAPTER

This book presents us with impressive views of man with and without grace; of the great instability of human affairs; of the sovereign power, justice, and faithfulness of the Supreme Being. We now call your attention to the first chapter.

I. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus. Commentators differ about him. He was a heathen—a stranger to God—possessing extensive dominions. His was the second of the four great empires. These empires have come to nought; but, brethren, there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in heaven for ever. Let us be numbered among its subjects.

II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, wished to make a display of his greatness: made a feast—the power of Media and Persia present—he exhibited his riches, and honour, and glory. Notice his pride. Beware of pride. Pray that you may habitually remember what you are—poor, fallen sinners.

III. At this feast, though a heathen one, moderation was observed. "And the drinking was according to law: none did compel." Intemperance is an abomination and a degradation; hence we should flee from it.

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. It is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshazzar's feast; we read of Herod's feast. In such entertainments God is liable to be forgotten. Solomon, who with extraordinary diligence, and unparalleled success, had examined and tried the sources of all earthly gratification, tells us, in language which ought never to be out of remembrance, that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting."

V. Let us consider the evil which was occasioned by the feast.—The king ordered the queen to be brought. She refused to come. The wrath of the king was kindled. The result was a council, then the divorcement of the queen. Quarrels, animosities, and heart-burnings are so contrary to that religion of love which a received gospel generates, that we ought to strive to the utmost for the preservation of the opposite virtues. Christ is the Prince of Peace; let us not only trust in his death for salvation, but imitate his meekness and lowliness of heart.

Two short remarks shall close this discourse:—

1. It behoveth us to lead excellent lives, and the higher we are placed in the community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition. Let our lives be continual sermons to those among whom we live.

2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed. "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God."—Hughes.

I. The vast extent of the Persian empire. It comprehended all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west; and from the Black Sea and Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia. This gigantic dominion was divided into 127 provinces or governments, each of which was placed under a satrap, or, in modern language, a pasha, who managed its affairs, and annually transmitted a certain sum as revenue to the king. The seat of government was variable, according to the season of the year, the summer months being spent by the court at Ecbatana, and the winter months at Susa, or, as it is called in this chapter, Shushan, the palace. The form of government in the East has from the earliest times been despotic, one man swaying the destinies of millions, and having under him a crowd of smaller despots, each in his more limited sphere oppressing the people subjected to his rule.

1. Despotism has its occasional fits of generosity and kindness. It is as kind-hearted that Ahasuerus is brought before you in the early part of this chapter. He was spending the winter months at Susa. The retinue of the monarch was vast, and the fountains and gardens were on a scale of grandeur which we cannot well conceive. There, then, the king, but little concerned about the welfare of his subjects, was spending his time, chiefly in selfish ease and unbounded revelry. To him it was of no moment how his people were oppressed by those whom he set over them; his sole concern was to enjoy his pleasures.

2. With all the luxury and temptation to self-indulgence, there was no compulsion employed to draw any one beyond the bounds of temperance. The law was good, but the king himself had too largely used the liberty, and hence his loss of self-control and all sense of propriety. When heated with wine he sent for Vashti, &c. Lessons suggested are—

(1) Extravagancies and follies into which men are betrayed by intemperance.

(2) That which dethrones reason and destroys intellect should surely be avoided.

(3) All the consequences which affect the man individually, and others also, rest upon the head of the transgressor.

(4) Intemperance (a) blots out distinction between right and wrong; (b) foments all the evil passions of the natural heart; (c) destroys the proper exercise of the power of the will; (d) and often inflicts grievous wounds upon the innocent, as the case of Vashti here already demonstrates.

(5) The necessity of guarding against these evils.

II. The evils which arose from the peculiar family arrangements of those countries. We take occasion here to observe two great evils:—

1. The condition of the female sex was that of degradation. The married woman was not really what the Divine institution intended her to be, the true companion and friend of her husband. She was kept in a state of seclusion, real freedom she knew not; she was, in truth, only a slave, having power to command some other slaves. She was without education, and generally unintelligent, frivolous, and heartless. She was guarded with zealous care, as if she had been very precious, but at the same time she was wholly dependent upon the caprices of her lord.

2. Yet, strangely enough, in the second place, it is to be noticed that, as if to afford evidence that the law of nature cannot be trampled upon with impunity, it very frequently happened that the female influence was felt by the despotic husband, so as to make him in reality the slave. Not conscious of it, but imagining that he held the place of absolute authority, he was himself governed; yet not through the power of real affection, but through the imbecile doting which constituted all that he knew of real affection. Common history abounds with illustrations of this fact, and in the sacred history we have examples of the same kind; David, Solomon, and Ahab are instances. There is never a violation of God's righteous appointments, but it is followed by some penalty. From this Book of Esther, it appears very obviously that Ahasuerus, with all his caprices and his stern, imperious self-will, was at first completely under the influence of Vashti, as he afterwards came to be under that of Esther. The whole domestic system being unnaturally constructed, there was, of necessity, derangements in the conducting of it. The despot might be one day all tenderness and submission, and the next day he might, to gratify his humour, exact from his slaves what, a short time afterwards, he would have counted it absolutely wrong in himself to command, and punishable in them to do.

III. The degradation of Vashti. We have to look at the circumstances which are brought before us in the narrative. At a season when sound counsel could scarcely have been expected, and when he who sought it was not in a fit condition to profit by it, the serious question was proposed by the king, "What shall be done to Vashti?" &c. To defer the consideration of so grave a subject to a more fitting season would have been so clearly the path which a wise counsellor would have recommended, that we feel astonished that it was not at once suggested. But the wrath of the king was so strongly exhibited that his compliant advisers did not venture to contradict him. "Memucan answered," &c. Now, with respect to this opinion of the chief counsellor, it may be observed that it was based upon a principle which in itself is unquestionably right, although there was a wrong application made of it. Rank and station, while they command a certain measure of respect, involve very deep responsibility. 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. Thus far Memucan spoke wisely, when he pointed to the example of the queen as that which would certainly have an influence, wherever it came to be known, throughout the empire. But the principle, in the present instance, was wrongly applied when it was made the ground of condemning the conduct of Vashti. The design was to make her appear guilty of an act of insubordination, which it was necessary for the king to punish, if he would promote the good of his subjects, whereas, in reality, she had upon her side all the authority of law and custom, and was to be made the victim both of the ungovernable wrath of the king, who was beside himself with wine, and also of flatterers who, to gratify him, would do wrong to the innocent. See here the danger of flattery.

Let us extract some practical lessons from our subject.

1. The inadequacy of all earthly good to make man truly happy. Surveying the whole scene portrayed in the early verses of this chapter, we might imagine that the sovereign who ruled over this empire, upon whose nod the interests of so many millions depended, and for whose pleasure the product of so many various climes could be gathered together, had surely all the elements of enjoyment at his command.… And yet we must say that the mightiest sovereign of his time, with 127 provinces subject to him, with princes serving him, and slaves kissing the dust at his feet, was not half so happy as the humblest individual here, who knows what is meant by the comforts of home, where he is in the midst of those who love him.

2. A few remarks may be offered upon the domestic question here settled by the king and his counsellors, as to the supremacy of man in his own house. How could they pronounce a sound judgment upon a question which their customs prevented them from rightly knowing?

3. We have in the text a law spoken of which changeth not. And, my friends, there is such a law, but it is not the law of the Medes and Persians, it is the law of the Eternal. Jehovah's law changeth not. And what does it say? "This do and live." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." That seals us all up under wrath. But we turn the page, and we read and see that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." And is not this our conclusion, then—"I will flee from the curse of the immutable law, and shelter myself under the righteousness of Christ, which is also perfect and immutable, that through him and from him I may have mercy and eternal life"?—Dr. Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1

Power. Pompey boasted, that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms; with one scratch of his pen, Ahasuerus could call to his assistance the forces of 127 provinces; but God, by one word of his mouth, one movement of his will, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds to his aid, or bring new creatures into being to do his will.

Dignity. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin; to which he replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

Great men. Columbus was the son of a weaver, and a weaver himself. Cervantes was a common soldier. Homer was the son of a small farmer. Demosthenes was the son of a cutler. Terence was a slave. Oliver Cromwell was the son of a London brewer. Howard was an apprentice to a grocer. Franklin was a journeyman printer, and son of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Worcester, was the son of a linen-draper. Daniel Defoe was a hostler, and son of a butcher. Whitfield was the son of an innkeeper at Gloucester. Virgil was the son of a porter. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper. Shakespeare was the son of a woolstapler. Milton was the son of a money scrivener. Robert Burns was a ploughman in Ayrshire. Yet all these rose to eminence.

How to make a feast. "Lord Chief Justice Hall frequently invited his poor neighbours to dinner, and made them sit at table with himself. If any of them were sick, so that they could not come, he would send provisions to them warm from his table."

Favour of God. It was the saying of a wise Roman, "I had rather have the esteem of the Emperor Augustus than his gifts;" for he was an honourable, understanding prince, and his favour very honourable. When Cyrus gave one of his friends a kiss, and another a wedge of gold, he that had the gold envied him that had the kiss as a greater expression of his favour. So the true Christian prefers the privilege of acceptance with God to the possession of any earthly comfort, for in the light of his countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain.—Butler.

Pride of wealth. 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. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel book.—Seeker.

Abuse of wealth. 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.—Ruskin.

Danger. "A boy climbing among the Alps saw some flowers on the verge of a precipice, and sprang forward to get them. The guide shouted his warnings; but the heedless boy grasped the flowers, and fell a thousand feet upon the rocks below with them in his hand. It was a dear price for such frail things, but he is not the only victim of such folly."

Danger of prosperity. When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me, that is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. Then we shall say, as Cardinal Wolsey, when discarded by his prince and abandoned to the fury of his enemies: "If I had served my God as faithfully as my king, he would not have thus forsaken me." Poor man! all the perfumes on earth are unable to prevail over the stench of hell.—Secker.

In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul.—Salter.

When fire is put to green wood there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, the filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a dunghill, so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshiny day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights, &c.—Brooks.

Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away—the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.—Baxter.

We commend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain that, by our abuse, both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Oh, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat indulgence he should kill in himself both the first Adam—his reason, and even the second Adam—his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.—Adams.

An earnest young minister was in the house of a rich friend. He was pressed to take wine, but refused. It was again pressed upon him. At length he yielded to their importunities, and drank a little. Gradually he formed a liking for wine, and at length began taking far too much. By degrees, and almost before he was aware of it, he became a drunkard. He was degraded from his office of the ministry, and sank lower and lower. Years after he had been pressed to drink by his rich friend, he came again to his door; this time to beg for a little food, and was ordered away as a drunken vagabond.

Joseph Ralston, of Philipsburg, Penn., met with a horrible death by freezing. He had been drinking freely, and had, while drunk, to wade the Moshandoo Creek; but, ere he proceeded two-thirds of the way, his limbs refused to perform their office. He grasped a bough of an overhanging tree, unable to advance farther; and soon the fast-congealing water cemented close about him—a tomb of ice which stretched from shore to shore. Two days after he was found there rigid as an icicle, his knees embedded in a sheet of the frozen element seven inches thick, his body inclined a little forwards, his hands clutching the boughs, eyes astare, and despair pictured on his features.—Pittsburgh Despatch.

God trieth men's love to him by their keeping his commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that will not leave a forbidden cup for him. O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple if thou forsake not all for him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of him, and wouldst die rather than forsake him? And thou like to lay down thy life for him, who wilt not leave a cup of drink for him? Canst thou burn at a stake for him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess, for him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!—Baxter.

Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both body and soul. And while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul, yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.—Chrysostom.

"If you have glutted yourselves with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter."—J. Lyth, D.D.

Bountiful King. The Lord, like a most bountiful king, will be angry if any man will ask a small thing at his hands; because he had rather give things of great worth than of small value. His goodness is infinite.—Powell.

Fulness of Christ. I have found it an interesting thing to stand at the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for 6000 years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of lightness fail, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ! Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on through eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour! Image of God! Divine Redeemer! In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy!—Dr. Guthrie.

Wife. "And now let us see whether the word ‘wife' has not a lesson. It literally means a weaver. The wife is the person who weaves. Before our great cotton and cloth factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own. The wool was spun into threads by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who, accordingly, was called the weaver, or the wife; and another remnant of this old truth we discover in the word ‘heirloom,' applied to any old piece of furniture which has come down to us from our ancestors, and which, though it may be a chair or bed, shows that a loom was an important article in every house. Thus the word ‘wife' means weaver; and, as Trench well remarks, ‘in the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupation, as being fitted for her who bears the name.'"

Pleasures. The pleasures of the world surfeit with satisfying, while heavenly pleasures satisfy without surfeiting. The surfeited nature of the sensualist requires a constantly increasing stimulus to rouse his used-up powers, but with each advance in Christian enjoyment there is an increased power to appreciate heavenly joys. The pleasures of the world are like the kiss of Judas, given but to betray; the pleasures of heaven make the soul bright and beautiful, as when the face of Moses was transformed by the vision of God.—J. G. Pilkington.

