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PREACHED AT THE TEMPLE.
ESTHER iv. 16.
Go and assemble all the Jews that are found in Shushan, and fast ye for me,
and eat not, nor drink in three days, day nor night: I also, and my maids will fast likewise ; and so also I will go in to the king, which is not
according to the law: And if I perish, I perish, Next to the eternal and co-essential word of God, Christ Jesus, the written word of God, the Scriptures concern us most; and therefore next to the person of Christ, and his offices, the devil hath troubled the church with most questions about the certainty of Scriptures, and the canon thereof. It was late, before the spirit of God settled and established an unanime, and general consent in his church, for the accepting of this Book of Esther: for, not only the holy Bishop Melito (who defended the Christians by an apology to the emperor) removed this book from the canon of the Scripture, one hundred and fifty years after Christ, but Athanasius also, three hundred and forty years after Christ, refused it too : yea, Gregory Nazianzen (though he deserved, and had the style and title of Theologus, the divine ; and though he came to clearer times, living almost four hundred years after Christ) did not yet submit himself to an acceptation of this book. But a long time there hath been no doubt of it; and it is certainly part of that Scripture which is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, and to instruct in righteousness'. To which purpose, we shall see what is afforded us in this history of this heroical woman, Esther ; what she did in a perplexed and scrupulous case, when an evident danger appeared, and an evident law was against her action; and from thence consider, what every Christian soul ought to do, when it is surprised and overtaken with any such scruples or difficulties to the conscience.
For Esther in particular, this was her case. She being wife to the king, Haman, who had great power with the king, had got from him an edict, for the destruction of all her people the Jews. When this was intimated to her by Mordecai, who pre
1 2 Tim. iii. 16.
sented to her conscience, not only an irreligious forsaking of God, if she forbore to mediate and use her interest in the king for the saving of hers, and God's people ; but an unnatural and unprovident forsaking of herself, because her danger was involved in theirs; and that she herself being of that nation, could not be safe in her person, though in the king's house, if that edict were executed, though she had not then so ordinary access to the king, as formerly she had had : yea, though there were a law in her way, that she might not come till she was called, yet she takes the resolution to go, she puts off all passion, and all particular respects, she consecrates the whole action to God: and having in a rectified and well informed conscience found it acceptable to him, she neglects both that particular law, That none might have access to the king uncalled, and that general law, That every man is bound to preserve himself; and she exposes herself to an imminent, and (for any thing she knew) an unescapable danger of death: If I perish, I perish.
For the ease of all our memories, we shall provide best, by contracting all, which we are to handle, to these two parts; Esther's preparation, and Esther's resolution : how she disposed herself, how she resolved: what her consultation was, what her execution was to be. Her preparation is an humiliation ; and there, first she prepares, that that glory which God should receive, by that humiliation, should be general; all the people should be taught, and provoked to glorify God; Vade congrega, Go, and assemble all. Secondly, The act which they were to do, was to fast, Jejunate : and thirdly, It was a limited fast, Tribus diebus, Eat not, nor drink in three days, and three nights : and then, this fast of theirs, was with relation, and respect to her, Jejunate super me, Fast ye for me. But yet so, as she would not receive an ease by their affliction ; put them to do it for her, and she do nothing for herself; Ego cum ancillus ; I and my maids will fast too : and similiter, likewise, that is, as exactly as they shall. And so far extends her preparation: her resolution derives itself into two branches. First, That she will break an human and positive law, Ingrediar contra legem, I will go in, though it be not according to the law; and secondly, She neglects even the law of nature, the law of self-preservation, Si peream peream.
To enter into the first part, the assembling of the people ; though the occasion and purpose here were religious, yet the assembling of them was a civil act, an act of jurisdiction and authority. Almost all states have multiplied laws against assemblies of people, by private authority, though upon pretences of religious occasions. All conventicles, all assemblies, must have this character, this impression upon them, that they be legitima, lawful : and, legitima sola sunt, quæ habent authoritatem principis, only those are lawful which are made by the authority of the state. Aspergebatur infamia Alcibiades, quod in domo suo facere mysteria dicebatur. There went an ill report of him, because he had sacrifices, and other worships of the gods, at home in his own house : and this was not imputed to him, as a schismatical thing, or an act of a different religion from the state, but an act of disaffection to the state, and of sedition. In times of persecution, when no exercise of true religion is admitted, these private meetings may not be denied to be lawful: as for bodily sustenance, if a man could no otherwise avoid starving, the schoolmen, and the casuists, resolve truly, that it were no sin to steal so much meat as would preserve life ; so, those souls, which without that, must necessarily starve, may steal their spiritual food in corners, and private meetings : but if we will steal either of these foods, temporal or spiritual, because that meat which we may have, is not so dressed, so dished, so sauced, so served in, as we would have it; but accompanied with some other ceremonies than are agreeable to our taste; this is an inexcusable theft, and these are pernicious conventicles.
