Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CHANGES IN HUMAN LIFE ARE OFTEN WONDERFUL. They startle us -
1. By their suddenness. An empire, a city, a house, a reputation, or a power which it has taken long to build up may fall in a day.
2. By their completeness. What may have seemed durable as time itself passes away and leaves no memorial. "Like the baseless fabric of a vision," magnificent empires have perished, and left "not a wrack behind" (Psalm 9:6).
3. By the rapid succession of events which lead up to them. Our narrative includes in the history of one day the king's sleeplessness, the reading of the chronicle, the adoption of Haman's device, the honouring of Mordecai, the humiliation of Haman, Esther's banquet, the accusation, conviction, and death of Haman, the bestowal of Haman's wealth on the queen, the promotion of Mordecai to Haman's place, and the successful intercession on behalf of the Jews. God may bear long and patiently with the wicked, but when his time arrives, "then sudden destruction cometh upon them" (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
II. IT IS PLEASANT TO BESTOW AND RECEIVE JUST REWARDS. When the king gave to Esther "the house," or rather the possessions, of Haman, he expressed thereby his sense of the danger and anxiety to which his folly had exposed her; his sense too of the faithful and wise manner in which she had delivered himself from the toils of a guileful and presumptuous man. There was an evident stroke of justice in the awarding to Esther the wealth of the man who had promised to the king the wealth of the Jews as the price of their blood. Justice never sleeps.
III. GRATITUDE IS THE SIGN OF A TRUE HEART. Some easily forget benefits received. A change of position or a lapse of time will often cause the remembrance of past favours to fade. But Esther never forgot what she owed to Mordecai, and now she told the king "what he was to her;" how much he had been and still was to her! The very simplicity of these words gives them a peculiar depth and tenderness of meaning. The queen's gratitude to Mordecai was shown -
1. In explaining her own indebtedness to him.
2. In describing him as the real instrument of securing the exposure of Haman and the present felicity.
3. In winning for him favour and promotion.
4. In setting him, as her manager, over the house of Haman. She could not do too much for the man who had done so much for her. The gratitude which lives unfadingly in the heart, and is ever prompt to show itself in action, is a beautiful feature of character. What gratitude is due to God l How should we remember and esteem him who "loved us and gave himself for us!" "What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits?"(Psalm 116:12-14).
IV. HOW SWEET THE FREEDOM WHICH PERMITS A TRUE HEART TO POUR ITS CONFIDENCES INTO THE EAR OF AFFECTION! Till now Esther feared the king, and dared not give him her confidence. She bad secrets in her breast which oppressed her, but which she could not divulge. But the removal of Haman, the enemy and obstacle, brought her near to the king, and she felt free to tell him all that was in her heart. The benefit and happiness of the marriage tie are sadly marred by the possession of secrets on either side, or by the want of a free, full, and loving confidence. The charm of friendship too is in proportion to the freedom it gives to the opening of the heart. There is no enemy on the part of our God and King to shut his heart against us. All enemies have been destroyed in Jesus Christ. It is because we will not, if we have not the freedom of intercourse with God which belong to children - "the glorious liberty of the sons of God."
V. THE PROMOTION OF THE WISE AND GOOD TO POWER IS A BLESSING TO THE WORLD. The king gave the seal which he had taken from Haman to Mordecai. Henceforth the sagacious and capable Jew was to occupy the place of grand vizier, or chief friend and counsellor. Here again justice notched a conspicuous mark. The humble and heroic man for whom Haman had erected a gallows was put in the wicked favourite's place - made second to the king. From that time the monarch and his empire had some real ground of prosperity and peace. Mordecai's influence grew and extended until it became a paramount power and blessing in all the hundred and twenty and seven provinces. Happy the monarch and nation that are under the guidance of a wisdom that is simple-hearted, clear-sighted, experienced, and godly. How many examples have we in the history of the world of the benefit conferred on nations by the promotion of the wise and good to offices of power, and of the misery and ruin effected by the promotion of the wicked!