Pleasures. Pleasures, like the rose, are sweet, but prickly; the honey doth not countervail the sting; all the world's delights are vanity, and end in vexation; like Judas, while they kiss, they betray. I would neither be a stone nor an epicure; allow of no pleasure, nor give way to all; they are good sauce, but naught to make a meal of. I may use them sometimes for digestion, never for food.—Henshaw.

Price of pleasure. Goethe, in his "Faust," introduces for his hero a student longing for the pleasures of knowledge. The devil appears, to seduce him from his pursuit; Faust is to have all possible sensual enjoyment in life, but is to pay for it by yielding his soul to the devil at last. At the end, Mephistopheles, jealous of his claim, appears and carries off his victim, the student's lost soul.

Anger. I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper, arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by him.—Clarke.

Anger subdued. Two good men on some occasion had a warm dispute; and remembering the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," just before sunset one of them went to the other, and knocking at the door, his offended friend came and opened it, and seeing who it was, started back in astonishment and surprise; the other, at the same time, cried out, "The sun is almost down." This unexpected salutation softened the heart of his friend into affection, and he returned for answer, "Come in, brother, come in." What a happy method of conciliating matters, of redressing grievances, and of reconciling brethren!—Arvine.

Hypocrisy. A very capital painter in London exhibited a piece representing a friar habited in his canonicals. View the painting at a distance, and you would think the friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together and held horizontally to his breast, his eyes meekly demissed like those of the publican in the gospel: and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes; the book which seemed to be before him is discovered to be a punch-bowl, into which the wretch is all the while in reality only squeezing a lemon. How lively a representation of a hypocrite!—Salter.

Idols. A man's idol is not necessarily an image of gold; it may be a child of clay, the fruit of his own loins, or the wife of his bosom; it may be wealth, fame, position, success, or business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against all such the Almighty pronounces the decree: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and hurls his resistless missiles of destruction. Either ourselves or our idols must be destroyed.

Idolatry! You cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality; false gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal, worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearthstone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.—Dr. Chapin.

Loss of time. We are doomed to suffer a bitter pang as often as the irrevocable flight of our time is brought home with keenness to our hearts. The spectacle of the lady floating over the sea in a boat, and waking suddenly from sleep to find her magnificent ropes of pearl necklace by some accident detached from its fastening at one end, the loose string hanging down into the water, and pearl after pearl slipping off for ever into the abyss, brings before us the sadness of the case. That particular pearl which at the very moment is rolling off into the unsearchable deep, carries its own separate reproach to the lady's heart, but is more deeply reproachful as the representative of so many other uncounted pearls that have already been swallowed up irrecoverably while yet she was sleeping, of many, besides, that must follow before any remedy can be applied to what we may call this jewelly hemorrhage.

The intrepid judge. One of the favourites of Henry V., when Prince of Wales, having been indicted for some misdemeanour, was condemned, notwithstanding all the interest he could make in his favour, and the prince was so incensed at the issue of the trial that he struck the judge on the bench. The magistrate, whose name was Sir William Gascoigne, acted with a spirit becoming his character. He instantly ordered the prince to be committed to prison, and young Henry, sensible by this time of the insult he had offered to the laws of his country, suffered himself to be quietly conducted to jail by the officers of justice. The king, Henry IV., who was an excellent judge of mankind, was no sooner informed of this transaction, than he cried out in a transport of joy, "Happy is the king who has a magistrate possessed of courage to execute the laws, and still more happy in having a son who will submit to such chastisement."—Arvine.

Flattery. The coin most current among mankind is flattery: the only benefit of which is, that, by hearing what we are not, we may learn what we ought to be.

Whitfield, when flattered, said, "Take care of fire: I carry powder about me."

A flattering priest told Constantine the Great that his virtues deserved the empire of the world here, and to reign with the Son of God hereafter. The emperor cried, "Fie, fie, for shame; let me hear no more such unseemly speeches; but, rather, suppliantly pray to my Almighty Maker, that, in this life and the life to come, I may be reckoned worthy to be his servant."

Excuses. He that does amiss never lacks excuse. Any excuse will serve when one has not a mind to do a thing. The archer that shoots ill has a lie ready. He that excuses himself accuses himself. A bad workman always complains of his tools.

Wicked counsel. A young man devoted himself to a religious life. His ungodly parents sent him many letters to dissuade him. Being fully decided to go on in his chosen course, when any letters came addressed to him he threw them into the fire at once, without opening them. When friends and kindred stand between us and Christ, they must be disregarded.

Sin. Sin is like the little serpent aspis, which stings men, whereby they fall into a pleasant sleep, and in that sleep die.—Swinnock.

Envy. We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find in the dark, and gloomy, and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the king of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes; it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks—I mean the crucifixion of Christ, for the evangelist tells us that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.

The poets imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean-looking as guilt, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in the misfortunes of others; ever unquiet and careful, and continually tormenting herself.—Wit.

Friendship. True friendship can only be made between true men. Hearts are the soul of honour. There can be no lasting friendship between bad men. Bad men may pretend to love each other; but their friendship is a rope of sand, which shall be broken at any convenient season. But if a man have a sincere heart within him, and be true and noble, then we may confide in him.—Spurgeon.

Ingratitude. A petted soldier of the Macedonian army was shipwrecked, and east upon the shore apparently lifeless. A hospitable Macedonian discovered him, revived him, took him to his home, and treated him in a princely manner, and, when he departed, gave him money for his journey. The rescued soldier expressed warm thanks, and promised royal bounty to his benefactor. Instead, when he came before Philip, he related his own misfortunes, and asked to be rewarded by the lands and house of his rescuer. His request was granted, and he returned, and drove out his former host. The latter hastened to lay the true state before the king; when he restored the land, and caused the soldier to be branded in the forehead, "The Ungrateful Guest," as the reward of his baseness.

Conscience wakeful. Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God's judgment, shall come forth clear and expressive.—M‘Cosh.

Guilty conscience. It gives a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. Let Byron describe its anguish, for who felt it more than he?—

"The mind that broods o'er guilty woes

Is like the scorpion girt by fire;

In circle narrowing as it glows,

The flames around their captive close,

Till inly searched by thousand throes,

And maddening in her ire,

One sad and sole relief she knows—

The sting she nourished for her foes;

Whose venom never yet was vain,

Gives but one pang, and cures all pain,

And darts into her desperate brain;

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like scorpion girt with fire.

So writhes the mind remorse has riven,

Unfit for earth, undoomed for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death."

Forgiveness. As the prince or ruler only has power to forgive treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt only the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount. But we know that he is always ready to forgive. "He keeps mercy for thousands, and pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin."

Forgiveness. In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another, and when he was about to be punished, the injured boy begged for his pardon. The master asked. "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The boy replied, "I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should forgive our enemies; and, therefore, I forgive him, and beg he may not be punished for my sake."

At the present day the green turben which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George, Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher and a keeper of a turnpike gate; and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church.—Geikie.


Verse 15

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

A KING IN CONSULTATION

Most men have not the opportunity of being present when a king holds a consultation. Such an opportunity is now presented. Enter the banqueting-hall. Let silence be kept, for the king is about to speak. But we shall find here only that which is to be avoided, and nothing to imitate.

I. The king ignores the folly of his own conduct. There is not here the slightest hint that his request was unreasonable. The demand made that Vashti should be brought into the court of revellers unveiled is spoken of in solemn phrase as a commandment, as a proceeding the carrying out of which was needful to the welfare of the state. Men by a change of words, by cunning phrases, try to change the nature of their crimes. It is hard to bring ourselves faithfully to task. We readily ignore the folly of our own conduct when we are bitterly smarting under its results.

II. The king tries to shift the blame on to others. In this the king shows himself the son of that first parent who blamed his wife and tried to exculpate himself. Adam blames Eve. Ahasuerus is wroth with Vashti. Ahab calls Elijah Israel's troubler. Herod beheads John the Baptist. A man blames his fellows; a man finds fault with his circumstances; a man quarrels with his organization. But the last person a man blames is himself. When he has come to do this thoroughly, his reformation is more than half completed.

III. The king tries to get away from the whispers of conscience. If guilty men were fully satisfied with their reasonings about the force of circumstances and their defective organizations, they would not show themselves so uneasy. The reasoning, if conclusive, would be condoning and pacifying. Vashti's crime was only small, if crime it was; why, then, should the king make so great a commotion over so small a matter? Why, because the voice of conscience was not altogether stifled, and it spoke so as to fill him with trouble. The king's dignity might be touched by the unhappy queen's refusal; but his conscience was touched much more. Men are always most angry with, and most severe upon, others when their own consciences are troubled. And when a guilty conscience sits upon the seat of judgment, the poor prisoner may not expect mercy; for then the severest decrees will be pronounced. A guilty conscience is a great legalist. It says what shall be done "according to laws;" it searches out for precedents and examples; it is very strict in its requirements; it does not temper justice with mercy; it keeps all mercy for itself, and justice, which thus becomes injustice, for those brought to its bar. This king had no right to sit in judgment, for he himself was the originator of the supposed misdemeanour.

IV. This king makes others partners of his guilt. Humanity hedges about a king, whether divinity does so or not. Men flock around a royal standard. That which is a crime in a subject becomes only a folly in a king. And so Ahasuerus had no difficulty in gathering around him the wise men to consult about the crime of a poor woman, and condemn her to banishment. It would have required the spirit of a martyr to utter any remonstrances in the presence of this mighty despot, and a martyr spirit is not often found in king's palaces. It requires ruder fare for its development than the sumptuous feasts of royal tables; it needs coarser clothing than purple and fine linen. The world's great prophets are not clothed in soft raiment. They move in the wilderness. And so it is all the more praiseworthy when those wearing soft clothing have spirits strong and bold. Courtly martyrs are few, but when found are most noble.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

Instead of at once following out what his anger suggests, Ahasuerus submits his case to the law and custom. This in itself is great and beautiful; this is the victory of culture over crudeness and passion. But in the manner in which this is done here it amounts to nothing after all. We seem to feel in advance that nothing good will come of it.—Lange.

Because she hath not performed the commandment, &c. This was a fault, no doubt, but not so heinous as was made of it. The faults of his wife a man must either tollere or tolerare, cover or cure, and go about to kill a fly upon her forehead with a bottle, as they say. But God hath a providential hand in it for the good of his Church.—Trapp.

The combined wisdom of all, it seems, was enlisted to consult with the king what course should be taken after so unprecedented an occurrence as Vashti's disobedience of the royal summons. It is scarcely possible for us to imagine the astonishment produced by such a refusal in a country and court where the will of the sovereign was absolute. The assembled grandees were petrified with horror at the daring affront. Alarm for the consequences that might ensue to each of them in his own household next seized on their minds, and the sounds of bacchanalian revelry were hushed into deep and anxious consultation—what punishment to inflict on the refractory queen.—Port. Commentary.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE WHOLE CHAPTER

This book presents us with impressive views of man with and without grace; of the great instability of human affairs; of the sovereign power, justice, and faithfulness of the Supreme Being. We now call your attention to the first chapter.

I. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus. Commentators differ about him. He was a heathen—a stranger to God—possessing extensive dominions. His was the second of the four great empires. These empires have come to nought; but, brethren, there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in heaven for ever. Let us be numbered among its subjects.

II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, wished to make a display of his greatness: made a feast—the power of Media and Persia present—he exhibited his riches, and honour, and glory. Notice his pride. Beware of pride. Pray that you may habitually remember what you are—poor, fallen sinners.

III. At this feast, though a heathen one, moderation was observed. "And the drinking was according to law: none did compel." Intemperance is an abomination and a degradation; hence we should flee from it.

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. It is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshazzar's feast; we read of Herod's feast. In such entertainments God is liable to be forgotten. Solomon, who with extraordinary diligence, and unparalleled success, had examined and tried the sources of all earthly gratification, tells us, in language which ought never to be out of remembrance, that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting."

V. Let us consider the evil which was occasioned by the feast.—The king ordered the queen to be brought. She refused to come. The wrath of the king was kindled. The result was a council, then the divorcement of the queen. Quarrels, animosities, and heart-burnings are so contrary to that religion of love which a received gospel generates, that we ought to strive to the utmost for the preservation of the opposite virtues. Christ is the Prince of Peace; let us not only trust in his death for salvation, but imitate his meekness and lowliness of heart.

Two short remarks shall close this discourse:—

1. It behoveth us to lead excellent lives, and the higher we are placed in the community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition. Let our lives be continual sermons to those among whom we live.

2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed. "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God."—Hughes.

I. The vast extent of the Persian empire. It comprehended all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west; and from the Black Sea and Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia. This gigantic dominion was divided into 127 provinces or governments, each of which was placed under a satrap, or, in modern language, a pasha, who managed its affairs, and annually transmitted a certain sum as revenue to the king. The seat of government was variable, according to the season of the year, the summer months being spent by the court at Ecbatana, and the winter months at Susa, or, as it is called in this chapter, Shushan, the palace. The form of government in the East has from the earliest times been despotic, one man swaying the destinies of millions, and having under him a crowd of smaller despots, each in his more limited sphere oppressing the people subjected to his rule.

