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that soul which should be addressed a fit bride for thine own holy and glorious Majesty!
When we have scoured ourselves with the cleanest oil of our repentance, and have perfumed ourselves with thy best graces, and our perfectest obedience, it is the only praise of thy mercy that we may be accepted. The
other virgins passed their probation unregarded. When Esther's turn came, though she required nothing, but took what was given her; though she affected nothing, but brought that face, that demeanour which nature had cast upon her, no eye sees her without admiration : the King takes such pleasure in her beauty, that, contemning all the other vulgar forms, his choice is fully fixed upon her. All things must prosper, where God hath intended the success. The most wise providence of the Almighty fetches his projects from far: the preparation and advantage of his own people is in hand; for the contriving of this, Vashti shall be abandoned, the virgins shall be chosen ; Esther only shall please Ahasuerus, Morderai shall displease Haman; Haman's ruin shall raise Mordecai. The purposes of God cannot be judged by his remote actions; only the accomplishment shows his designs ; in the mean time, it pleaseth him to look another way than he moves, and to work his own ends by arbitrary and unkindly accidents.
None but Esther shall succeed Vashti, she only carries the heart of Ahasuerus from all her sex ; the royal crown is set upon her head ; and as Vashti was cast off at a feast, so with a solemn feast shall Esther be espoused; here wanted no triumph to express the joy of this great bridegroom, and, that the world might witness he could be no less loving than severe, all his provinces shall feel the pleasure of this happy match, in their immunities, in their rich gifts.
With what envious eyes do we think Vashti looked upon her glorious rival! how doth she now, though too late, secretly chide her peevish will, that had thus stript her of her royal crown, and made way for a more happy successor ! Little did she think her refusal could have had so heinous a construction ; little did she fear, that one word, perhaps not ill meant, should have forfeited her husband, her crown, and all that she was. Whoso is not wise enough to forecast the danger of an offence, or indiscretion, may have leisure enough of an unseasonable repentance.
That mind is truly great and noble that is not changed with the highest prosperity ; queen Esther cannot forget her cousin Mordecai ; no pomp can make her slight the charge of so dear a kinsman: in all her royalty she casts her eye upon him amongst the throng of beholders, but she must not know him ; her obedience keeps her in awe, and will not suffer her to draw him up with her to the participation of her honour: it troubles her not a little to forbear this duty, but she must; it is enough for her, that Mordecai hath commanded her not be known, who, or whose she was.
Perhaps the wise Jew feared, that, while her honour was yet green and unsettled, the notice of her nation, and the name of a despised captive, might be some blemish to her in that proud court; whereas afterwards, upon the merit of her carriage, and the full possession of all hearts, her name might dignify her nation, and countermand all reproaches. Mordecai was an officer in the court of Ahasuerus
; his service called him daily to attend in the king's gate; much better might he, being a Jew, serve a Pagan master, than his foster-daughter might ascend to a Pagan's bed.
If the necessity or convenience of his occasions called him to serve, his piety and religion called him to faithfulness in his service : two of the king's chamberlains, Bigthana and Teresh, conspire against the life of their sovereign. No greatness can secure from treachery or violence: he that ruled over millions of men, through a hundred and seven and twenty provinces, cannot assure himself from the hand of a villain ; he, that had the power of other men's lives, is in danger of his own. Happy is that man that is once possessed of a crown incorruptible, unfadeable, reserved for him in heaven : no force, no reason can reach thither; there can be no peril of either violence or forfeiture.
The likeliest defence of the person of any prince is the fidelity of his attendants: Mordecai overhears the whispering of these wicked conspirators, and reveals it to Esther; she (as glad of such an opportunity to commend unto Ahasuerus the loyalty of him whom she durst but secretly honour) reveals it to the king ; the circumstances are examined, the plot is discovered, the traitors executed, the service recorded in the Persian annals. A good foundation is thus laid for Mordecai's advancement, which yet is not over-hastened on either part ; worthy dispositions labour only to deserve well, leaving the care of their remuneration to them whom it concerns: it is fit that God's leisure should be attended in all his designments. The hour is set when Mordecai shall be raised: if in the mean time there be an intervention, not only of neglect, but of fears and dangers, all these shall make his honour so much more sweet, more precious.