VI. THE BENEFITS RECEIVED BY A TRUE HEART WILL ENLARGE ITS SYMPATHIES FOR OTHERS WHO ARE IN SUFFERING AND NEED. There is a joy over obtained good which is utterly selfish. It is self-absorbed, and has no consideration for the effect it may have on others. It may be natural enough, yet nothing is more hateful. The true godly soul will long to share its own joys with those whom it loves. Beyond that, its own sense of joy will quicken its sympathy with all the distressed, and its desire to bring the light of its joy into the regions of darkness and death. Hence Esther was not content with her own happiness. She could not feel happy until she had emancipated her people from the doom that threatened them. Her own deliverance from the enemy stimulated her to work out that of Israel. So long as the edict against the Jews was in force, the purpose for which she had ventured all was unaccomplished, It is only when our Lord shall have redeemed all his people and brought them to everlasting honour that he shall "see the travail of his soul and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11). - D.
I. THE MANIFOLDNESS OF HUMAN CONSECRATION. "And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears," etc. (ver. 3). Emboldened by her first success, Esther goes in again to the king, again endangering her own position, and, indeed, her own life, on behalf of her people. The former time she may have been influenced by Mordecai's reminder that her own death was determined by the king's decree. Now, however, she had no reason to be apprehensive on that ground. Her second act of intercession was purely unselfish. It is a beautiful instance of goodness. The lovely queen risking her dignity, her wealth, her happiness, her very life on behalf of others; pleading with the capricious and uncertain sovereign; shedding for others, as she had not for herself, tears of tender compassion; bringing her beauty and her charms wherewith to insure the safety of the people of God. In how many ways may we serve the cause of goodness and of God. What varied offerings may we lay on the altar of the Lord! Each man must consecrate his best: the learned man can bring his knowledge, the wise his sagacity, the rich his wealth, the titled his rank, the fearless his courage, the energetic his vigour; the engaging woman can bring her charms, the loving her affection, the beautiful her beauty. Our God "has commanded our strength" (Psalm 68:28). It is true that he requires of us "according to that we have, not according to that we have not" (2 Corinthians 8:12); but he asks of each of us the best we have to bring, and of what he has given us freely to give him and his.
II. THE SPECIAL LOVE WE OWE TO OUR OWN PEOPLE. "How can I endure to see the evil that shall come upon my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?" (ver. 6). Our Lord had on more than one occasion to teach that the affection of ordinary human friendship toward himself must give place to a purely spiritual attachment. In him we form and cultivate and magnify these spiritual affinities and relationships. Yet they are not inconsistent with special interest in those to whom the bonds of nature bind us. We know how intensely strong was the feeling of the Apostle Paul toward "his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1-3). If we do not wish to endure the intolerable pain of witnessing the "evil" and destruction of our own kindred, but wish for the joy of seeing them "walking in the truth," we must bring all our influence to bear on their hearts in the time when we can teach them, touch them, lead them.
III. THE FRAILITY OF HUMAN LAW, and, we might add, the presumption of human legislators. The decree which this great "king of kings" had just issued was no sooner published than he wanted to reverse it. He and his brother kings, indeed, professed that the law of the Medes and Persians altered not (Esther 1:19), and when Esther came with her petition, Ahasuerus declared that what was "written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse" (ver. 8). Technically and formally it was so; in part it was so truly. But in substance this was but a vain pretence. Measures were instantly taken to reduce the former decree to a nullity. Much of the most beneficent legislation of later years has been the undoing of what former acts had done, the repealing of old and evil laws. Solemnly and with all the forms of state we enact, and then, a few years on, with the same solemnity we repeal. Such are the laws of man.