1. Despotism has its occasional fits of generosity and kindness. It is as kind-hearted that Ahasuerus is brought before you in the early part of this chapter. He was spending the winter months at Susa. The retinue of the monarch was vast, and the fountains and gardens were on a scale of grandeur which we cannot well conceive. There, then, the king, but little concerned about the welfare of his subjects, was spending his time, chiefly in selfish ease and unbounded revelry. To him it was of no moment how his people were oppressed by those whom he set over them; his sole concern was to enjoy his pleasures.

2. With all the luxury and temptation to self-indulgence, there was no compulsion employed to draw any one beyond the bounds of temperance. The law was good, but the king himself had too largely used the liberty, and hence his loss of self-control and all sense of propriety. When heated with wine he sent for Vashti, &c. Lessons suggested are—

(1) Extravagancies and follies into which men are betrayed by intemperance.

(2) That which dethrones reason and destroys intellect should surely be avoided.

(3) All the consequences which affect the man individually, and others also, rest upon the head of the transgressor.

(4) Intemperance (a) blots out distinction between right and wrong; (b) foments all the evil passions of the natural heart; (c) destroys the proper exercise of the power of the will; (d) and often inflicts grievous wounds upon the innocent, as the case of Vashti here already demonstrates.

(5) The necessity of guarding against these evils.

II. The evils which arose from the peculiar family arrangements of those countries. We take occasion here to observe two great evils:—

1. The condition of the female sex was that of degradation. The married woman was not really what the Divine institution intended her to be, the true companion and friend of her husband. She was kept in a state of seclusion, real freedom she knew not; she was, in truth, only a slave, having power to command some other slaves. She was without education, and generally unintelligent, frivolous, and heartless. She was guarded with zealous care, as if she had been very precious, but at the same time she was wholly dependent upon the caprices of her lord.

2. Yet, strangely enough, in the second place, it is to be noticed that, as if to afford evidence that the law of nature cannot be trampled upon with impunity, it very frequently happened that the female influence was felt by the despotic husband, so as to make him in reality the slave. Not conscious of it, but imagining that he held the place of absolute authority, he was himself governed; yet not through the power of real affection, but through the imbecile doting which constituted all that he knew of real affection. Common history abounds with illustrations of this fact, and in the sacred history we have examples of the same kind; David, Solomon, and Ahab are instances. There is never a violation of God's righteous appointments, but it is followed by some penalty. From this Book of Esther, it appears very obviously that Ahasuerus, with all his caprices and his stern, imperious self-will, was at first completely under the influence of Vashti, as he afterwards came to be under that of Esther. The whole domestic system being unnaturally constructed, there was, of necessity, derangements in the conducting of it. The despot might be one day all tenderness and submission, and the next day he might, to gratify his humour, exact from his slaves what, a short time afterwards, he would have counted it absolutely wrong in himself to command, and punishable in them to do.

III. The degradation of Vashti. We have to look at the circumstances which are brought before us in the narrative. At a season when sound counsel could scarcely have been expected, and when he who sought it was not in a fit condition to profit by it, the serious question was proposed by the king, "What shall be done to Vashti?" &c. To defer the consideration of so grave a subject to a more fitting season would have been so clearly the path which a wise counsellor would have recommended, that we feel astonished that it was not at once suggested. But the wrath of the king was so strongly exhibited that his compliant advisers did not venture to contradict him. "Memucan answered," &c. Now, with respect to this opinion of the chief counsellor, it may be observed that it was based upon a principle which in itself is unquestionably right, although there was a wrong application made of it. Rank and station, while they command a certain measure of respect, involve very deep responsibility. 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. Thus far Memucan spoke wisely, when he pointed to the example of the queen as that which would certainly have an influence, wherever it came to be known, throughout the empire. But the principle, in the present instance, was wrongly applied when it was made the ground of condemning the conduct of Vashti. The design was to make her appear guilty of an act of insubordination, which it was necessary for the king to punish, if he would promote the good of his subjects, whereas, in reality, she had upon her side all the authority of law and custom, and was to be made the victim both of the ungovernable wrath of the king, who was beside himself with wine, and also of flatterers who, to gratify him, would do wrong to the innocent. See here the danger of flattery.

Let us extract some practical lessons from our subject.

1. The inadequacy of all earthly good to make man truly happy. Surveying the whole scene portrayed in the early verses of this chapter, we might imagine that the sovereign who ruled over this empire, upon whose nod the interests of so many millions depended, and for whose pleasure the product of so many various climes could be gathered together, had surely all the elements of enjoyment at his command.… And yet we must say that the mightiest sovereign of his time, with 127 provinces subject to him, with princes serving him, and slaves kissing the dust at his feet, was not half so happy as the humblest individual here, who knows what is meant by the comforts of home, where he is in the midst of those who love him.

2. A few remarks may be offered upon the domestic question here settled by the king and his counsellors, as to the supremacy of man in his own house. How could they pronounce a sound judgment upon a question which their customs prevented them from rightly knowing?

3. We have in the text a law spoken of which changeth not. And, my friends, there is such a law, but it is not the law of the Medes and Persians, it is the law of the Eternal. Jehovah's law changeth not. And what does it say? "This do and live." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." That seals us all up under wrath. But we turn the page, and we read and see that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." And is not this our conclusion, then—"I will flee from the curse of the immutable law, and shelter myself under the righteousness of Christ, which is also perfect and immutable, that through him and from him I may have mercy and eternal life"?—Dr. Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1

Power. Pompey boasted, that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms; with one scratch of his pen, Ahasuerus could call to his assistance the forces of 127 provinces; but God, by one word of his mouth, one movement of his will, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds to his aid, or bring new creatures into being to do his will.

Dignity. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin; to which he replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

Great men. Columbus was the son of a weaver, and a weaver himself. Cervantes was a common soldier. Homer was the son of a small farmer. Demosthenes was the son of a cutler. Terence was a slave. Oliver Cromwell was the son of a London brewer. Howard was an apprentice to a grocer. Franklin was a journeyman printer, and son of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Worcester, was the son of a linen-draper. Daniel Defoe was a hostler, and son of a butcher. Whitfield was the son of an innkeeper at Gloucester. Virgil was the son of a porter. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper. Shakespeare was the son of a woolstapler. Milton was the son of a money scrivener. Robert Burns was a ploughman in Ayrshire. Yet all these rose to eminence.

How to make a feast. "Lord Chief Justice Hall frequently invited his poor neighbours to dinner, and made them sit at table with himself. If any of them were sick, so that they could not come, he would send provisions to them warm from his table."

Favour of God. It was the saying of a wise Roman, "I had rather have the esteem of the Emperor Augustus than his gifts;" for he was an honourable, understanding prince, and his favour very honourable. When Cyrus gave one of his friends a kiss, and another a wedge of gold, he that had the gold envied him that had the kiss as a greater expression of his favour. So the true Christian prefers the privilege of acceptance with God to the possession of any earthly comfort, for in the light of his countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain.—Butler.

Pride of wealth. 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. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel book.—Seeker.

Abuse of wealth. 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.—Ruskin.

Danger. "A boy climbing among the Alps saw some flowers on the verge of a precipice, and sprang forward to get them. The guide shouted his warnings; but the heedless boy grasped the flowers, and fell a thousand feet upon the rocks below with them in his hand. It was a dear price for such frail things, but he is not the only victim of such folly."

Danger of prosperity. When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me, that is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. Then we shall say, as Cardinal Wolsey, when discarded by his prince and abandoned to the fury of his enemies: "If I had served my God as faithfully as my king, he would not have thus forsaken me." Poor man! all the perfumes on earth are unable to prevail over the stench of hell.—Secker.

In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul.—Salter.

When fire is put to green wood there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, the filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a dunghill, so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshiny day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights, &c.—Brooks.

Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away—the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.—Baxter.

We commend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain that, by our abuse, both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Oh, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat indulgence he should kill in himself both the first Adam—his reason, and even the second Adam—his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.—Adams.

An earnest young minister was in the house of a rich friend. He was pressed to take wine, but refused. It was again pressed upon him. At length he yielded to their importunities, and drank a little. Gradually he formed a liking for wine, and at length began taking far too much. By degrees, and almost before he was aware of it, he became a drunkard. He was degraded from his office of the ministry, and sank lower and lower. Years after he had been pressed to drink by his rich friend, he came again to his door; this time to beg for a little food, and was ordered away as a drunken vagabond.

Joseph Ralston, of Philipsburg, Penn., met with a horrible death by freezing. He had been drinking freely, and had, while drunk, to wade the Moshandoo Creek; but, ere he proceeded two-thirds of the way, his limbs refused to perform their office. He grasped a bough of an overhanging tree, unable to advance farther; and soon the fast-congealing water cemented close about him—a tomb of ice which stretched from shore to shore. Two days after he was found there rigid as an icicle, his knees embedded in a sheet of the frozen element seven inches thick, his body inclined a little forwards, his hands clutching the boughs, eyes astare, and despair pictured on his features.—Pittsburgh Despatch.

God trieth men's love to him by their keeping his commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that will not leave a forbidden cup for him. O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple if thou forsake not all for him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of him, and wouldst die rather than forsake him? And thou like to lay down thy life for him, who wilt not leave a cup of drink for him? Canst thou burn at a stake for him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess, for him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!—Baxter.

Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both body and soul. And while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul, yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.—Chrysostom.

"If you have glutted yourselves with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter."—J. Lyth, D.D.

Bountiful King. The Lord, like a most bountiful king, will be angry if any man will ask a small thing at his hands; because he had rather give things of great worth than of small value. His goodness is infinite.—Powell.

Fulness of Christ. I have found it an interesting thing to stand at the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for 6000 years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of lightness fail, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ! Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on through eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour! Image of God! Divine Redeemer! In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy!—Dr. Guthrie.

Wife. "And now let us see whether the word ‘wife' has not a lesson. It literally means a weaver. The wife is the person who weaves. Before our great cotton and cloth factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own. The wool was spun into threads by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who, accordingly, was called the weaver, or the wife; and another remnant of this old truth we discover in the word ‘heirloom,' applied to any old piece of furniture which has come down to us from our ancestors, and which, though it may be a chair or bed, shows that a loom was an important article in every house. Thus the word ‘wife' means weaver; and, as Trench well remarks, ‘in the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupation, as being fitted for her who bears the name.'"

Pleasures. The pleasures of the world surfeit with satisfying, while heavenly pleasures satisfy without surfeiting. The surfeited nature of the sensualist requires a constantly increasing stimulus to rouse his used-up powers, but with each advance in Christian enjoyment there is an increased power to appreciate heavenly joys. The pleasures of the world are like the kiss of Judas, given but to betray; the pleasures of heaven make the soul bright and beautiful, as when the face of Moses was transformed by the vision of God.—J. G. Pilkington.

Pleasures. Pleasures, like the rose, are sweet, but prickly; the honey doth not countervail the sting; all the world's delights are vanity, and end in vexation; like Judas, while they kiss, they betray. I would neither be a stone nor an epicure; allow of no pleasure, nor give way to all; they are good sauce, but naught to make a meal of. I may use them sometimes for digestion, never for food.—Henshaw.

Price of pleasure. Goethe, in his "Faust," introduces for his hero a student longing for the pleasures of knowledge. The devil appears, to seduce him from his pursuit; Faust is to have all possible sensual enjoyment in life, but is to pay for it by yielding his soul to the devil at last. At the end, Mephistopheles, jealous of his claim, appears and carries off his victim, the student's lost soul.

Anger. I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper, arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by him.—Clarke.

Anger subdued. Two good men on some occasion had a warm dispute; and remembering the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," just before sunset one of them went to the other, and knocking at the door, his offended friend came and opened it, and seeing who it was, started back in astonishment and surprise; the other, at the same time, cried out, "The sun is almost down." This unexpected salutation softened the heart of his friend into affection, and he returned for answer, "Come in, brother, come in." What a happy method of conciliating matters, of redressing grievances, and of reconciling brethren!—Arvine.

Hypocrisy. A very capital painter in London exhibited a piece representing a friar habited in his canonicals. View the painting at a distance, and you would think the friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together and held horizontally to his breast, his eyes meekly demissed like those of the publican in the gospel: and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes; the book which seemed to be before him is discovered to be a punch-bowl, into which the wretch is all the while in reality only squeezing a lemon. How lively a representation of a hypocrite!—Salter.

Idols. A man's idol is not necessarily an image of gold; it may be a child of clay, the fruit of his own loins, or the wife of his bosom; it may be wealth, fame, position, success, or business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against all such the Almighty pronounces the decree: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and hurls his resistless missiles of destruction. Either ourselves or our idols must be destroyed.

Idolatry! You cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality; false gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal, worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearthstone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.—Dr. Chapin.