HAMAN DISRESPECTED BY MORDECAI ; MORDECAI'S
MESSAGE TO ESTHER. BESIDES the charge of his office, the care of Esther's prosperity calls Mordecai to the king's gate, and fixes him there: with what inward contentment did he think of his so royal pupil! Here I sit among my fellows; little doth the world think that mine adopted child sits in the throne of Persia ; that the great empress of the world owes herself to me: I might have more honour, I could not have so much secret comfort, if all Shushan knew what interest I have in
While his heart is taken up with these thoughts, who should come ruffling by him, but the new-raised favourite of king Ahasuerus, Haman the son of Amedatha the Agagite! him hath the great king unexpectedly advanced, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. The gracious respects of princes are not always led by merit, but by their own will, which is ever affected to be so much the freer, as themselves would be held more great.
When the sun shines upon the dial, every passenger will be looking at it; there needed no command of reverence where Ahasuerus was pleased to countenance ; all knees will bow alone, even to forbidden idols of honour ; how much more where royal authority enjoins obeisance! All the servants, all the subjects of king Ahasuerus, are willingly prostrate before this great minion of their sovereign ; only Mordecai stands stiff
, as if he saw nothing more than a man in that proud Agagite.
They are not observed that do as the most, but if any one man shall vary from the multitude, all eyes are turned upon him : "Mordecai's fellow-officers note this palpable irreverence, and expostulate it ; “Why transgressest thou the king's commandment ?” Considerest thou not how far this affront reacheth ? it is not the person of Haman whom thou refusest to adore, but the king in him : neither do we regard so much the man, as the command ; let him be never so vile whom the king bids to be honoured, with what safety can a subject examine the charge, or resist it? his unworthiness cannot dispense with our loyalty.
What a dangerous wilfulness should it be to incur the forfeiture of thy place, of thy life, for a courtesy ! If thou wilt not Þow with others, expect to suffer alone ; perhaps they thought this omission was unheedy, in a case of ignorance or incogitancy; it was
a friendly office to admonish ; the sight of the error had been the remedy.
Mordecai hears their challenge, their advice, and thinks good to answer both with silence, as willing they should imagine his inflexibleness proceeded from a resolution, and that resolution upon some secret grounds, which he needed not impart: at last yet he imparts thus much, Let it suffice that I am a Jew, and Haman an Amalekite.
After a private expostulation, the continuance of that open neglect is construed for a sullen obstinacy; and now the monitors themselves grow sensible of the contempt : men are commonly impatient to lose the thank of their endeavours, and are prone to hate whom they cannot reform. Partly therefore to pick a thank, and partly to revenge this contumacy, these officers turn informers against Mordecai, neither meant to make the matter fairer than it was; they tell Haman, how proud and stubborn a Jew sat amongst them; how ill they could brook so saucy an affront to be offered to his greatness ; how seriously they had expostulated, how stomachfully the offender persisted ; and beseech him that he would be pleased, in his next passage, to cast some glances that way, and but observe the passion of that intolerable insolency. The proud Agagite cannot long endure the very expectation of such an indignity: on purpose doth he stalk thither, with higher than his ordinary steps, snuffing up the air
and would see the man that durst deny reverence to the greatest prince of Persia.
Mordecai holds his old posture, only he is so much more careless, as he sees Haman more disdainful and imperious ; neither of them goes about to hide his passion ; one looked, as if he had said, I hate the pride of Haman, the other looked, as if he had said, I will plague the contempt of Mordecai. How did the eyes of Haman sparkle with fury, and as it were dart out deadly beams in the face of that despiteful Jew! how did he swell with indignation, and then again wax pale