IV. THE IRREPARABLENESS OF HUMAN FOLLY (vers. 9-14). King Ahasuerus might hang Haman with great promptitude; a word from him, and the executioners were ready with willing hands; but he could not easily undo the evil work of his favourite. That bad man's work left dark shadows behind. He himself was disposed of, but what of the decree he had been the means of passing? That could not be quickly reversed, or its effects removed. The custom, if not the constitution, admitted of no formal repeal. Consequently the most energetic measures had to be taken to prevent a general massacre. The king's scribes had to be called together (ver. 9); letters had to be written in every language and sent to every province in the empire (ver. 9); horses had to be pressed into the service (ver. 10); and then all that could be done was to sanction and encourage a stout resistance on the part of the Jews when they were attacked: they were "to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay," etc. (ver. 11). This, no doubt, led to severe and fatal strife in some, if not in many, places. In truth, the king could not wholly undo what his thoughtless folly and excessive confidence had done. We never can wholly wipe out the evil consequences of our folly and our sin. We may do much to counteract, but we cannot wholly remove. Godlessness, selfishness, worldliness, vice, error, in former years, these have left their traces on our hearts and lives, and on those of others also, and all the waters of all the seas cannot wash them out. Sin may be forgiven, folly may be pardoned, but their miserable consequences flow on - who shall say how far? - in a polluting stream. It does not take a royal hand to do what is irreparable. The hand of a little child is strong enough for that. - C.
I. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE CLEAR AS TO ITS GROUNDS. The grounds on which Esther pleaded were such as the following: -
1. That the edict of extermination was the device of the enemy Haman. The wicked man himself having been exposed and punished, his evil design should be countermanded.
2. That all her people throughout the empire were as innocent, and therefore as unworthy of death, as herself. Justice and mercy combined in calling for a reversal of the cruel edict.
3. That the destruction of a numerous people scattered through the empire would create universal alarm and confusion, and inflict irreparable loss on the king's estate. Esther's grounds of appeal were clear and strong. She had a good case.
II. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE DISINTERESTED. The queen had gained much by the death of Haman and the restored affection of the king, but she was willing to sacrifice all on the altar of her people's deliverance. Personal honour and wealth were as nothing to her so long as Israel was trembling under the uplifted sword. She presents us with a type of Christ, who "emptied himself of his glory" and offered up his life on the cross for the salvation of a condemned world. Advocacy, to be effective, must have no back-look on self.
III. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE EARNEST AND PERSUASIVE. The body in all its expressions is responsive to the soul that animates it. Cold feeling will be content with cold words and impassive features; but when the heart is swayed by strong emotion the whole outward frame will yield itself to the power of the inward force. Words, looks, movements, gesticulations, tears will all unite in expressing a desire that commands the spirit. Thus Esther, when, against the law, she again entered uninvited into the king's presence, "fell at his feet and besought him with tears." Earnestness makes short work with restrictive formalities. A full heart when once unlocked cannot but be persuasive. The whole attitude of Esther was eloquent. Such advocacy could not fail to move even an Ahasuerus. We are reminded by it of Christ's sweet, yearning, solemn prayer in behalf of his disciples as given in John 17.
IV. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE IN FULL SYMPATHY WITH THE CAUSE IN WHICH IT IS EMPLOYED. No advocate can be perfectly effective unless he can put himself in the place of those for whom he is pleading, and can plead for them as if he were pleading for himself. Listen to Esther: - "How can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?" She thus identified herself with her people and kindred. If they suffered, she would suffer; if they were destroyed, how could she live? The queen took on herself the burden of her nation. Again we think of Christ, the Divine Advocate. He became "bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh," "took on himself our likeness," that he might enter into our experiences, and bear our burden before God, and become an effective and prevailing Advocate. Hence his sympathy, his "fellow-feeling," his oneness, and his all-powerful intercession (Hebrews 2:17, 18; Hebrews 4:15, 16).
V. THAT ADVOCACY FOR THE SUFFERING AND PERISHING IS THE DUTY AND PRIVILEGE OF THE GODLY. History affords many examples of noble advocacy in behalf of the justly doomed and the unjustly oppressed. Such Bible instances as Abraham's pleading for the cities of the plain, Moses' intercession for rebellious Israel, and Paul's willingness to lose himself for the sake of his unbelieving kindred, readily occur. In modern times the long and arduous advocacy of the emancipation of the slave has become memorable. To the Christian, as to his Master, Christ, "the field is the world." Men are "perishing for lack of knowledge." Multitudes everywhere are in bondage to sin and death. It should be our part to do what we can to bring "deliverance to the captives," and to "save them who are appointed to die;" and with our labours we should unite the earnest prayer of the advocate. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16-20). - D.