Loss of time. We are doomed to suffer a bitter pang as often as the irrevocable flight of our time is brought home with keenness to our hearts. The spectacle of the lady floating over the sea in a boat, and waking suddenly from sleep to find her magnificent ropes of pearl necklace by some accident detached from its fastening at one end, the loose string hanging down into the water, and pearl after pearl slipping off for ever into the abyss, brings before us the sadness of the case. That particular pearl which at the very moment is rolling off into the unsearchable deep, carries its own separate reproach to the lady's heart, but is more deeply reproachful as the representative of so many other uncounted pearls that have already been swallowed up irrecoverably while yet she was sleeping, of many, besides, that must follow before any remedy can be applied to what we may call this jewelly hemorrhage.

The intrepid judge. One of the favourites of Henry V., when Prince of Wales, having been indicted for some misdemeanour, was condemned, notwithstanding all the interest he could make in his favour, and the prince was so incensed at the issue of the trial that he struck the judge on the bench. The magistrate, whose name was Sir William Gascoigne, acted with a spirit becoming his character. He instantly ordered the prince to be committed to prison, and young Henry, sensible by this time of the insult he had offered to the laws of his country, suffered himself to be quietly conducted to jail by the officers of justice. The king, Henry IV., who was an excellent judge of mankind, was no sooner informed of this transaction, than he cried out in a transport of joy, "Happy is the king who has a magistrate possessed of courage to execute the laws, and still more happy in having a son who will submit to such chastisement."—Arvine.

Flattery. The coin most current among mankind is flattery: the only benefit of which is, that, by hearing what we are not, we may learn what we ought to be.

Whitfield, when flattered, said, "Take care of fire: I carry powder about me."

A flattering priest told Constantine the Great that his virtues deserved the empire of the world here, and to reign with the Son of God hereafter. The emperor cried, "Fie, fie, for shame; let me hear no more such unseemly speeches; but, rather, suppliantly pray to my Almighty Maker, that, in this life and the life to come, I may be reckoned worthy to be his servant."

Excuses. He that does amiss never lacks excuse. Any excuse will serve when one has not a mind to do a thing. The archer that shoots ill has a lie ready. He that excuses himself accuses himself. A bad workman always complains of his tools.

Wicked counsel. A young man devoted himself to a religious life. His ungodly parents sent him many letters to dissuade him. Being fully decided to go on in his chosen course, when any letters came addressed to him he threw them into the fire at once, without opening them. When friends and kindred stand between us and Christ, they must be disregarded.

Sin. Sin is like the little serpent aspis, which stings men, whereby they fall into a pleasant sleep, and in that sleep die.—Swinnock.

Envy. We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find in the dark, and gloomy, and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the king of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes; it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks—I mean the crucifixion of Christ, for the evangelist tells us that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.

The poets imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean-looking as guilt, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in the misfortunes of others; ever unquiet and careful, and continually tormenting herself.—Wit.

Friendship. True friendship can only be made between true men. Hearts are the soul of honour. There can be no lasting friendship between bad men. Bad men may pretend to love each other; but their friendship is a rope of sand, which shall be broken at any convenient season. But if a man have a sincere heart within him, and be true and noble, then we may confide in him.—Spurgeon.

Ingratitude. A petted soldier of the Macedonian army was shipwrecked, and east upon the shore apparently lifeless. A hospitable Macedonian discovered him, revived him, took him to his home, and treated him in a princely manner, and, when he departed, gave him money for his journey. The rescued soldier expressed warm thanks, and promised royal bounty to his benefactor. Instead, when he came before Philip, he related his own misfortunes, and asked to be rewarded by the lands and house of his rescuer. His request was granted, and he returned, and drove out his former host. The latter hastened to lay the true state before the king; when he restored the land, and caused the soldier to be branded in the forehead, "The Ungrateful Guest," as the reward of his baseness.

Conscience wakeful. Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God's judgment, shall come forth clear and expressive.—M‘Cosh.

Guilty conscience. It gives a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. Let Byron describe its anguish, for who felt it more than he?—

"The mind that broods o'er guilty woes

Is like the scorpion girt by fire;

In circle narrowing as it glows,

The flames around their captive close,

Till inly searched by thousand throes,

And maddening in her ire,

One sad and sole relief she knows—

The sting she nourished for her foes;

Whose venom never yet was vain,

Gives but one pang, and cures all pain,

And darts into her desperate brain;

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like scorpion girt with fire.

So writhes the mind remorse has riven,

Unfit for earth, undoomed for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death."

Forgiveness. As the prince or ruler only has power to forgive treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt only the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount. But we know that he is always ready to forgive. "He keeps mercy for thousands, and pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin."

Forgiveness. In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another, and when he was about to be punished, the injured boy begged for his pardon. The master asked. "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The boy replied, "I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should forgive our enemies; and, therefore, I forgive him, and beg he may not be punished for my sake."

At the present day the green turben which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George, Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher and a keeper of a turnpike gate; and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church.—Geikie.


Verses 16-20

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

COURTIERS FORSAKE A FAILING CAUSE

It is not here asserted that this is a characteristic of courtiers, which may not be observed in other men; for it is a too general custom to push a man or woman down when tokens of falling are visible. But the courtly style is to flatter the powerful, and to speak no helpful words on behalf of the weak. In the multitude of counsellors there is safety, if there be no personal interests at stake; but these courtiers were time-serving counsellors. They knew the danger of opposing the arbitrary commands of a Persian monarch, and therefore they do not try to palliate Vashti's conduct, but condemned her completely.

I. The courtly orator. Memucan was evidently a true courtly orator, and he was put forth as the spokesman of the rest. He plainly knew that it would not be prudent to offer any opposition to the monarch's wild caprice. Memucan by artful insinuation justifies the extravagant whim of this Eastern despot. The orator can do much either for good or for evil. How awful when his great power is directed by selfishness!

II. His cunning flattery. His flattery was insinuating and captivating. He artfully alludes to the extent of the monarch's dominions, to the resistless nature of his decree, and to the vastness of his influence. He flatters by declaring that a wrong done to the king is a wrong done to all his subjects. But he flatters most by assuming that the king's command was altogether legitimate, and in no wise to be disputed. "The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not." Thus it shall be reported, so says the courtly orator; but what says the uncourtly and intelligent observer? Even if he blames Vashti he will not condone the fault of Ahasuerus as was done by Memucan. Truly a flattering mouth worketh ruin.

III. His vicious reasoning. Memucan understood how to make the worse appear the better reason; how cunningly to mingle truth with falsehood; how artfully to fan the king's wrath into a consuming flame; and how, by plausible utterances, to show that the gratification of the king's unreasonable desire was for the welfare of every household in the vast empire. A vicious logical process may be carried out through ignorance, but too often it is indicative of the working of a vicious nature. The heart must be right as well as the head if logical rules are not to be violated. The simple heart will come straight to a correct conclusion where the twisted but cultivated nature will falter.

IV. His time-serving policy. Memucan had regard to the welfare of himself and his compeers more than that justice should be done to Vashti. Thus all are prepared for the sharp verdict that Vashti must be unqueened; that she must have no further intercourse with the monarch; and that another, better than she, was to possess her royal estate. But he carefully refrains from adding, And thus she will have no future opportunity of bringing time-serving courtiers to judgment. These courtiers, in order to save themselves, and prevent Vashti from retaliating, strove, by placing her conduct in the worst light, by showing how injurious would be the influence of one in the highest position throughout the whole realm if she were left unpunished, and by the advocacy of stringent measures, to divest her of all power to do them harm in the future.

V. His unfeeling nature. The true orator should be a man of feeling. His sympathies should go out towards the weak and the oppressed. But Memucan was not a true orator. Certainly he was not a son of consolation. He had power, but it was not power directed by goodness. His gift of speech was ready for the use of the highest bidder. His heart was made of stone. He had a position to maintain, and he would maintain it at whatever cost The better feelings must be stifled; the voice of conscience must be hushed; a weak woman must be trampled out of existence. Ah, poor Vashti found by bitter experience that an arm of flesh is but a broken reed on which to lean in the day of adversity. Vain is the help of man in the time of trouble. Who shall rise up for her against the courtly speakers and evil plotters? It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in courtiers, in nobles, or in princes.

THE FOLLY OF TRUSTING IN MAN

"Cursed is the man that trusteth in man; that maketh flesh his arm." To make flesh our arm is to confide in human wisdom, power, riches, &c. for protection from evil, or for the attainment of any personal advantage. This practice spreads through all grades of society. The king Ahasuerus was guilty of it. But let us remark that this practice—

I. Is idolatrous in its principles. Whatever a man confides in for protection and happiness is unquestionably his god. Let all covetous, ambitious, and licentious persons consider this,—they all "make flesh their arm," and their hearts depart from the Lord!

II. It is grovelling in its aim. It looks no higher than present good, and things altogether unworthy of an immortal spirit. God, the proper and adequate good of the soul—the noblest object to which it can aspire—is neglected and shunned; the sinner's heart departs from him, to pursue wind, and chaff, and vanity.

III. It is unreasonable in its foundation. It is built upon an extravagant supposition, viz., that the creature can supply the place of the Creator; indeed, it supposes that man can do what God cannot.

IV. It is destructive in its issue. "Cursed is the man that trusteth," &c. The man that trusteth in his fellows shall be like the heath in the desert—worthless, sapless, fruitless; "he shall not see good when good cometh," shall not enjoy it—"but he shall inhabit the parched places," &c. He shall prosper in nothing. His soul shall be disconsolate, like a man banished to some desolate spot, amidst burning sands and trackless wilds, where all is melancholy, dreary, and waste, and where he at length expires through famine. The cisterns he has hewn out are broken.

Learn—

1. There is no safety in man.

2. To put your trust in the Lord.—Sketches of Sermons, 1838.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

Est . What is the influence our conduct is likely to have upon others? Will many follow our example? Then if we go wrong, we must share the guilt of those who follow us. Offences must needs come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh. Vashti's offence, it was said, was likely to be hurtful to all the princes and people in all the dominions of Ahasuerus. The great are under strong obligations to act aright. The greater our position, the greater our influence for good or for evil. Those in the humblest walks of life have an influence. It is true all round that "no man liveth unto himself, no man dieth unto himself."

A bold man he was, surely, that durst deliver his mind so freely of such a business, and in such a presence. What if the king and queen should grow friends again—where had Memucan been? If his cause and his conscience had been as good as his courage was great, all had been as it ought to be.… Here they condemn the queen unheard and unconvicted, which is against all law, Divine and human. Was the king's bare word a law or rule of right? and is not a wife, in case of sin commanded by her husband, rather to obey God than man? Here you may see when flattery and malice give information, shadows are made substance, and improbabilities necessities, so deceitful is malice, flattery so unreasonable.—Trapp.

Est . It has been said that the nation regulates itself by the example of the king. It is to be feared there is far too much truth in the saying. Even Christians conform to this world too readily, and think themselves excusable if they are but following the example of the great. It was argued that if Vashti refused obedience to her husband, the ladies of Persia and Media might follow her example. If the queen and inferior ladies refused submission, might not all women in the kingdom do the same? Can any husband in the king's dominions expect greater submission from his wife than the king himself?

Public persons are by Plutarch compared to looking-glasses, according to which others dress themselves; to pictures in a glass window, wherein every blemish is soon seen; to common wells, which if they be poisoned, many are destroyed. The common people commonly are like a flock of cranes; as the first flies all follow.—Trapp.

Est . The king's nobles and princes trembled for their own authority and dignity. They were afraid to trust the good sense of their wives. No doubt their fears were just. What could be expected of women held in the bonds of ignorance and slavery, as the wives of the East generally were, but that they would attempt to snap their fetters? With the women of our land it is very different. They are greatly favoured, they ought therefore to prize their privileges. Wives, be obedient to your husbands. Contention and wrath in families is an evil of such magnitude, that the Persian princes thought it necessary to use the most vigorous and severe measures to prevent it.

Likewise shall the ladies … say. Say what? We will not do as our lords command us. Like enough all this, for their tongues were their own, and their wills no less. That free will, about which there is so much ado made, when once lost, the women caught it up; and hence they are so wedded to their own will, saith one merrily.—Trapp.

Contempt and wrath. Contempt on the wives' part, and wrath on the husbands'; wives shall slight their husbands, and they again shall fall foul upon their wives; and the house they dwell together in shall be no better than a fencing-school, wherein the two sexes seem to have met together for nothing but to play their prizes, and to try masteries.—Trapp.

Est . If it please the king. Courtier-like, lest he should seem to prescribe to the king, or to prejudice the rest of the royal counsellors, he thus modestly prefaceth to his ensuing harsh and hard sentence. He knew well enough it would please the king at present, in the mind he was now in; and to prevent any alteration, he moves to have it made sure by an irrevocable law, that he might not hereafter be censured for this his immoderate and unmerciful censure, but to be sure to save one howsoever.—Trapp.

Est . This decree would probably inspire wives with fear, but would it not tend to make husbands greater tyrants? The wives will cringe and obey like schoolboys when their masters are present, but will they promote their husbands' interests and comforts? Let your wives share your happiness if you wish them to contribute to it; treat them with tenderness if you wish them to sympathize with you in times of distress. Let not their faults be blamed and punished until you can say that your behaviour has not tempted them to do wrong.

