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when the God of heaven notes, and punishes a sin in chase, it is good to follow it home, tneir offences? Whoso walketh by this rule, not slackening our pursuit, till we have fully can neither err nor miscarry. It is no trust-prevailed ; and when it is once fallen under ing to the external remedies of sin; either our hands, we cannot kill it too much. they are not always present, or, if present, Now, Nehemiah having thus happily not powerful enough: but if the fear of God delivered his people from a domestical caphave once taken up the heart, it goes ever tivity, commends his service to the gracious with us, and is strong enough to overmaster remuneration of the Almighty: « Think upthe most forcible temptation.
on me, my God, for good, according to all Therefore must these Jews follow this that I have done for this people :" thereexample of Nehemiah, because he followed fore doth he refuse the bread of the governot the example of his predecessors : be- nor, that he may receive the reward of the cause he left their evil, they must imitate Governor of heaven. Had he taken a temhis good. In vain shall rulers advise against porary recompense, both he and it had been their own practice: when they lead the way, forgotten; now he hath made a happy change they may well challenge to be followed. Sel. for eternity. Not that he pleads his merit, dom hath it been ever seen, that great per but sues for mercy; neither doth he pray to sons liave not been seconded in evil: why be remembered for his work, but according sliould not their power serve to make part. | ners of their virtues.
Our good deeds, as they are well acceptThus well did it speed with Nehemiah : ed of God, so they shall not go unrewarded ; his merciful carriage, and zealous suit, have and what God will give, why may not we drawn the rulers to a promise of restitui-crave? Doubtless, as we may offer up our tion: “We will restore them, and will honest obedience unto God, so we may exrequire nothing of them, so will we do aspect and beg his promised retributions; not thou sayest."
out of a proud conceit of the worth of our It is no small advantage that these nobles earnings, which, at the best, are no other must forego in their releases: there cannot than unprofitable servants, but out of a be a better sign of a sound amendment, than faithful dependence upon his pact of bounty, that we can be content to be losers by our who cannot be less than his word. O God, repentance. Many formal penitents have | if we do anght that is good, it is thine act, yielded to part with so much of their sin as and not ours! crown thine own work in may abate nothing of their profit: as if these us, and take thou the glory of thine own rulers should have been willing to restore | mercies. the persons, but withal should have stood While Nehemiah is busy in reforming stiffly to require their sums: this whining abuses at home, the enemy is plotting and partial satisfaction had been thankless. against him abroad: Sanballat, and Tobiah, True remorse enlargeth the heart, and open- and Geshem the Arabian, conspire against eth the hand, to a bountiful redemption of his life, and, in him, against the peace of our errors.
Jerusalem. What open hostility could not Good purposes do too often cool .n time, do, they hope to effect by pretence of creaand vanish into a careless forgetfulness. Neties : four several messages call Nehemiah hemiah feared this issue of these holy reso. to a friendly meeting. Distrust is a sure Jutions, and therefore he prosecutes them guard. The wise governor hath learned to in their first heat; not leaving these pro. suspect the hollow favours of an enemy, mises, till he had secured them with an and to return them with safe and just exoath: the priests are called for, that in their cuses: “I cannot come down : why should mouths the adjuration may be more solemn the work cease, while I leave it, and come and sacred. It is the best point of wisdom down to you ?" I do not hear him say, You to take the first opportunity of fixing good intend mischief to me, I will not come forth motions, which otherwise are of themselves to you, though this were the proper cause light and flighty. To make all yet more of his forbearance; but he turns them off sure, their oaths are cross-barred with his with an answer, that had as much truth as execration: “ Also I shook my lap, and reservedness. Fraud is the fitliest answered said, So God shake out every man from his with subtlety: even innocency is allowed house, and from his labour, that performeth a lawful craft. That man is in an ill case, not this promise, even thus be he shaken that conceals no truth from an adversary. out, and emptied ; and all the congregation What entreaties cannot do, shall be at said, Amen.” A promise, an oath, a curse, tempted by threats. Sanballat's servant are passed upon this act: now, no Israelite comes now the fifth time with an open let. dares falter in the execution. When we have ter, importing dangerous intimations, where