I. WHAT A LEGACY OF EVIL IS LEFT BY THE WICKED. e.g. By Voltaire, Paine, Napoleon I., and others.
II. WHAT EFFORTS ARE NECESSARY TO REPAIR EVIL ONCE WROUGHT. It is SO much easier to destroy than to build up.
III. GREAT EVILS MAY BE REMOVED, OR AT LEAST OVERRULED, BY PROVIDENCE. If this were not believed, the arm of the Christian would be paralysed. We have to beware of that phase of belief which would lead to the postponement of spiritual effort because Christ is to come again. We must not let it be supposed that the work of Christ, the word of God, and the gift of the Spirit are all failures. The mischief wrought by evil is to be repaired by Christ's gospel and healed by his love.
1. What are we doing to repair the mischief others have wrought? What are we doing to undo our own wrong-doing? - H.
I. WHAT TRUE PATRIOTISM IS.
1. It is evidently an original and ultimate principle. As soon as ever it was possible it showed its existence The fact of its presence, and operative presence, has been visible in all ages, traceable in all kinds and degrees of civilisation - among the barbarous, and among the most advanced and elevated nationalities.
2. It is a principle of a high moral kind. A form of love above the sympathy which is between individual and individual, above that which lies between those born of the same parents, and, on the other hand, falling short of that universal love of man, as such, which is one of the very highest teachings of Christianity.
3. It is a somewhat quickened regard for those united to us by community of race. A stronger interest in their welfare and advantage is marked by it, while divested as far as possible of any conscious reflex action or benefit to self. This affection was no doubt exceedingly strong in the Jewish race, was at Esther's time greatly intensified by adversity and persecution and natural causes, but owed its most determined hold to distinctly Divine purpose.
II. THE USE OF PATRIOTISM IN THE INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER.
1. It must be enlarging to the heart. It must expand the affections in their outlook, which then seek the various and the distant instead of ever keeping at home. It must give greater and freer exercise to the more important moral elements of our nature.
2. It must operate ever as a distinct corrective to some portion of the dangers of selfishness. There is much selfishness in our self-love; there is often not a little even in the family and domestic circle; sympathies may run round indeed, but in too narrow a circle. But the circle is immensely widened by this community of interest, while yet kept within a manageable area.
3. It is able to give enough natural motive to the awakening of moral energies, which without it would have found no sufficient appeal. In point of fact, some of the grandest displays of human force, and among them that of the present history, have been due to it.
III. ITS USEFULNESS TO PUBLIC SOCIETY. There will be a vast amount of this necessarily entailed indirectly and unconsciously, as arising from the previous considerations; but, in addition, manifest practical use on a large scale will also result.
1. It secures the prospect of bringing together to one point a great aggregate of force in emergency. It is like public opinion in action, seasoned by genuine affection.
2. It is equal also to the converse of this, spreading, as in Esther's example, the willing benefit, the critical advantage of opportunity, of one loving, praying heart, over a vast area.
3. Pervading the whole mass of mankind, it so divides it up and so allots it, that in place of unwieldiness a well-knit-together organisation is found. Thus it offers a strong and very traceable analogy to the body with its members.
IV. THAT IN PATRIOTISM WE HAVE ANOTHER EVIDENCE OF DIVINE DESIGN IN THE STRUCTURE OF HUMAN SOCIETY. For -
1. It cannot possibly be attributed to mere human arrangement or compact.
2. It does not at all really contravene either the descent of all from one head, or the fact that "God has made of one blood all nations of the earth."
3. Its operation is not malevolent, setting "nation against nation." It is beneficent, and is ever growing to show itself more and more so, leading up to mutual service, mutual dependence, and mutual love, to the attainment of which it were very hard to see any other way so compact, so sure. - B.