And when the king's decree shall be published. But why should any such thing be published at all, unless the king be ambitious of his own utter dishonour? Is there none wiser than another, but that the king must bewray his own nest, tell all the empire that he was drunk, or little better, and did in his drink determine that against his fair queen that he so soon after repented? He should have done in this case as a man doth that, having a secret sore, clappeth on a plaister, and then covereth it with his hand, that it may stick the faster, work the better.—Trapp.

Persian law and gospel law.

1. Persian law was arbitrary, chiefly according to the caprice of the king; and it was cruel. This is seen in the case of Vashti.

2. Gospel law is righteous; it is founded upon God's justice and righteousness. Persian laws, being dictated by whim and caprice, were often degrading in their effects. But God's laws are always ennobling and exalting. God is ever ready to forgive. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Merciful is the gospel. "How often shall I forgive?" inquired Peter; "until seven times?" "Yea, until seventy times seven," said the King of heaven.

Envy. Envy intrudes itself into all positions. It affects princes and courtiers. It is cruel in its nature and design, and seeks always to bring down. It is subtle in its movements, and disastrous in its results.

Wicked counsel. The counsel of the wicked is—

1. Natural to a depraved heart. The carnal mind is enmity against God. To follow the counsel of the wicked is to swim with the stream.

2. Popular—the way of the multitude. To put it far away is to be singular. It is not always easy to come out and be separate; yet we must.

3. Pleasing to the flesh. Sin wears a serpent's skin, and carries a serpent's sting. The forbidden fruit is pleasing to the eye and sweet to the taste. But true counsellors will set aside all respect for private interests; will keep their eyes fixed upon the public good; and will seek to avoid injustice, though thereby their own interests be endangered.—Rev. C. Leach, F.G.S.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE WHOLE CHAPTER

This book presents us with impressive views of man with and without grace; of the great instability of human affairs; of the sovereign power, justice, and faithfulness of the Supreme Being. We now call your attention to the first chapter.

I. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus. Commentators differ about him. He was a heathen—a stranger to God—possessing extensive dominions. His was the second of the four great empires. These empires have come to nought; but, brethren, there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in heaven for ever. Let us be numbered among its subjects.

II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, wished to make a display of his greatness: made a feast—the power of Media and Persia present—he exhibited his riches, and honour, and glory. Notice his pride. Beware of pride. Pray that you may habitually remember what you are—poor, fallen sinners.

III. At this feast, though a heathen one, moderation was observed. "And the drinking was according to law: none did compel." Intemperance is an abomination and a degradation; hence we should flee from it.

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. It is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshazzar's feast; we read of Herod's feast. In such entertainments God is liable to be forgotten. Solomon, who with extraordinary diligence, and unparalleled success, had examined and tried the sources of all earthly gratification, tells us, in language which ought never to be out of remembrance, that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting."

V. Let us consider the evil which was occasioned by the feast.—The king ordered the queen to be brought. She refused to come. The wrath of the king was kindled. The result was a council, then the divorcement of the queen. Quarrels, animosities, and heart-burnings are so contrary to that religion of love which a received gospel generates, that we ought to strive to the utmost for the preservation of the opposite virtues. Christ is the Prince of Peace; let us not only trust in his death for salvation, but imitate his meekness and lowliness of heart.

Two short remarks shall close this discourse:—

1. It behoveth us to lead excellent lives, and the higher we are placed in the community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition. Let our lives be continual sermons to those among whom we live.

2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed. "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God."—Hughes.

I. The vast extent of the Persian empire. It comprehended all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west; and from the Black Sea and Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia. This gigantic dominion was divided into 127 provinces or governments, each of which was placed under a satrap, or, in modern language, a pasha, who managed its affairs, and annually transmitted a certain sum as revenue to the king. The seat of government was variable, according to the season of the year, the summer months being spent by the court at Ecbatana, and the winter months at Susa, or, as it is called in this chapter, Shushan, the palace. The form of government in the East has from the earliest times been despotic, one man swaying the destinies of millions, and having under him a crowd of smaller despots, each in his more limited sphere oppressing the people subjected to his rule.

1. Despotism has its occasional fits of generosity and kindness. It is as kind-hearted that Ahasuerus is brought before you in the early part of this chapter. He was spending the winter months at Susa. The retinue of the monarch was vast, and the fountains and gardens were on a scale of grandeur which we cannot well conceive. There, then, the king, but little concerned about the welfare of his subjects, was spending his time, chiefly in selfish ease and unbounded revelry. To him it was of no moment how his people were oppressed by those whom he set over them; his sole concern was to enjoy his pleasures.

2. With all the luxury and temptation to self-indulgence, there was no compulsion employed to draw any one beyond the bounds of temperance. The law was good, but the king himself had too largely used the liberty, and hence his loss of self-control and all sense of propriety. When heated with wine he sent for Vashti, &c. Lessons suggested are—

(1) Extravagancies and follies into which men are betrayed by intemperance.

(2) That which dethrones reason and destroys intellect should surely be avoided.

(3) All the consequences which affect the man individually, and others also, rest upon the head of the transgressor.

(4) Intemperance (a) blots out distinction between right and wrong; (b) foments all the evil passions of the natural heart; (c) destroys the proper exercise of the power of the will; (d) and often inflicts grievous wounds upon the innocent, as the case of Vashti here already demonstrates.

(5) The necessity of guarding against these evils.

II. The evils which arose from the peculiar family arrangements of those countries. We take occasion here to observe two great evils:—

1. The condition of the female sex was that of degradation. The married woman was not really what the Divine institution intended her to be, the true companion and friend of her husband. She was kept in a state of seclusion, real freedom she knew not; she was, in truth, only a slave, having power to command some other slaves. She was without education, and generally unintelligent, frivolous, and heartless. She was guarded with zealous care, as if she had been very precious, but at the same time she was wholly dependent upon the caprices of her lord.

2. Yet, strangely enough, in the second place, it is to be noticed that, as if to afford evidence that the law of nature cannot be trampled upon with impunity, it very frequently happened that the female influence was felt by the despotic husband, so as to make him in reality the slave. Not conscious of it, but imagining that he held the place of absolute authority, he was himself governed; yet not through the power of real affection, but through the imbecile doting which constituted all that he knew of real affection. Common history abounds with illustrations of this fact, and in the sacred history we have examples of the same kind; David, Solomon, and Ahab are instances. There is never a violation of God's righteous appointments, but it is followed by some penalty. From this Book of Esther, it appears very obviously that Ahasuerus, with all his caprices and his stern, imperious self-will, was at first completely under the influence of Vashti, as he afterwards came to be under that of Esther. The whole domestic system being unnaturally constructed, there was, of necessity, derangements in the conducting of it. The despot might be one day all tenderness and submission, and the next day he might, to gratify his humour, exact from his slaves what, a short time afterwards, he would have counted it absolutely wrong in himself to command, and punishable in them to do.

III. The degradation of Vashti. We have to look at the circumstances which are brought before us in the narrative. At a season when sound counsel could scarcely have been expected, and when he who sought it was not in a fit condition to profit by it, the serious question was proposed by the king, "What shall be done to Vashti?" &c. To defer the consideration of so grave a subject to a more fitting season would have been so clearly the path which a wise counsellor would have recommended, that we feel astonished that it was not at once suggested. But the wrath of the king was so strongly exhibited that his compliant advisers did not venture to contradict him. "Memucan answered," &c. Now, with respect to this opinion of the chief counsellor, it may be observed that it was based upon a principle which in itself is unquestionably right, although there was a wrong application made of it. Rank and station, while they command a certain measure of respect, involve very deep responsibility. 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. Thus far Memucan spoke wisely, when he pointed to the example of the queen as that which would certainly have an influence, wherever it came to be known, throughout the empire. But the principle, in the present instance, was wrongly applied when it was made the ground of condemning the conduct of Vashti. The design was to make her appear guilty of an act of insubordination, which it was necessary for the king to punish, if he would promote the good of his subjects, whereas, in reality, she had upon her side all the authority of law and custom, and was to be made the victim both of the ungovernable wrath of the king, who was beside himself with wine, and also of flatterers who, to gratify him, would do wrong to the innocent. See here the danger of flattery.

Let us extract some practical lessons from our subject.

1. The inadequacy of all earthly good to make man truly happy. Surveying the whole scene portrayed in the early verses of this chapter, we might imagine that the sovereign who ruled over this empire, upon whose nod the interests of so many millions depended, and for whose pleasure the product of so many various climes could be gathered together, had surely all the elements of enjoyment at his command.… And yet we must say that the mightiest sovereign of his time, with 127 provinces subject to him, with princes serving him, and slaves kissing the dust at his feet, was not half so happy as the humblest individual here, who knows what is meant by the comforts of home, where he is in the midst of those who love him.

2. A few remarks may be offered upon the domestic question here settled by the king and his counsellors, as to the supremacy of man in his own house. How could they pronounce a sound judgment upon a question which their customs prevented them from rightly knowing?

3. We have in the text a law spoken of which changeth not. And, my friends, there is such a law, but it is not the law of the Medes and Persians, it is the law of the Eternal. Jehovah's law changeth not. And what does it say? "This do and live." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." That seals us all up under wrath. But we turn the page, and we read and see that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." And is not this our conclusion, then—"I will flee from the curse of the immutable law, and shelter myself under the righteousness of Christ, which is also perfect and immutable, that through him and from him I may have mercy and eternal life"?—Dr. Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1

Power. Pompey boasted, that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms; with one scratch of his pen, Ahasuerus could call to his assistance the forces of 127 provinces; but God, by one word of his mouth, one movement of his will, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds to his aid, or bring new creatures into being to do his will.

Dignity. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin; to which he replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

Great men. Columbus was the son of a weaver, and a weaver himself. Cervantes was a common soldier. Homer was the son of a small farmer. Demosthenes was the son of a cutler. Terence was a slave. Oliver Cromwell was the son of a London brewer. Howard was an apprentice to a grocer. Franklin was a journeyman printer, and son of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Worcester, was the son of a linen-draper. Daniel Defoe was a hostler, and son of a butcher. Whitfield was the son of an innkeeper at Gloucester. Virgil was the son of a porter. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper. Shakespeare was the son of a woolstapler. Milton was the son of a money scrivener. Robert Burns was a ploughman in Ayrshire. Yet all these rose to eminence.

How to make a feast. "Lord Chief Justice Hall frequently invited his poor neighbours to dinner, and made them sit at table with himself. If any of them were sick, so that they could not come, he would send provisions to them warm from his table."

Favour of God. It was the saying of a wise Roman, "I had rather have the esteem of the Emperor Augustus than his gifts;" for he was an honourable, understanding prince, and his favour very honourable. When Cyrus gave one of his friends a kiss, and another a wedge of gold, he that had the gold envied him that had the kiss as a greater expression of his favour. So the true Christian prefers the privilege of acceptance with God to the possession of any earthly comfort, for in the light of his countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain.—Butler.

Pride of wealth. 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. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel book.—Seeker.

Abuse of wealth. 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.—Ruskin.

Danger. "A boy climbing among the Alps saw some flowers on the verge of a precipice, and sprang forward to get them. The guide shouted his warnings; but the heedless boy grasped the flowers, and fell a thousand feet upon the rocks below with them in his hand. It was a dear price for such frail things, but he is not the only victim of such folly."

Danger of prosperity. When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me, that is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. Then we shall say, as Cardinal Wolsey, when discarded by his prince and abandoned to the fury of his enemies: "If I had served my God as faithfully as my king, he would not have thus forsaken me." Poor man! all the perfumes on earth are unable to prevail over the stench of hell.—Secker.

In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul.—Salter.

When fire is put to green wood there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, the filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a dunghill, so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshiny day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights, &c.—Brooks.

Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away—the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.—Baxter.

We commend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain that, by our abuse, both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Oh, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat indulgence he should kill in himself both the first Adam—his reason, and even the second Adam—his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.—Adams.

An earnest young minister was in the house of a rich friend. He was pressed to take wine, but refused. It was again pressed upon him. At length he yielded to their importunities, and drank a little. Gradually he formed a liking for wine, and at length began taking far too much. By degrees, and almost before he was aware of it, he became a drunkard. He was degraded from his office of the ministry, and sank lower and lower. Years after he had been pressed to drink by his rich friend, he came again to his door; this time to beg for a little food, and was ordered away as a drunken vagabond.

Joseph Ralston, of Philipsburg, Penn., met with a horrible death by freezing. He had been drinking freely, and had, while drunk, to wade the Moshandoo Creek; but, ere he proceeded two-thirds of the way, his limbs refused to perform their office. He grasped a bough of an overhanging tree, unable to advance farther; and soon the fast-congealing water cemented close about him—a tomb of ice which stretched from shore to shore. Two days after he was found there rigid as an icicle, his knees embedded in a sheet of the frozen element seven inches thick, his body inclined a little forwards, his hands clutching the boughs, eyes astare, and despair pictured on his features.—Pittsburgh Despatch.

God trieth men's love to him by their keeping his commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that will not leave a forbidden cup for him. O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple if thou forsake not all for him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of him, and wouldst die rather than forsake him? And thou like to lay down thy life for him, who wilt not leave a cup of drink for him? Canst thou burn at a stake for him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess, for him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!—Baxter.

Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both body and soul. And while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul, yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.—Chrysostom.

"If you have glutted yourselves with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter."—J. Lyth, D.D.

Bountiful King. The Lord, like a most bountiful king, will be angry if any man will ask a small thing at his hands; because he had rather give things of great worth than of small value. His goodness is infinite.—Powell.

Fulness of Christ. I have found it an interesting thing to stand at the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for 6000 years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of lightness fail, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ! Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on through eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour! Image of God! Divine Redeemer! In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy!—Dr. Guthrie.

Wife. "And now let us see whether the word ‘wife' has not a lesson. It literally means a weaver. The wife is the person who weaves. Before our great cotton and cloth factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own. The wool was spun into threads by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who, accordingly, was called the weaver, or the wife; and another remnant of this old truth we discover in the word ‘heirloom,' applied to any old piece of furniture which has come down to us from our ancestors, and which, though it may be a chair or bed, shows that a loom was an important article in every house. Thus the word ‘wife' means weaver; and, as Trench well remarks, ‘in the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupation, as being fitted for her who bears the name.'"

Pleasures. The pleasures of the world surfeit with satisfying, while heavenly pleasures satisfy without surfeiting. The surfeited nature of the sensualist requires a constantly increasing stimulus to rouse his used-up powers, but with each advance in Christian enjoyment there is an increased power to appreciate heavenly joys. The pleasures of the world are like the kiss of Judas, given but to betray; the pleasures of heaven make the soul bright and beautiful, as when the face of Moses was transformed by the vision of God.—J. G. Pilkington.

Pleasures. Pleasures, like the rose, are sweet, but prickly; the honey doth not countervail the sting; all the world's delights are vanity, and end in vexation; like Judas, while they kiss, they betray. I would neither be a stone nor an epicure; allow of no pleasure, nor give way to all; they are good sauce, but naught to make a meal of. I may use them sometimes for digestion, never for food.—Henshaw.

Price of pleasure. Goethe, in his "Faust," introduces for his hero a student longing for the pleasures of knowledge. The devil appears, to seduce him from his pursuit; Faust is to have all possible sensual enjoyment in life, but is to pay for it by yielding his soul to the devil at last. At the end, Mephistopheles, jealous of his claim, appears and carries off his victim, the student's lost soul.

Anger. I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper, arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by him.—Clarke.

Anger subdued. Two good men on some occasion had a warm dispute; and remembering the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," just before sunset one of them went to the other, and knocking at the door, his offended friend came and opened it, and seeing who it was, started back in astonishment and surprise; the other, at the same time, cried out, "The sun is almost down." This unexpected salutation softened the heart of his friend into affection, and he returned for answer, "Come in, brother, come in." What a happy method of conciliating matters, of redressing grievances, and of reconciling brethren!—Arvine.

Hypocrisy. A very capital painter in London exhibited a piece representing a friar habited in his canonicals. View the painting at a distance, and you would think the friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together and held horizontally to his breast, his eyes meekly demissed like those of the publican in the gospel: and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes; the book which seemed to be before him is discovered to be a punch-bowl, into which the wretch is all the while in reality only squeezing a lemon. How lively a representation of a hypocrite!—Salter.

Idols. A man's idol is not necessarily an image of gold; it may be a child of clay, the fruit of his own loins, or the wife of his bosom; it may be wealth, fame, position, success, or business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against all such the Almighty pronounces the decree: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and hurls his resistless missiles of destruction. Either ourselves or our idols must be destroyed.

Idolatry! You cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality; false gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal, worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearthstone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.—Dr. Chapin.

Loss of time. We are doomed to suffer a bitter pang as often as the irrevocable flight of our time is brought home with keenness to our hearts. The spectacle of the lady floating over the sea in a boat, and waking suddenly from sleep to find her magnificent ropes of pearl necklace by some accident detached from its fastening at one end, the loose string hanging down into the water, and pearl after pearl slipping off for ever into the abyss, brings before us the sadness of the case. That particular pearl which at the very moment is rolling off into the unsearchable deep, carries its own separate reproach to the lady's heart, but is more deeply reproachful as the representative of so many other uncounted pearls that have already been swallowed up irrecoverably while yet she was sleeping, of many, besides, that must follow before any remedy can be applied to what we may call this jewelly hemorrhage.

The intrepid judge. One of the favourites of Henry V., when Prince of Wales, having been indicted for some misdemeanour, was condemned, notwithstanding all the interest he could make in his favour, and the prince was so incensed at the issue of the trial that he struck the judge on the bench. The magistrate, whose name was Sir William Gascoigne, acted with a spirit becoming his character. He instantly ordered the prince to be committed to prison, and young Henry, sensible by this time of the insult he had offered to the laws of his country, suffered himself to be quietly conducted to jail by the officers of justice. The king, Henry IV., who was an excellent judge of mankind, was no sooner informed of this transaction, than he cried out in a transport of joy, "Happy is the king who has a magistrate possessed of courage to execute the laws, and still more happy in having a son who will submit to such chastisement."—Arvine.

Flattery. The coin most current among mankind is flattery: the only benefit of which is, that, by hearing what we are not, we may learn what we ought to be.

Whitfield, when flattered, said, "Take care of fire: I carry powder about me."

A flattering priest told Constantine the Great that his virtues deserved the empire of the world here, and to reign with the Son of God hereafter. The emperor cried, "Fie, fie, for shame; let me hear no more such unseemly speeches; but, rather, suppliantly pray to my Almighty Maker, that, in this life and the life to come, I may be reckoned worthy to be his servant."

Excuses. He that does amiss never lacks excuse. Any excuse will serve when one has not a mind to do a thing. The archer that shoots ill has a lie ready. He that excuses himself accuses himself. A bad workman always complains of his tools.

Wicked counsel. A young man devoted himself to a religious life. His ungodly parents sent him many letters to dissuade him. Being fully decided to go on in his chosen course, when any letters came addressed to him he threw them into the fire at once, without opening them. When friends and kindred stand between us and Christ, they must be disregarded.

Sin. Sin is like the little serpent aspis, which stings men, whereby they fall into a pleasant sleep, and in that sleep die.—Swinnock.

Envy. We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find in the dark, and gloomy, and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the king of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes; it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks—I mean the crucifixion of Christ, for the evangelist tells us that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.

The poets imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean-looking as guilt, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in the misfortunes of others; ever unquiet and careful, and continually tormenting herself.—Wit.

Friendship. True friendship can only be made between true men. Hearts are the soul of honour. There can be no lasting friendship between bad men. Bad men may pretend to love each other; but their friendship is a rope of sand, which shall be broken at any convenient season. But if a man have a sincere heart within him, and be true and noble, then we may confide in him.—Spurgeon.

Ingratitude. A petted soldier of the Macedonian army was shipwrecked, and east upon the shore apparently lifeless. A hospitable Macedonian discovered him, revived him, took him to his home, and treated him in a princely manner, and, when he departed, gave him money for his journey. The rescued soldier expressed warm thanks, and promised royal bounty to his benefactor. Instead, when he came before Philip, he related his own misfortunes, and asked to be rewarded by the lands and house of his rescuer. His request was granted, and he returned, and drove out his former host. The latter hastened to lay the true state before the king; when he restored the land, and caused the soldier to be branded in the forehead, "The Ungrateful Guest," as the reward of his baseness.

Conscience wakeful. Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God's judgment, shall come forth clear and expressive.—M‘Cosh.

Guilty conscience. It gives a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. Let Byron describe its anguish, for who felt it more than he?—

"The mind that broods o'er guilty woes

Is like the scorpion girt by fire;

In circle narrowing as it glows,

The flames around their captive close,

Till inly searched by thousand throes,

And maddening in her ire,

One sad and sole relief she knows—

The sting she nourished for her foes;

Whose venom never yet was vain,

Gives but one pang, and cures all pain,

And darts into her desperate brain;

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like scorpion girt with fire.

So writhes the mind remorse has riven,

Unfit for earth, undoomed for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death."

Forgiveness. As the prince or ruler only has power to forgive treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt only the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount. But we know that he is always ready to forgive. "He keeps mercy for thousands, and pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin."

Forgiveness. In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another, and when he was about to be punished, the injured boy begged for his pardon. The master asked. "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The boy replied, "I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should forgive our enemies; and, therefore, I forgive him, and beg he may not be punished for my sake."

At the present day the green turben which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George, Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher and a keeper of a turnpike gate; and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church.—Geikie.


Verse 21-22

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est . According to the language of the people] Obscure. The native tongue of the head of the house to be used in the family.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

VASHTI IS STRIPPED OF QUEENLY EXTERNALS

Popular oratory is very frequently only the art of articulating the wishes and desires of the multitude. Skill is required at once to comprehend, as if by intuition, those desires; to put them in attractive form, and to speak them forth as if they were novel ideas; but the man is untrue to himself who is determined that his sayings shall please the kings and the princes who hold in their hands his reputation for oratory. And Memucan had caught the trick of popular oratory. His words were the expression of the king's then present feeling, and the interpretation of the desires and fears of the listening and applauding courtiers. And we are not surprised to read that the saying pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan. All was put in motion. The post-horses galloped from stage to stage. It is the proverbial and figurative statement that they flew swifter than the cranes. The postmasters took from the couriers the king's letters which proclaimed the queen's degradation; which, to those who looked beneath the surface, set forth the king's rage more than his desire that every man should bear rule in his own house. And soon throughout the whole realm the story of Vashti's fall was heard. It was widely known that her crown was taken away, and that she was lowered from her high estate. And doubtless none were found brave enough to speak in her defence. It would be then, as it is too often now, that all forsook in the dark day of her disaster. Those who flattered her beauty when she was queen would depreciate it when she was unqueened. Those who fawned in the day of prosperity would either "damn with faint praise" her daring spirit, or bluster about her disgusting arrogance, in the day of adversity. We do not hear of any consoling or defending voice being lifted up for her help when she had incurred the king's wrath. Let us hope that she was not quite friendless and forsaken. But so far as the narrative is concerned we do not hear of any such voice, or of any faithful adherents. Undefended she fell. Grasping tenaciously the banner of right she was slain. A lonely wanderer she went forth from the palace gates. Or if she still remained an inhabitant of the king's harem, the lowest menials might scout her presence. Her tears might be her meat day and night for a season; but though no human hand wiped away those tears, yet an approving conscience might bring untold consolation in the hours of distress, and she that sowed in tears might afterwards reap in joy. A victim she to a mistaken sense of what was right, as some would declare. But oh, it is noble thus to fall. Better and more glorious is it thus to suffer, through even a mistaken sense of duty, than to let moralities and scruples take care of themselves for fear they should stand in the way of advancement, or help on the spoliation of worldly wealth and honours.

Here learn—

1. That virtue is not always successful in this world. It is only a supposition for the purpose of supporting a foregone conclusion that Vashti was reinstated. Our narrative does not state anything of the kind, and this is the only authentic history of Vashti's career. Now it has been said that God makes innocence of soul ever prosper. This is true spiritually, but is not always true as the world accounts prosperity. Novelists, in making virtue triumphant and vice finally a failure in this world, simply set forth that which is in harmony with our conceptions of what ought to be; but then it is plain enough that all things are not as they ought to be in this disordered universe. The Vashtis are not reinstated; the Josephs are not always taken out of prison and placed on thrones; the Jobs do not invariably find that the last earthly state is better than the first. Johns are sometimes beheaded in prison, and Peters are crucified. It would take great skill to show that Paul had made "the best of this world." He did not seem to think so himself, and he ought to have been a good judge. Certainly it was not "a best" that would be chosen by those who advocate the possibility of making the best of both worlds. Apostles and reformers have endured poverty, persecution, and martyrdom. Genius has pined away in garrets; greatness has been trampled upon by littleness; shrewd business men have ground down their superiors; virtue has been hidden in dens and caves of the earth; truth, with sad heart, has wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins. And the world's greatest heroes have not infrequently been the world's greatest sufferers.

2. That virtue uncrowned is better than vice crowned. This may do in theory, but will not be accepted in practice by the vast majority. In our eagerness to catch or to preserve the perishable crowns of earth we let our principles go to the winds. Still wrong-doers even applaud right doing. And however that may be, an approving conscience will sustain, though time-serving courtiers and angry monarchs oppress, and pass their stringent measures of banishment, of confiscation, and even of death. Virtue is nobler in a miserable hut than vice in a splendid palace. Lazarus was more royal in his rags than Dives in his purple and fine linen. A true-hearted Vashti is richer in her very degradation than the enthroned and worshipped Ahasuerus. Behind the outward glitter was the inward gnawing of a reproachful memory. But behind the cloud of Vashti's shame might be the cheering light of conscious integrity. And in this sense the good man may make the best of both worlds. Earthly crowns may be taken away, but the crown of Divine approval cannot be removed by any external force.