in it is written, “ It is reported among the der, and to advise him, for shelter, to fly heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that the to the forbidden refuge of the temple. The Tews think to rebel; for which cause thou colour was fair. Violence is meant to thy buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their person ; no place but one can promise thee king.” “ It is reported :" and what false. safety; the city hath as yet no gates; come, hood may not plead this warrant? what therefore, and shut thyself up in the temcan be more lying than report? “ Among ple: there only shalt thou be free from all the heathen;" and who is more ethnic than assault. Sanballat ? what pagan can be worse than And what if Nehemiah had hearkened to a mongrel idolater?" And Gashmu saith this counsel ? sin and shame had followed : it," ask my fellow else: this Arabian was that holy place was for none but persons one of those three heads of all the hostile sacred, such as were privileged by blood combination against Jerusalem, against Ne. and function; others should presume and hemiah. It would be wide with innocence, offend in entering: and now, what would if enemies might be allowed to accuse. the people say? What shall become of us, “ That the Jews think to rebel :" a stale while our governor hides his head for fear? suggestion, but once powerful: malice hath Where shall we find a temple to secure us? learned to miscal all actions; where the What do we depending upon a cowardly hands cannot be taxed, the very thoughts leader ? are prejudged : “ For which cause thou! Well did Nehemiah forecast these cirbuildest the wall, that thou mayest be their cumstances, both of act and event; and king.” He was never a true Israelite, that therefore, resolving to distrust a prophet hath not passed spiteful slanders and mis- | that persuaded him to the violation of a constructions. Artaxerxes knew his ser- | law, he rejects the motion with scorn : vant too well, to believe any rumour that “ Should such a man as I flee? should I go should have been so shameless. The am- into the temple to save my life? I will not bition of Nehemiah was well known to go." It is fit for great persons to stand reach only to the cup, not to the sceptre upon the honour of their places : their very of his sovereign; and yet, to make up a stations should put those spirits into them, sound tale, “ Prophets are suborned to that should make them hate to stoop unto preach, There is a king in Judah ;" as if | base conditions. that loyal governor had corrupted the pul Had God sent this message, we know he pits also, and had taught them the language hath power to dispense with his own laws; of treason.
but well might the contradiction of a law But what of all this? what if some false argue the message not sent of God: God, tongue have whispered such idle tales ? It as he is one, so doth he perfectly agree with is not safe for thee, O Nehemiah, to con- | himself. If any private spirit cross a written temn report : perhaps this news shall fly to word, let him be accursed. the court, and work thee a deadly displeasure, ere thou canst know thyself traduced; come, therefore, and let us take counsel to. | CONTEMPLATION IV.— AHASUERUS FEASTING gether. Surely that man cannot be sparing -VASHTI CAST OFF-ESTHER CHOSEN. of any thing, that is prodigal of his repu. tation. If aught under heaven can fetch What bounds can be set to human am. Nehemiah out of his hold, it is the care of bition ? Ahasuerus, that is, Xerxes, the his fame. But that wary governor sees a son of Darius, is already the king of a hun. net spread near unto this stall, and there- dred and seven and twenty provinces, and fore keeps aloof, not without contempt of now is ready to fight for more. He hath those sly devices : “ There are no such | newly subdued Egypt, and is now address. things done as thou sayest, but thou feign-ing himself for the conquest of Greece. He est them out of thine own heart." Some cannot hope ever to see all the land that imputations are best answered with a ne- | he possesseth, and yet he cannot be quiet glective denial. It falls out often, that plain while he hears of more. Less than two ells dealing puts craft out of countenance. of earth shall ere long serve him, whom,
Since neither force nor fraud can kill | for the time, a whole world shall scarce Nehemiah, they will now try to draw him satisfy. In vain shall a man strive to have into a sin, and thereby into a reproach: 0 that which he cannot enjoy, and to enjoy God! that any prophet's tongue should be aught by mere relation : it is a windy hap mercenary! Shemaiah the seer is hired by piness that is sought in the exaggeration of Tobiah and Sanballat, to affright the go-these titles which are taken upon others' vernor with the noise of his intended mur. | credit, without the sense of the owner,
Notning can fill the heart of man, but he promiscuous meetings. O shameful un. that made it.