I. IT WAS THE GLADNESS OF A VAST NUMBER OF PEOPLE. A great philosopher of British name and reputation has remarked two things, and very truly, on this subject. First, how much less disposed, comparatively speaking, men are to sympathise with the manifestations of joy than with those of genuine sorrow. To the best of human nature it is easier to weep with those who weep than to laugh with those who laugh. This is a just discernment, and gives the balance of goodness to the intrinsic quality of unfallen human nature, where it may get a possibility of betraying its native worth. Secondly, that this is especially true when it is the joy of an individual that is ostentatiously paraded. Here the case is the opposite. The joy is the joy of all and of each. Gratitude and thankfulness were the spring of it, and there was no need to moderate either itself or its expression, because it was general and universal. There were none (at all events none entitled to consideration) on whom it would jar, or whose finer susceptibilities would suffer. On the contrary, the only discordant element would be produced by him who made himself the exception or offered to stand aloof. Note, that such real general joy is a very rare phenomenon on earth.
II. IT WAS THE GLADNESS OF EVERY CLASS AND KIND OF THE PEOPLE. Old men "little children and women" (Esther 3:13), young men and maidens, rich and poor, strong and weak, all these could participate in it. Our human joys are often spoilt, are often much diminished to the best of persons, by the inevitable memory of those who are without what gladdens us. Think how a victorious army may rejoice, and generals and leaders be glad; but what of the hundreds of families of every class over the kingdom who have lost husbands, brothers, sons? Or think how the great body of a nation may rejoice because of the victories of its armies; but at what havoc of untold sorrow and misery of numberless others belonging to conquering or the conquered. Think how rare is the occasion of any national joy which really reaches and touches the heart of all kinds and ages of the people.
III. IT WAS A GLADNESS WHICH HAD SEVERAL ELEMENTS IN ITS COMPOSITION. The fourfold analysis of it cannot be condemned for mere surplusage of language as it lies on the page of Scripture. And these are the four elements - "light," "gladness," deep "joy," "honour." Each of these elements is a good one. The first and last speak for themselves. Let us interpret the second as the gladness of the young hearts and of manifestation, and the third as the deeper-sinking joy of the old, and those who felt and thought more than they showed or spoke.
IV. IT WAS THE GLADNESS OF A REACTION. The reaction was just. It would have argued callousness, an insensate heart indeed, if it were not felt, and very powerfully felt. To have great mercies is a common thing, to respond to them far too uncommon. The contrast of "the horrible pit and the miry clay" with the "rock and the established going" of the pilgrim is one which should waken deepest joy. It is light, joy, honour all in one.
V. IT WAS GLADNESS IN ANSWER TO A DELIVERANCE WHICH WAS NOT ONLY VERY GREAT AND VERY UNEXPECTED, BUT WHICH WAS THE RESULT OF A MARVELLOUS INTERPOSITION OF PROVIDENCE, wrought by one feeble woman, and prepared for by a most extraordinary series of precisely-adapted events. And all this was "prepared for God's people." Through much tribulation, indeed, through darkness, cruel oppression, patient endurance on the very border of despair, they had been wonderfully brought out to the light, joy, honour of that time.
VI. IT WAS A GLADNESS WHICH MAKES US THINK OF ANOTHER. It makes us feel for another, long for another. That was of a nature that must be rare in occurrence, nor would we wish it other. And, after all, the duration of it could only be temporary. But it may well bear our thought onward and upward. The gladness of the people of God in heaven will fill out every part of the description of this gladness. It will fill out every part of it worthily. There all will be glad. There all varieties of purified spirits will be glad. There the light and gladness and joy and honour will all be to perfection. How glorious the reaction that will then be felt for us, with the doom, and the law's decree, and the despair, and the sorrow, and the tear all and for ever gone. And when we shall all admit to what it is owing - to the most marvellous interposition of all; and to whom it is owing - to him who "with strong groaning and tears" pleaded for us and saved us. - B.