3. That the path of duty is the way to lasting glory. If Vashti had possessed a prudential regard to her own safety, her name might not have been heard of outside the palace. But now multitudes have heard her name, and wherever this book travels a memorial will be raised to tell of her womanly modesty and her heroic dignity. And no deed done in a right spirit shall perish; for nothing is lost in the material universe, and much less can there be loss in the moral universe. Those who fight in Virtue's cause may fall on the battle-field, but they conquer by their seeming defeats, and their wounds, by Divine grace, through the atoning merits of the Saviour, will be productive of immortal honours. We cannot follow Vashti in her journeyings and watch her entering the palace beautiful. But this is certain—those who love and serve the better King, Jesus Christ; those who come to him in true penitence and childlike faith, will never be cast out because they have done wrong even, if the wrong-doing was unintentional; and his followers will not do wrong designedly and with the full consent of their renewed natures. The Divine Bridegroom asks not that the bride be perfect in knowledge, not that she be free from error in judgment, but that she be perfect in love.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

Est . We do not wonder that the king was pleased with a proposal that gratified his pride and anger. The princes, too, were pleased with a law which flattered their vanity and sanctioned their domestic tyranny.

And the saying pleased the king. Pity but itching ears should have clawing counsellors. Memucan was a fit helve for such a hatchet, and his advice fit lettuce for such lips. What marvel that such a counsellor pleased the king, when as he had before given place to two such bad counsellors—wine and anger? How rare a jewel in a prince's ear is a faithful counsellor, that will deliver himself fully, not to please but to profit.—Trapp.

Est . The king not only divorces his queen, but publishes a decree through all his dominions, that every man should bear rule in his own house. This is the law of God.

The safety and honour of a prince is in virtue, not unrighteous laws.

Whether it was the passion or the policy of the king that was served by this edict, God's providence served its own purpose by it, which was to make way for Esther the queen.—Matthew Henry.

The king and the princes approve this heavy judgment of Memucan's. No doubt many messages passed ere the rigour of this execution. That great heart knows not to relent, but will rather break than yield to an humble deprecation. When the stone and the steel meet fire is stricken: it is a soft answer that appeaseth wrath. Vashti is cast off.—Bishop Hall.

It was unanimously resolved, with a wise regard to the public interests of the nation, that the punishment of Vashti could be nothing less than degradation from her royal dignity. The doom was accordingly pronounced and made known in all parts of the empire.—Port. Commentary.

We do not ourselves wonder, that, when the king's high council—his wise men—came to consider the matter, they decided that Vashti must have her diadem taken from her. They saw, also, that the question was one of near interest to themselves; for if it went abroad, as it was sure to do, that the queen had flatly refused to obey even the king of kings, what had they and the other princes of the land to expect in their own families from the example if this high crime were not condignly punished? But one is amazed at the infantine simplicity of these famous sages in recommending the issue of a royal decree in all the languages of this great empire—"that every man should bear rule in his own house." This is, undoubtedly, one of the most amusing things in all history. One cannot but imagine the inextinguishable burst of shrill merriment which rung through every one of the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the Persian empire when this sage decree was promulgated.—Dr. Kitto.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE WHOLE CHAPTER

This book presents us with impressive views of man with and without grace; of the great instability of human affairs; of the sovereign power, justice, and faithfulness of the Supreme Being. We now call your attention to the first chapter.

I. The king of Persia at this time was Ahasuerus. Commentators differ about him. He was a heathen—a stranger to God—possessing extensive dominions. His was the second of the four great empires. These empires have come to nought; but, brethren, there is a kingdom which passeth not away. Its King will remain in heaven for ever. Let us be numbered among its subjects.

II. This mighty potentate, Ahasuerus, wished to make a display of his greatness: made a feast—the power of Media and Persia present—he exhibited his riches, and honour, and glory. Notice his pride. Beware of pride. Pray that you may habitually remember what you are—poor, fallen sinners.

III. At this feast, though a heathen one, moderation was observed. "And the drinking was according to law: none did compel." Intemperance is an abomination and a degradation; hence we should flee from it.

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. It is but seldom that such meetings are free from such consequences. We read of Belshazzar's feast; we read of Herod's feast. In such entertainments God is liable to be forgotten. Solomon, who with extraordinary diligence, and unparalleled success, had examined and tried the sources of all earthly gratification, tells us, in language which ought never to be out of remembrance, that "it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting."

V. Let us consider the evil which was occasioned by the feast.—The king ordered the queen to be brought. She refused to come. The wrath of the king was kindled. The result was a council, then the divorcement of the queen. Quarrels, animosities, and heart-burnings are so contrary to that religion of love which a received gospel generates, that we ought to strive to the utmost for the preservation of the opposite virtues. Christ is the Prince of Peace; let us not only trust in his death for salvation, but imitate his meekness and lowliness of heart.

Two short remarks shall close this discourse:—

1. It behoveth us to lead excellent lives, and the higher we are placed in the community the more ought this to be the object of our ambition. Let our lives be continual sermons to those among whom we live.

2. It behoveth us to regard the duties which appertain to the relations of life in which we are placed. "Brethren, let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God."—Hughes.

I. The vast extent of the Persian empire. It comprehended all the countries from the river Indus on the east to the Mediterranean on the west; and from the Black Sea and Caspian in the north to the extreme south of Arabia, then called Ethiopia. This gigantic dominion was divided into 127 provinces or governments, each of which was placed under a satrap, or, in modern language, a pasha, who managed its affairs, and annually transmitted a certain sum as revenue to the king. The seat of government was variable, according to the season of the year, the summer months being spent by the court at Ecbatana, and the winter months at Susa, or, as it is called in this chapter, Shushan, the palace. The form of government in the East has from the earliest times been despotic, one man swaying the destinies of millions, and having under him a crowd of smaller despots, each in his more limited sphere oppressing the people subjected to his rule.

1. Despotism has its occasional fits of generosity and kindness. It is as kind-hearted that Ahasuerus is brought before you in the early part of this chapter. He was spending the winter months at Susa. The retinue of the monarch was vast, and the fountains and gardens were on a scale of grandeur which we cannot well conceive. There, then, the king, but little concerned about the welfare of his subjects, was spending his time, chiefly in selfish ease and unbounded revelry. To him it was of no moment how his people were oppressed by those whom he set over them; his sole concern was to enjoy his pleasures.

2. With all the luxury and temptation to self-indulgence, there was no compulsion employed to draw any one beyond the bounds of temperance. The law was good, but the king himself had too largely used the liberty, and hence his loss of self-control and all sense of propriety. When heated with wine he sent for Vashti, &c. Lessons suggested are—

(1) Extravagancies and follies into which men are betrayed by intemperance.

(2) That which dethrones reason and destroys intellect should surely be avoided.

(3) All the consequences which affect the man individually, and others also, rest upon the head of the transgressor.

(4) Intemperance (a) blots out distinction between right and wrong; (b) foments all the evil passions of the natural heart; (c) destroys the proper exercise of the power of the will; (d) and often inflicts grievous wounds upon the innocent, as the case of Vashti here already demonstrates.

(5) The necessity of guarding against these evils.

II. The evils which arose from the peculiar family arrangements of those countries. We take occasion here to observe two great evils:—

1. The condition of the female sex was that of degradation. The married woman was not really what the Divine institution intended her to be, the true companion and friend of her husband. She was kept in a state of seclusion, real freedom she knew not; she was, in truth, only a slave, having power to command some other slaves. She was without education, and generally unintelligent, frivolous, and heartless. She was guarded with zealous care, as if she had been very precious, but at the same time she was wholly dependent upon the caprices of her lord.

2. Yet, strangely enough, in the second place, it is to be noticed that, as if to afford evidence that the law of nature cannot be trampled upon with impunity, it very frequently happened that the female influence was felt by the despotic husband, so as to make him in reality the slave. Not conscious of it, but imagining that he held the place of absolute authority, he was himself governed; yet not through the power of real affection, but through the imbecile doting which constituted all that he knew of real affection. Common history abounds with illustrations of this fact, and in the sacred history we have examples of the same kind; David, Solomon, and Ahab are instances. There is never a violation of God's righteous appointments, but it is followed by some penalty. From this Book of Esther, it appears very obviously that Ahasuerus, with all his caprices and his stern, imperious self-will, was at first completely under the influence of Vashti, as he afterwards came to be under that of Esther. The whole domestic system being unnaturally constructed, there was, of necessity, derangements in the conducting of it. The despot might be one day all tenderness and submission, and the next day he might, to gratify his humour, exact from his slaves what, a short time afterwards, he would have counted it absolutely wrong in himself to command, and punishable in them to do.

III. The degradation of Vashti. We have to look at the circumstances which are brought before us in the narrative. At a season when sound counsel could scarcely have been expected, and when he who sought it was not in a fit condition to profit by it, the serious question was proposed by the king, "What shall be done to Vashti?" &c. To defer the consideration of so grave a subject to a more fitting season would have been so clearly the path which a wise counsellor would have recommended, that we feel astonished that it was not at once suggested. But the wrath of the king was so strongly exhibited that his compliant advisers did not venture to contradict him. "Memucan answered," &c. Now, with respect to this opinion of the chief counsellor, it may be observed that it was based upon a principle which in itself is unquestionably right, although there was a wrong application made of it. Rank and station, while they command a certain measure of respect, involve very deep responsibility. 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. Thus far Memucan spoke wisely, when he pointed to the example of the queen as that which would certainly have an influence, wherever it came to be known, throughout the empire. But the principle, in the present instance, was wrongly applied when it was made the ground of condemning the conduct of Vashti. The design was to make her appear guilty of an act of insubordination, which it was necessary for the king to punish, if he would promote the good of his subjects, whereas, in reality, she had upon her side all the authority of law and custom, and was to be made the victim both of the ungovernable wrath of the king, who was beside himself with wine, and also of flatterers who, to gratify him, would do wrong to the innocent. See here the danger of flattery.

Let us extract some practical lessons from our subject.

1. The inadequacy of all earthly good to make man truly happy. Surveying the whole scene portrayed in the early verses of this chapter, we might imagine that the sovereign who ruled over this empire, upon whose nod the interests of so many millions depended, and for whose pleasure the product of so many various climes could be gathered together, had surely all the elements of enjoyment at his command.… And yet we must say that the mightiest sovereign of his time, with 127 provinces subject to him, with princes serving him, and slaves kissing the dust at his feet, was not half so happy as the humblest individual here, who knows what is meant by the comforts of home, where he is in the midst of those who love him.

2. A few remarks may be offered upon the domestic question here settled by the king and his counsellors, as to the supremacy of man in his own house. How could they pronounce a sound judgment upon a question which their customs prevented them from rightly knowing?

3. We have in the text a law spoken of which changeth not. And, my friends, there is such a law, but it is not the law of the Medes and Persians, it is the law of the Eternal. Jehovah's law changeth not. And what does it say? "This do and live." "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." That seals us all up under wrath. But we turn the page, and we read and see that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness." And is not this our conclusion, then—"I will flee from the curse of the immutable law, and shelter myself under the righteousness of Christ, which is also perfect and immutable, that through him and from him I may have mercy and eternal life"?—Dr. Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1

Power. Pompey boasted, that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms; with one scratch of his pen, Ahasuerus could call to his assistance the forces of 127 provinces; but God, by one word of his mouth, one movement of his will, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds to his aid, or bring new creatures into being to do his will.

Dignity. A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin; to which he replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

Great men. Columbus was the son of a weaver, and a weaver himself. Cervantes was a common soldier. Homer was the son of a small farmer. Demosthenes was the son of a cutler. Terence was a slave. Oliver Cromwell was the son of a London brewer. Howard was an apprentice to a grocer. Franklin was a journeyman printer, and son of a tallow-chandler and soap-boiler. Dr. Thomas, Bishop of Worcester, was the son of a linen-draper. Daniel Defoe was a hostler, and son of a butcher. Whitfield was the son of an innkeeper at Gloucester. Virgil was the son of a porter. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper. Shakespeare was the son of a woolstapler. Milton was the son of a money scrivener. Robert Burns was a ploughman in Ayrshire. Yet all these rose to eminence.

How to make a feast. "Lord Chief Justice Hall frequently invited his poor neighbours to dinner, and made them sit at table with himself. If any of them were sick, so that they could not come, he would send provisions to them warm from his table."

Favour of God. It was the saying of a wise Roman, "I had rather have the esteem of the Emperor Augustus than his gifts;" for he was an honourable, understanding prince, and his favour very honourable. When Cyrus gave one of his friends a kiss, and another a wedge of gold, he that had the gold envied him that had the kiss as a greater expression of his favour. So the true Christian prefers the privilege of acceptance with God to the possession of any earthly comfort, for in the light of his countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain.—Butler.

Pride of wealth. 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. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the gospel book.—Seeker.

Abuse of wealth. 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.—Ruskin.

Danger. "A boy climbing among the Alps saw some flowers on the verge of a precipice, and sprang forward to get them. The guide shouted his warnings; but the heedless boy grasped the flowers, and fell a thousand feet upon the rocks below with them in his hand. It was a dear price for such frail things, but he is not the only victim of such folly."