I chastity of those loose Christians, who must This great monarch, partly in triumph of feed their lust while they fill their bellies, and the great victories that he had lately won think the feast imperfect, where they may in Egypt, and partly for the animation of not satiate their eye no less than palate! his princes and soldiers to his future ex- The last day of this pompous feast is now ploits, makes a feast, like himself, royal and come: king Ahasuerus is so much more magnificent.
cheerful, by how much his guests are nearer What is greatness if it be not showed ? to their dismission. Every one is wont to and wherein can greatness be better shown close up his courtesy with so much more than in the achievements of war, and the passion, as the last acts use to make the entertainments of peace ?
deeper impression. And now, that he might All other feasts were but hunger to this at once amaze and endear the beholders, of Ahasuerus, whether we regard the num- Vashti the queen, in all her royalty, is called ber of guests, or the largeness of prepara-for: her sight shall shut up the feast, that tion, or continuance of time. During the the princes and people may say, How happy space of a whole half year, all the tables is king Ahasuerus, not so much in this greatwere sumptuously furnished for all comers, ness, as in that beauty! írom India to Ethiopia ; a world of meat; Seven officers of the chamber are sent to every meal was so set on, as if it should carry the message, to attend her entrance, have been the last : yet all this long feast and are returned with a denial. Perhaps hath an end, and all this glory is shut up Vashti thought, What means this uncouth in forgetfulness. What is Ahasuerus the motion ? More than six months hath this better, that his peers then said he was in- feast continued ; and, all this while, we comparably great? what are his peers the have enjoyed the wonted liberty of our sex. better, that they were feasted ? Happy is Were the king still himself, this command ne that eats bread, and drinks new wine, could not be sent; it is the wine, and not in the kingdom of God, this banquet is for he, that is guilty of this errand is it for me eternity, without intermission, without sa- to humour him in so vain a desire ? vill it tiety!
agree with our modest reservedness, to ofWhat variety of habits, of languages, of fer ourselves to be gazed at by millions of manners, met at the boards of Ahasuerus ? eyes? Who knows what wanton attempts What confluence of strange guests was may follow upon this ungoverned excess : there now to Shushan? And, lest the glory This very message argues, that wit and rea. of this great king might seem, like some son have yielded their places to that becoarse picture, only fair afar off, after the sotting liquor. Nothing but absence can princes and nobles of the remote provinces, secure us from some unbeseeming proffer: all the people of Shushan are entertained neither doubt I but the king, when he re. for seven days, with equal pomp and state. turns to himself, will give me thanks for so
The spacious court of the palace is turned wise a forbearance. into a royal hall, the walls are of rich hang Thus, upon the conceit, as is likely, that ings, the pillars of marble, the beds of silver her presence would be either needless or and gold, the pavement of porphyry, curi- unsafe, Vashti refuseth to come; although, ously checkered: the wine and the vessels perhaps, her great spirit thought much to restrove whether should be the richer; no menceive a command from the hand of officers. drunk in worse than gold : and while the The blood, that is once inflamed with metal was the same, the form of each cup wine, is apt to boil with rage; Ahasuerus was diverse. The attendance was answer. | is very wroth with this indign repulse. It able to the cheer, and the freedom matched was the ostentation of his glory and might both: here was no compulsion, either to the that he affected before these princes, peers, measure or quality of the draught; every people ; and now that seems eclipsed, in man's rule was his own choice. Who can the shutting up of all his magnificence, with but blush to see forced healths in Christian the disgraceful affront of a woman. It vexes banquets, when the civility of very pagans him to think that those nobles, whom he commands liberty?
