"Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"--ESTHER iv. 14.
Esther the beautiful was the wife of Ahasuerus the abominable. The time had come for her to present a petition to her infamous husband in behalf of the Jewish nation, to which she had once belonged. She was afraid to undertake the work, lest she should lose her own life; but her uncle, Mordecai, who had brought her up, encouraged her with the suggestion that probably she had been raised up of God for that peculiar mission. "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Esther had her God-appointed work; you and I have ours. It is my business to tell you what style of men and women you ought to be in order that you meet the demand of the age in which God has cast your lot. If you have come expecting to hear abstractions discussed, or dry technicalities of religion glorified, you have come to the wrong church; but if you really would like to know what this age has a right to expect of you as Christian men and women, then I am ready in the Lord's name to look you in the face. When two armies have rushed into battle the officers of either army do not want a philosophical discussion about the chemical properties of human blood or the nature of gunpowder; they want some one to man the batteries and swab out the guns. And now, when all the forces of light and darkness, of heaven and hell, have plunged into the fight, it is no time to give ourselves to the definitions and formulas and technicalities and conventionalities of religion.
What we want is practical, earnest, concentrated, enthusiastic, and triumphant help.
I. In the first place, in order to meet the special demand of this age, you need to be an unmistakably aggressive Christian. Of half-and-half Christians we do not want any more. The Church of Jesus Christ will be better without ten thousand of them. They are the chief obstacle to the Church's advancement. I am speaking of another kind of Christian. All the appliances for your becoming an earnest Christian are at your hand, and there is a straight path for you into the broad daylight of God's forgiveness. You may have come into this Tabernacle the bondsmen of the world, and yet before you go out of these doors you may become princes of the Lord God Almighty. You remember what excitement there was in this country, years ago, when the Prince of Wales came here--how the people rushed out by hundreds of thousands to see him. Why? Because they expected that some day he would sit upon the throne of England. But what was all that honor compared with the honor to which God calls you--to be sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty; yea, to be queens and kings unto God? "They shall reign with Him forever and forever."
But, my friends, you need to be aggressive Christians, and not like those persons who spend their lives in hugging their Christian graces and wondering why they do not make any progress. How much robustness of health would a man have if he hid himself in a dark closet? A great deal of the piety of the day is too exclusive. It hides itself. It needs more fresh air, more out-door exercise. There are many Christians who are giving their entire life to self-examination. They are feeling their pulses to see what is the condition of their spiritual health. How long would a man have robust physical health if he kept all the days and weeks and months and years of his life feeling his pulse instead of going out into active, earnest, every-day work?
I was once amid the wonderful, bewitching cactus growths of North Carolina. I never was more bewildered with the beauty of flowers, and yet when I would take up one of these cactuses and pull the leaves apart, the beauty was all gone. You could hardly tell that it had ever been a flower. And there are a great many Christian people in this day just pulling apart their Christian experiences to see what there is in them, and there is nothing left in them. This style of self-examination is a damage instead of an advantage to their Christian character. I remember when I was a boy I used to have a small piece in the garden that I called my own, and I planted corn there, and every few days I would pull it up to see how fast it was growing. Now, there are a great many Christian people in this day whose self-examination merely amounts to the pulling up of that which they only yesterday or the day before planted.
O my friends! if you want to have a stalwart Christian character, plant it right out of doors in the great field of Christian usefulness, and though storms may come upon it, and though the hot sun of trial may try to consume it, it will thrive until it becomes a great tree, in which the fowls of heaven may have their habitation. I have no patience with these flower-pot Christians. They keep themselves under shelter, and all their Christian experience in a small, exclusive circle, when they ought to plant it in the great garden of the Lord, so that the whole atmosphere could be aromatic with their Christian usefulness. What we want in the Church of God is more brawn of piety.
The century plant is wonderfully suggestive and wonderfully beautiful, but I never look at it without thinking of its parsimony. It lets whole generations go by before it puts forth one blossom; so I have really more heartfelt admiration when I see the dewy tears in the blue eyes of the violets, for they come every spring. My Christian friends, time is going by so rapidly that we can not afford to be idle.
A recent statistician says that human life now has an average of only thirty-two years. From these thirty-two years you must subtract all the time you take for sleep and the taking of food and recreation; that will leave you about sixteen years. From those sixteen years you must subtract all the time that you are necessarily engaged in the earning of a livelihood; that will leave you about eight years. From those eight years you must take all the days and weeks and months--all the length of time that is passed in childhood and sickness, leaving you about one year in which to work for God. Oh, my soul, wake up! How darest thou sleep in harvest-time and with so few hours in which to reap? So that I state it as a simple fact that all the time that the vast majority of you will have for the exclusive service of God will be less than one year!