Danger of prosperity. When Crates threw his gold into the sea, he cried out, Ego perdam te, ne tu perdas me, that is, "I will destroy you, lest you should destroy me." Thus, if the world be not put to death here, it will put us to death hereafter. Then we shall say, as Cardinal Wolsey, when discarded by his prince and abandoned to the fury of his enemies: "If I had served my God as faithfully as my king, he would not have thus forsaken me." Poor man! all the perfumes on earth are unable to prevail over the stench of hell.—Secker.

In a long sunshine of outward prosperity, the dust of our inward corruptions is apt to fly about and lift itself up. Sanctified affliction, like seasonable rain, lays the dust, and softens the soul.—Salter.

When fire is put to green wood there comes out abundance of watery stuff that before appeared not; when the pond is empty, the mud, the filth, and toads come to light. The snow covers many a dunghill, so doth prosperity many a rotten heart. It is easy to wade in a warm bath, and every bird can sing in a sunshiny day. Hard weather tries what health we have; afflictions try what sap we have, what grace we have. Withered leaves soon fall off in windy weather, rotten boughs quickly break with heavy weights, &c.—Brooks.

Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away—the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.—Baxter.

We commend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain that, by our abuse, both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Oh, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat indulgence he should kill in himself both the first Adam—his reason, and even the second Adam—his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.—Adams.

An earnest young minister was in the house of a rich friend. He was pressed to take wine, but refused. It was again pressed upon him. At length he yielded to their importunities, and drank a little. Gradually he formed a liking for wine, and at length began taking far too much. By degrees, and almost before he was aware of it, he became a drunkard. He was degraded from his office of the ministry, and sank lower and lower. Years after he had been pressed to drink by his rich friend, he came again to his door; this time to beg for a little food, and was ordered away as a drunken vagabond.

Joseph Ralston, of Philipsburg, Penn., met with a horrible death by freezing. He had been drinking freely, and had, while drunk, to wade the Moshandoo Creek; but, ere he proceeded two-thirds of the way, his limbs refused to perform their office. He grasped a bough of an overhanging tree, unable to advance farther; and soon the fast-congealing water cemented close about him—a tomb of ice which stretched from shore to shore. Two days after he was found there rigid as an icicle, his knees embedded in a sheet of the frozen element seven inches thick, his body inclined a little forwards, his hands clutching the boughs, eyes astare, and despair pictured on his features.—Pittsburgh Despatch.

God trieth men's love to him by their keeping his commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that will not leave a forbidden cup for him. O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple if thou forsake not all for him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of him, and wouldst die rather than forsake him? And thou like to lay down thy life for him, who wilt not leave a cup of drink for him? Canst thou burn at a stake for him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess, for him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!—Baxter.

Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both body and soul. And while the wretched body lies paralyzed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul, yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.—Chrysostom.

"If you have glutted yourselves with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter."—J. Lyth, D.D.

Bountiful King. The Lord, like a most bountiful king, will be angry if any man will ask a small thing at his hands; because he had rather give things of great worth than of small value. His goodness is infinite.—Powell.

Fulness of Christ. I have found it an interesting thing to stand at the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for 6000 years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his floods of lightness fail, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ! Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on through eternity in the bliss of the redeemed. Blessed Saviour! Image of God! Divine Redeemer! In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. What thou hast gone to heaven to prepare, may we be called up at death to enjoy!—Dr. Guthrie.

Wife. "And now let us see whether the word ‘wife' has not a lesson. It literally means a weaver. The wife is the person who weaves. Before our great cotton and cloth factories arose, one of the principal employments in every house was the fabrication of clothing: every family made its own. The wool was spun into threads by the girls, who were therefore called spinsters; the thread was woven into cloth by their mother, who, accordingly, was called the weaver, or the wife; and another remnant of this old truth we discover in the word ‘heirloom,' applied to any old piece of furniture which has come down to us from our ancestors, and which, though it may be a chair or bed, shows that a loom was an important article in every house. Thus the word ‘wife' means weaver; and, as Trench well remarks, ‘in the word itself is wrapped up a hint of earnest, indoor, stay-at-home occupation, as being fitted for her who bears the name.'"

Pleasures. The pleasures of the world surfeit with satisfying, while heavenly pleasures satisfy without surfeiting. The surfeited nature of the sensualist requires a constantly increasing stimulus to rouse his used-up powers, but with each advance in Christian enjoyment there is an increased power to appreciate heavenly joys. The pleasures of the world are like the kiss of Judas, given but to betray; the pleasures of heaven make the soul bright and beautiful, as when the face of Moses was transformed by the vision of God.—J. G. Pilkington.

Pleasures. Pleasures, like the rose, are sweet, but prickly; the honey doth not countervail the sting; all the world's delights are vanity, and end in vexation; like Judas, while they kiss, they betray. I would neither be a stone nor an epicure; allow of no pleasure, nor give way to all; they are good sauce, but naught to make a meal of. I may use them sometimes for digestion, never for food.—Henshaw.

Price of pleasure. Goethe, in his "Faust," introduces for his hero a student longing for the pleasures of knowledge. The devil appears, to seduce him from his pursuit; Faust is to have all possible sensual enjoyment in life, but is to pay for it by yielding his soul to the devil at last. At the end, Mephistopheles, jealous of his claim, appears and carries off his victim, the student's lost soul.

Anger. I am naturally as irritable as any; but when I find anger, or passion, or any other evil temper, arise in my mind, immediately I go to my Redeemer, and, confessing my sins, I give myself up to be managed by him.—Clarke.

Anger subdued. Two good men on some occasion had a warm dispute; and remembering the exhortation of the Apostle, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," just before sunset one of them went to the other, and knocking at the door, his offended friend came and opened it, and seeing who it was, started back in astonishment and surprise; the other, at the same time, cried out, "The sun is almost down." This unexpected salutation softened the heart of his friend into affection, and he returned for answer, "Come in, brother, come in." What a happy method of conciliating matters, of redressing grievances, and of reconciling brethren!—Arvine.

Hypocrisy. A very capital painter in London exhibited a piece representing a friar habited in his canonicals. View the painting at a distance, and you would think the friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together and held horizontally to his breast, his eyes meekly demissed like those of the publican in the gospel: and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes; the book which seemed to be before him is discovered to be a punch-bowl, into which the wretch is all the while in reality only squeezing a lemon. How lively a representation of a hypocrite!—Salter.

Idols. A man's idol is not necessarily an image of gold; it may be a child of clay, the fruit of his own loins, or the wife of his bosom; it may be wealth, fame, position, success, or business—anything which absorbs unduly the affections and attention. Against all such the Almighty pronounces the decree: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and hurls his resistless missiles of destruction. Either ourselves or our idols must be destroyed.

Idolatry! You cannot find any more gross, any more cruel, on the broad earth, than within the area of a mile around this pulpit. Dark minds, from which God is obscured; deluded souls, whose fetish is the dice-box or the bottle; apathetic spirits, steeped in sensual abomination, unmoved by a moral ripple, soaking in the swamp of animal vitality; false gods, more hideous, more awful than Moloch or Baal, worshipped with shrieks, worshipped with curses, with the hearthstone for the bloody altar, and the drunken husband for the immolating priest, and women and children for the victims.—Dr. Chapin.

Loss of time. We are doomed to suffer a bitter pang as often as the irrevocable flight of our time is brought home with keenness to our hearts. The spectacle of the lady floating over the sea in a boat, and waking suddenly from sleep to find her magnificent ropes of pearl necklace by some accident detached from its fastening at one end, the loose string hanging down into the water, and pearl after pearl slipping off for ever into the abyss, brings before us the sadness of the case. That particular pearl which at the very moment is rolling off into the unsearchable deep, carries its own separate reproach to the lady's heart, but is more deeply reproachful as the representative of so many other uncounted pearls that have already been swallowed up irrecoverably while yet she was sleeping, of many, besides, that must follow before any remedy can be applied to what we may call this jewelly hemorrhage.

The intrepid judge. One of the favourites of Henry V., when Prince of Wales, having been indicted for some misdemeanour, was condemned, notwithstanding all the interest he could make in his favour, and the prince was so incensed at the issue of the trial that he struck the judge on the bench. The magistrate, whose name was Sir William Gascoigne, acted with a spirit becoming his character. He instantly ordered the prince to be committed to prison, and young Henry, sensible by this time of the insult he had offered to the laws of his country, suffered himself to be quietly conducted to jail by the officers of justice. The king, Henry IV., who was an excellent judge of mankind, was no sooner informed of this transaction, than he cried out in a transport of joy, "Happy is the king who has a magistrate possessed of courage to execute the laws, and still more happy in having a son who will submit to such chastisement."—Arvine.

Flattery. The coin most current among mankind is flattery: the only benefit of which is, that, by hearing what we are not, we may learn what we ought to be.

Whitfield, when flattered, said, "Take care of fire: I carry powder about me."

A flattering priest told Constantine the Great that his virtues deserved the empire of the world here, and to reign with the Son of God hereafter. The emperor cried, "Fie, fie, for shame; let me hear no more such unseemly speeches; but, rather, suppliantly pray to my Almighty Maker, that, in this life and the life to come, I may be reckoned worthy to be his servant."

Excuses. He that does amiss never lacks excuse. Any excuse will serve when one has not a mind to do a thing. The archer that shoots ill has a lie ready. He that excuses himself accuses himself. A bad workman always complains of his tools.

Wicked counsel. A young man devoted himself to a religious life. His ungodly parents sent him many letters to dissuade him. Being fully decided to go on in his chosen course, when any letters came addressed to him he threw them into the fire at once, without opening them. When friends and kindred stand between us and Christ, they must be disregarded.

Sin. Sin is like the little serpent aspis, which stings men, whereby they fall into a pleasant sleep, and in that sleep die.—Swinnock.

Envy. We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find in the dark, and gloomy, and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the king of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes; it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks—I mean the crucifixion of Christ, for the evangelist tells us that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.

The poets imagined that envy dwelt in a dark cave; being pale and lean-looking as guilt, abounding with gall, her teeth black, never rejoicing but in the misfortunes of others; ever unquiet and careful, and continually tormenting herself.—Wit.

Friendship. True friendship can only be made between true men. Hearts are the soul of honour. There can be no lasting friendship between bad men. Bad men may pretend to love each other; but their friendship is a rope of sand, which shall be broken at any convenient season. But if a man have a sincere heart within him, and be true and noble, then we may confide in him.—Spurgeon.

Ingratitude. A petted soldier of the Macedonian army was shipwrecked, and east upon the shore apparently lifeless. A hospitable Macedonian discovered him, revived him, took him to his home, and treated him in a princely manner, and, when he departed, gave him money for his journey. The rescued soldier expressed warm thanks, and promised royal bounty to his benefactor. Instead, when he came before Philip, he related his own misfortunes, and asked to be rewarded by the lands and house of his rescuer. His request was granted, and he returned, and drove out his former host. The latter hastened to lay the true state before the king; when he restored the land, and caused the soldier to be branded in the forehead, "The Ungrateful Guest," as the reward of his baseness.

Conscience wakeful. Though in many men conscience sleeps in regard to motion, yet it never sleeps in regard to observation and notice. It may be hard and seared, it can never be blind. Like letters written with the juice of lemon, that which is written upon it, though seemingly invisible and illegible, when brought before the fire of God's judgment, shall come forth clear and expressive.—M‘Cosh.

Guilty conscience. It gives a terrible form and a horrible voice to everything beautiful and musical without. Let Byron describe its anguish, for who felt it more than he?—

"The mind that broods o'er guilty woes

Is like the scorpion girt by fire;

In circle narrowing as it glows,

The flames around their captive close,

Till inly searched by thousand throes,

And maddening in her ire,

One sad and sole relief she knows—

The sting she nourished for her foes;

Whose venom never yet was vain,

Gives but one pang, and cures all pain,

And darts into her desperate brain;

So do the dark in soul expire,

Or live like scorpion girt with fire.

So writhes the mind remorse has riven,

Unfit for earth, undoomed for heaven,

Darkness above, despair beneath,

Around it flame, within it death."

Forgiveness. As the prince or ruler only has power to forgive treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt only the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount. But we know that he is always ready to forgive. "He keeps mercy for thousands, and pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin."

Forgiveness. In a school in Ireland, one boy struck another, and when he was about to be punished, the injured boy begged for his pardon. The master asked. "Why do you wish to keep him from being flogged?" The boy replied, "I have read in the New Testament that our Lord Jesus Christ said that we should forgive our enemies; and, therefore, I forgive him, and beg he may not be punished for my sake."

At the present day the green turben which marks descent from Mahomet is often worn in the East by the very poor, and even by beggars. In our own history the glory of the once illustrious Plantagenets so completely waned, that the direct representative of Margaret Plantagenet, daughter and heiress of George, Duke of Clarence, followed the trade of a cobbler in Newport, Shropshire, in 1637. Among the lineal descendants of Edmund of Woodstock, sixth son of Edward I., and entitled to quarter the royal arms, were a village butcher and a keeper of a turnpike gate; and among the descendants of Thomas Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, fifth son of Edward III., was included the late sexton of a London church.—Geikie.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Esther 1:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/esther-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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