meant to send away astonished with the adI cannot but envy the modesty of heathen miration of his power and majesty, should dames : Vashti the queen, and her ladies, now say, What boots it Ahasuerus to rule with all the several ranks of that sex, feast afar off, when he cannot command at home? apart, entertaining each other with a bash- In vain doth he boast to govern kings, while ful courtesy, without wantonness, without he is checked by a woman. that wild scurrility which useth to haunt Whatever were the intentions of Vasliti,
surely her disobedience was inexcusable. It | mandment from him, and let it be written is not for a good wife to judge of her hus. | among the laws of the Persians and Meband's will, but to execute it; neither wit | dians, that it be not altered, that Vashti nor stomach may carry her into a curious come no more before Ahasuerus ; and let inquisition into the reasons of an enjoined the king give her royal estate to another charge, much less to a resistance; but in a that is better than shie.” how bold a word hood-winked simplicity, she must follow was this, and how hazardous! Had Ahawhither she is led, as one that holds her suerus more loved the beauty of Vashti chief praise to consist in subjection. than his honour, Memucan had spoken
Where should the perfection of wisdom | against his own life. Howsoever, a queen dwell, if not in the courts of great princes? of so great a spirit could not want strength or what can the treasures of monarchs pur of favour and faction in the Persian court, chase more invaluably precious, than learn which could not but take fire at so despeed and judicious attendance? or who can rate a motion. Faithful statesmen, overbe so fit for honour as the wisest?
looking private respects, must bend their I doubt how Ahasuerus could have been eyes upon public dangers, labouring to preso great, if his throne had not been still com. | vent a common mischief, though with the passed with them that knew the times, and adventure of their own. Nature had taught understood the law and judgment. These | these pagans the necessity of a female subwere his oracles in all his doubts; these arejection, and the hate and scorn of a proud now consulted in this difficulty: neither disobedience. They have unlearned the must their advice be secretly whispered in very dictates of nature, that can abide the the king's ear, but publicly delivered in the head to be set below the rib. audience of all the princes. It is a perilous I cannot say but Vashti was worthy of a way that these sages are called to go, be- sharp censure; I cannot say she was wortwixt a husband and wife, especially of such thy a repudiation. This plaster drew too power and eminency: yet Memucan fears hard : it was but heathen justice to punish not to pass a heavy sentence against queen the wife's disobedience, in one indifferent Vashti : “ Vashti the queen hath not done act, with a divorce. Nothing but the viowrong to the king only, but also to all the lation of the marriage-bed can either break princes, and all the people, that are in all or untie ine knot of marriage. Had she the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.” A not been a queen, had not that contempdeep and sore crimination. Injuries are so tuous act been public, the sentence had not much more intolerable, as they are dilated | been so hard: now the punishment must unto more: those offences, which are of be exemplary, lest the sin should be so. narrow extent, may receive an easy satisfac. Many a one had smarted less, if their pertion; the amends are not possible, where sons, if their place, had been meaner. the wrong is universal : “ For this deed of The king, the princes, approve this heavy the queen shall come abroad to all women, judgment of Memucan: it is not in the so that they shall despise their husbands in power of the fair face of Vashti to warrant their eyes.” Indeed, so public a fact must her stomach. No doubt, many messages needs fly; that concourse gave fit oppor- passed ere the rigour of this execution. tunity to diffuse it all the world over. The That great heart knows not to relent, but examples of the great are easily drawn into will rather break, than yield to an humble rules. Bad lessons are apt to be taken out; deprecation. When the stone and the steel as honour, so contempt, falls down from the meet, fire is stricken : it is a soft answer head to the skirts, never ascends from the that appeaseth wrath. Vashti is cast off. skirts to the head.
Letters are sent from the king, into all his These wise men are so much the more provinces, to command that every man sensible of this danger, as they saw it more should rule at home: the court-affords them likely the case might prove their own: an awful pattern of authority. Had not “ Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Ahasuerus doted much upon Vashti's beauMedia say this day unto all the kings and | ty, he had not called her forth at the feast princes." The first precedents of evil must to be wondered at by his peers and people ; be carefully avoided. If we care to keep a yet now he so feels the wound of his reconstant order in good, prudence cannot putation, that he forgets he ever felt any better bestir itself than in keeping mischief wound of his affection. Even the greatest from home.