When that law was made by Darius”, that no man for thirty days should ask any thing of God or man, but only of the king; though it were a law that had all circumstances to make it no law, yet Daniel took no occasion by this, to induce any new manner of worshipping of God; he took no more company with him to affront the law, or exasperate the magistrate ; only he did as he had used to do before ; and he did not disguise, nor conceal that which he did, but he set open his windows, and prayed in his chamber. But in tliese private conventicles, where they will not live coto aperto, that is, pray so, as that they would be content to
? Dan. vi.
be heard what they pray for; as the Jews in those Christian countries, where they are allowed their synagogues, pray against Edom, and Edomites by name, but they mean (as appears in their private catechisms) by Edom, and Edomites, the Christian church, and Christian magistracy; so when these men pray in their conventicles, for the confusion, and rooting out of idolatry and antichrist, they intend by their idolatry, a cross in baptism ; and by their antichrist, a man in a surplice ; and not only the persons, but the authority that admits this idolatry, and this antichristianism. As vapours and winds shut up in vaults, engender earthquakes; so these particular spirits in their vaultprayers, and cellar-service, shake the pillars of state and church. Domus mea, domus orationis; and Domus orationis, domus mea : My house is the house of prayer, says God; and so the house of prayer must be his house. The centurion, of whom Christ testified, That he had not found so great faith eten in Israel”; thought not himself worthy, that Christ should come under his roof; and these men think no roof, but theirs, fit for Christ; no, not the roof of his own house, the church : for I speak not of those meetings, where the blessed children of God join in the house, to worship God in the same manner, as is ordained in the church, or in a manner agreeable to that: such religious meetings as these, God will give a blessing to; but when such meetings are in opposition, and detestation of church-service, though their purpose, which come thither, do not always intend sedition, yet they may easily think, that none of those disciples is so ill a natural logician, but that he comes quickly to this conclusion, that if those exercises be necessary to their salvation, that state that denies them those exercises deals unjustly with them: and when people are brought to that disaffection, it is not always in their power that brought them together so far, to settle them or hold them from going farther. In this case which we have in hand, of Esther and Mordecai's assembling all the Jews in Shusan, which was the principal city of Persia, where the residence of the princes was, (Persepolis was a metropolitan city too ; but only for the treasure, and for the sepulchres of their kings; but the court was at Shusan.) If when they had been
3 Matt. viii. 10.
assembled, and their desperate case presented to them, that an edict of a general massacre was going out against them, was it not more likely (judging humanly, and by comparison of like cases) that they would have turned to take arms, rather than to fast and pray for their deliverance: how good soever their pretence (and perchance purpose) be, that assemble people, and discontent them, the bridle, the stern, is no longer in their hands; but there arise unexpected storms, of which, if they were not authors in their purpose, yet they are the occasioners? In Esther's case, the proceeding was safe enough ; for they were called to see, that the queen herself had undertaken their deliverance, their deliverance was very likely to be effected; and therefore it became them to assist her purpose with their devotion, expressed first in fasting.
Fasting is not a mere human imposition, as some have calumniated it to be: the commandments of it are frequent from God to his people, and the practice of it even amongst the Ninevites, upon Jonah's preaching, is expressed to be rigid and severe, Let neither man nor beast taste any thing, nor feed, nor drink water, but let man and beast put on sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God“, It is true, that they found often that their fasts did no good; but when they expostulate it with God, Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest it not, we have punished ourselves, and thou regardest it not"; they received a direct answer from God, Behold, in the days of your fast you seek your own will, and require all your debts; when ye fasted and mourned, did ye fast unto meo? To place therefore any part of our righteousness, or to dignify the act of fasting, with the name of merit or satisfaction, did then, and will always corrupt and alter the nature of a true and acceptable fast: and therefore we detest the definition of a fast in the Roman church, Abstinentia secundum formam ecclesia, intuitu satis faciendi, pro peccatis, et acquirendi vitum æternum; That fasting is a satisfaction for sins, and an acquisition of life everlasting. But since the reason of fasting remains, the practice must remain still : for when Christ excused his apostles for not fasting, as the disciples of John Baptist, and as the pharisees did,
* Jonah iii. 7.
5 Isaiah Lvii. 2.
Ezek. vii. 5.