I. A FLASH OF HONOUR TO AN INDIVIDUAL (ver. 15). Mordecai goes forth, grandly attired, coronet on head, the recipient of highest royal favour, receiving also the honour of the acclaiming populace. He would not have been human if he had not enjoyed his triumph. Perhaps Oriental human nature counted such a public ceremony dearer than English nature would. But this was only a flash of enjoyment, very soon gone. "What is wanted here?" said one proud spectator to another at a Roman triumph. "Permanence," said the other. One hour, audit would be over. We learn that
(1) there is a place in our life for such brief enjoyments. We need not refuse them because they are of the world; coming to us in the course of faithful service, they may be regarded as sent of God to brighten and to cheer us. But we must remember that
(2) it is only a small place they must be allowed to occupy. They must be counted as the small dust of the balance, not the solid weight in the scale. Our strong temptation is to make far too much of them; to rate them far above their true value; to give to their acquisition a measure of time and energy which they do not deserve; to sacrifice more precious things, even sacred principles themselves, in order to obtain them. Then they break under our hand and bruise us, and we know how foolish and wrong we have been. But Mordecai had more reason to rejoice in -
II. THE SATISFACTION OF THE CITY. "The city of Susa rejoiced and was glad" (ver. 15). It is much for one man to give satisfaction to a whole metropolis, especially if, as here, the gladness is due to real patriotism, and is a tribute to substantial worth. Men may give lightness of heart to the populace by very questionable and even unworthy means: by indiscriminate bounty, by pretentious charlatanism, by empty oratory. But to do what Mordecai now did, - to give joy to the city because all men felt that they were in the hands of an honest and capable administrator, who would seek their interest, and not his own at their expense, - this is not unworthy the ambition of a Christian man. It may be that this is beyond our reach, but we may learn from it to indulge an honourable aspiration. We are filling some post in the world, and probably in the Church. We should aspire to be such workmen in the narrower sphere we thus occupy that, when the hour of promotion comes to us, that will give satisfaction to our fellows, and we shall receive their congratulations. Excellency may sometimes escape the notice it deserves; yet, as a rule, men mark the faithful and devoted servant, and they rejoice when he "goes up higher." But Mordecai witnessed that which still more gladdened his heart -
III. THE JOY OF AN ENTIRE PEOPLE. "The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour," etc. (vers. 16, 17). The keenest physical gratification (it is said) is found in the sudden cessation of acute pain, in the sense of great relief. All Jewry, throughout the whole of Persia, now felt the keen delight of being relieved from their terrible fears. It is to render the truest and most appreciated service to relieve men's soul of great fear and dread. To give temporal, and, still more, spiritual, relief is to confer the most valuable boon. Happy is he who, like Mordecai, has the means of doing this on a large scale; he will earn the blessing, deep and fervent, of many souls. But, here again, if we cannot achieve the greater things we must attempt the smaller ones. There are anxious cares we can remove from some mind; there is a heavy spiritual burden we can help to lift from some heart. The blessing of one soul "ready to perish" is well worth our winning, cost what pains it may. The brightest feature in the whole scene is the -
IV. CONVERSION TO THE TRUE FAITH. "Many of the people of the land became Jews," etc. (ver. 17). The "fear of the Jews" may have been in part the high regard felt for them, perhaps not unmixed with some hope and apprehension. So great was this regard that their Persian neighbours even adopted their faith and worshipped the true and living God. Thus the conquered became the conquerors; thus the captives led captive. We learn here -
1. How God overrules, making his Church the stronger for the very designs which were intended to despoil and even to extinguish.
2. How we may prevail, even in humble positions winning to our side, and so to his cause, them that are "our masters according to the flesh." The little maid in the Syrian general's service caused the living God to be honoured in Damascus (2 Kings 5.); the captive Jews in Persia led many around them to adopt their purer faith; those among us who are "in service," who are "under authority," may live lives of such attractive worth that they will win those who rule to the service of the Divine Master. - C.
I. LIGHT. He will see the meaning of God's word and of life.
II. GLADNESS. He will not be afraid to rejoice, but will see that the Christian has the truest right to be glad, seeing he is delivered from the bondage of sin and death.
III. HONOUR. People respect a true Christian, but they despise the hypocrite. Every man's character is rendered of greater worth by his Christianity.