love may be overstrained: it is not safe The foundation of this doom of Memucan presuming upon the deepest assurances of is not laid so deep for nothing: “ If it | dearness. There is no heart that may not please the king, let there go a royal com- | be estranged. It is not possible that great
princes should want soothing up in all their must be six months purified with the oil of inclinations, in all their actions. While myrrh, and six other months perfumed with Ahasuerus is following the chase of his am- sweet odours, besides those special receipts bition in the wars of Greece, his followers that were allowed to each upon their own are providing for his lust at home. Nothing election. O God, what care, what cost is could sound more pleasing to a carnal ear, requisite to that soul which should be ad. than that all the fair young virgins, through- dressed a fit bride for thine own holy and out all his dominions, should be gathered glorious Majesty! When we have scoured into his palace at Shushan, for his assay ourselves with the most cleansing oil of our and choice. The decree is soon published: repentance, and have perfumed ourselves the charge is committed to Hege, the king's with thy best graces, and our perfectest chamberlain, both of their purification and obedience, it is the only praise of thy mercy ornaments.
| that we may be accepted. What strife, what emulation, was now The other virgins passed their probation amongst all the Persian damsels, that either unregarded. When Esther's turn came, were, or thought themselves fair! Every though she required nothing, but took what one hopes to be a queen, and sees no rea- was given her; though she affected nothing, son why any other should be thought more but brought that face, that demeanour which excellent. How happy were we, if we could nature had cast upon her, no eye sees her be so ambitious of our espousals to the without admiration : the king takes such King of heaven!
I pleasure in her beauty, that, contemning all Amongst all this throng of virgins, God the other vulgar forms, his choice is fully hath provided a wife for Abasuerus, baving fixed upon her. All things must prosper, determined his choice, where most advan. where God hath intended the success. The tage shall rise to his forlorn people. most wise providence of the Almighty
The Jews were miserably scattered over fetches his projects from far: the preserva. the world, in that woful deportation under tion and advantage of his own people is in Jeconiah; scarce a handful of them return. | hand; for the contriving of this, Vashti shall ed to Jerusalem; the rest remain still dis- be abandoned, the virgins shall be chosen; persed, where they may but have leave to Esther only shall please Ahasuerus; Mor. live. There are many thousands of them decai shall displease Haman; Haman's ruin turned over, with the Babylonian monarchy, shall raise Mordecai. The purposes of God to the Persian : amongst the rest was Mor. cannot be judged by his remote actions ; decai the son of Jair, of the tribe of Ben- only the accomplishment shows his designs: jamin-a man of no mean note or ability, in the meantime, it pleaseth him to look who, living in Shushan, had brought up another way than he moves, and to work Hadassah, or Esther, his uncle's daughter, his own ends by arbitrary and unlikely acin a liberal fashion. It was happy for this cidents. orphan, that, in a region of captivity, she | None but Esther shall succeed Vashti; lighted into such good hands. Her wise she only carries the heart of Ahasuerus kinsman finds it fit, that her breeding and from all her sex; the royal crown is set habit should be Persian-like: in outward upon her head; and as Vashti was cast off at and civil forms, there was no need to vary a feast, so with a solemn feast shall Esther from the heathen; her religion must be her be espoused. Here wanted no triumph to own; the rest was so altogether theirs, that express the joy of this great bridegroom, her very nation was not discerned.
and, that the world might witness he could The same God, that had given incom- | be no less loving than severe, all his proparable beauty to this Jewess, gave her also vinces shall feel the pleasure of this happr favour in the eyes of Hege, the keeper of match, in their immunities, in their rich the women: she is not only taken into the gifts. Persian court, as one of the selected vir. With what envious eyes do we think gins, but observed with more than ordinary Vashti looked upon her glorious rival! how respect : all necessaries for her speedy pu- does she now, though too late, secretly rification are brought to her; seven maidschide her peevish will, that had thus stript are allowed for her attendance, and the best her of her royal crown, and made way for and most honourable place in that seraglio a more happy successor! Little did she is allotted to her; as if this great officer had think her refusal could have had so heinous designed her for a queen, before the choice | a construction; little did she fear, that one of his master.
word, perhaps not ill. neant, should have What strange preparation was here for forfeited her husband, her crown, and all the impure bed of a heathen! Every virgin that she was. Whoso is not wise enough