IV. USEFULNESS. Others will be won to the same good way. "Many of the people of the land became Jews." Influence will constantly spread.
V. SAFETY. The former enemies of the Jews were afraid to touch them or speak against them. The evil powers that oppose man's spiritual welfare will not be able to injure him, because God will protect, and the habit of watchfulness will be fixed. - H.
I. THE NATURE OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. It implies -
1. An increase of spirituality among professing Christians. Beware of supposing that the success of a Church is identical with increased membership. This is a fatal mistake, and has led to the most lamentable consequences. True religion consists in spiritual-mindedness. It is the result of a change of heart produced by the Spirit of God. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It follows that a Christian is separate from the world. He views everything in the light of the world to come. He rejoices to suffer affliction with the people of God, for he has respect unto the recompense of the reward. No genuine revival can take place apart from increased purity and unworldliness.
2. An increase of good works among professing Christians. Good works are the necessary concomitants of spiritual-mindedness. "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit." The first proof that a man is born again is the earnestness with which he inquires what he must do. Instances - the multitude on the day of Pentecost, the jailer at Philippi, Saul of Tarsus. The Church is described as a vineyard, for which God hires labourers, whom he rewards according to their services. The absence of works is therefore a sure sign of the absence of spiritual life. What the Spirit said to each of the Churches of Asia was, "I know thy works." No real prosperity can co-exist with indifference and indolence.
3. An increase of sinners saved. "Many of the people of the land became Jews." A most conclusive evidence of their thriving condition. A spiritual, working Church exerts a power which attracts outsiders into its ranks. At the beginning of the apostolic age, when the disciples were in the fervour of their first love, it is recorded that "the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." It is the business of a Church to seek the lost. This duty it owes to itself no less than to the world. Without converts it must gradually decay, and ultimately die. It enjoys the highest success, therefore, only when multitudes of the perishing flock within its gates.
II. THE CAUSES OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. When possessed, to what is it due? When lost, how can it be recovered?
1. It is in one sense the work of God. It was God who laid down the foundation of the Church. "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." And not a single stone has been subsequently placed in the spiritual edifice without his co-operation. "Without me ye can do nothing." "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." If we would have a revival, we must pray God to send down the Comforter to "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."
2. It is in another sense the work of man. The grandest triumphs of the gospel have been achieved by means of human instrumentality. The Protestant reformation, the Methodist revival, the evangelisation of Madagascar. Many ask, "What have we to do?" The answer depends upon the special circumstances of the inquirers. Some are able to preach the word, some to teach the young, some to visit the poor. If your Church be languishing, seek the cause among yourselves. Are you slumbering, inactive, prayerless?
III. THE EFFECTS OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. These are represented here as threefold.
1. Joy. "The Jews had joy and gladness." This is invariably the case; and what more natural? The released captive is glad, the victorious army is jubilant, the flourishing city is full of glee, and shall the Church be different? "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." It is said of the first disciples, after they had witnessed our Lord's ascension, which was to them an earnest of the coming of his kingdom, that they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God."
2. Contentment. "A feast and a good day." With the luxuries they enjoyed they were abundantly satisfied. In religious revivals the means of grace, the services of the sanctuary, the ordinances of religion, are thoroughly appreciated. Duties which in stagnant seasons are a burden become a pleasure. Of the man who is "like a tree planted by the rivers of water," the Psalmist saith, "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night." The prevalence of bitterness, strife, and unrest is a sign of spiritual poverty. Cattle bred in the fertile plains are generally in good condition; cattle bred on the barren hills are not only lean, but grow immense horns.
3. Influence. "The fear of the Jews fell upon them." The power of the Jews was felt in the land, and they were respected accordingly. The world admires power; it is the weak, the puny, the pretentious that are held in contempt. When religion is despised, and its professors treated with scorn, it is time to inquire into the reason. May it not be due to the sentimental, emasculated caricature of godliness that is too frequently set up for the reality? Strong, robust Christian manliness commands the homage even of opponents. When the Church appears in her proper character - a pure, living, active Church - an astonished world asks, "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?" - R.