"But," says some man, "I liberally support the Gospel, and the church is open and the Gospel is preached: all the spiritual advantages are spread before men, and if they want to be saved, let them come to be saved; I have discharged all my responsibility." Ah! is that the Master's spirit? Is there not an old Book somewhere that commands us to go out into the highways and the hedges and compel the people to come in? What would have become of you and me if Christ had not come down off the hills of heaven, and if He had not come through the door of the Bethlehem caravansary, and if He had not with the crushed hand of the crucifixion knocked at the iron gate of the sepulcher of our spiritual death, crying, "Lazarus, come forth"? Oh, my Christian friends, this is no time for inertia, when all the forces of darkness seem to be in full blast; when steam printing-presses are publishing infidel tracts; when express railroad trains are carrying messengers of sin; when fast clippers are laden with opium and rum; when the night-air of our cities is polluted with the laughter that breaks up from the ten thousand saloons of dissipation and abandonment; when the fires of the second death already are kindled in the cheeks of some who, only a little while ago, were incorrupt. Oh, never since the curse fell upon the earth has there been a time when it was such an unwise, such a cruel, such an awful thing for the Church to sleep! The great audiences are not gathered in the Christian churches; the great audiences are gathered in temples of sin--tears of unutterable woe their baptism, the blood of crushed hearts the awful wine of their sacrament, blasphemies their litany, and the groans of the lost world the organ dirge of their worship.
II. Again, if you want to be qualified to meet the duties which this age demands of you, you must on the one hand avoid reckless iconoclasm, and on the other hand not stick too much to things because they are old. The air is full of new plans, new projects, new theories of government, new theologies, and I am amazed to see how so many Christians want only novelty in order to recommend a thing to their confidence; and so they vacillate and swing to and fro, and they are useless, and they are unhappy. New plans--secular, ethical, philosophical, religious, cisatlantic, transatlantic--long enough to make a line reaching from the German universities to Great Salt Lake City. Ah, my brother, do not take hold of a thing merely because it is new. Try it by the realities of a Judgment Day.
But, on the other hand, do not adhere to any thing merely because it is old. There is not a single enterprise of the Church or the world but has sometimes been scoffed at. There was a time when men derided even Bible societies; and when a few young men met near a hay-stack in Massachusetts and organized the first missionary society ever organized in this country, there went laughter and ridicule all around the Christian Church. They said the undertaking was preposterous. And so also the work of Jesus Christ was assailed. People cried out, "Who ever heard of such theories of ethics and government? Who ever noticed such a style of preaching as Jesus has?" Ezekiel had talked of mysterious wings and wheels. Here came a man from Capernaum and Gennesaret, and he drew his illustration from the lakes, from the sand, from the ravine, from the lilies, from the corn-stalks. How the Pharisees scoffed! How Herod derided! How Caiaphas hissed! And this Jesus they plucked by the beard, and they spat in his face, and they called him "this fellow!" All the great enterprises in and out of the Church have at times been scoffed at, and there have been a great multitude who have thought that the chariot of God's truth would fall to pieces if it once got out of the old rut.
And so there are those who have no patience with anything like improvement in church architecture, or with anything like good, hearty, earnest church singing, and they deride any form of religious discussion which goes down walking among every-day men rather than that which makes an excursion on rhetorical stilts. Oh, that the Church of God would wake up to an adaptability of work! We must admit the simple fact that the churches of Jesus Christ in this day do not reach the great masses. There are fifty thousand people in Edinburgh who never hear the Gospel. There are one million people in London who never hear the Gospel. There are at least three hundred thousand souls in the city of Brooklyn who come not under the immediate ministrations of Christ's truth; and the Church of God in this day, instead of being a place full of living epistles, read and known of all men, is more like a "dead-letter" post-office.
"But," say the people, "the world is going to be converted; you must be patient; the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms of Christ," Never, unless the Church of Jesus Christ puts on more speed and energy. Instead of the Church converting the world, the world is converting the Church. Here is a great fortress. How shall it be taken? An army comes and sits around about it, cuts off the supplies, and says: "Now we will just wait until from exhaustion and starvation they will have to give up." Weeks and months, and perhaps a year, pass along, and finally the fortress surrenders through that starvation and exhaustion. But, my friends, the fortresses of sin are never to be taken in that way. If they are taken for God it will be by storm; you will have to bring up the great siege guns of the Gospel to the very wall and wheel the flying artillery into line, and when the armed infantry of heaven shall confront the battlements you will have to give the quick command, "Forward! Charge!"
Ah, my friends, there is work for you to do and for me to do in order to this grand accomplishment! Here is my pulpit, and I preach in it. Your pulpit is the bank. Your pulpit is the store. Your pulpit is the editorial chair. Your pulpit is the anvil. Your pulpit is the house scaffolding. Your pulpit is the mechanic's shop. I may stand in this place and, through cowardice or through self-seeking, may keep back the word I ought to utter; while you, with sleeve rolled up and brow besweated with toil, may utter the word that will jar the foundations of heaven with the shout of a great victory. Oh, that this morning this whole audience might feel that the Lord Almighty was putting upon them the hands of ordination. I tell you, every one, go forth and preach this gospel. You have as much right to preach as I have, or as any man has. Only find out the pulpit where God will have you preach, and there preach.
Hedley Vicars was a wicked man in the English army. The grace of God came to him. He became an earnest and eminent Christian. They scoffed at him, and said: "You are a hypocrite; you are as bad as ever you were." Still he kept his faith in Christ, and after awhile, finding that they could not turn him aside by calling him a hypocrite, they said to him: "Oh, you are nothing but a Methodist." That did not disturb him. He went on performing his Christian duty until he had formed all his troop into a Bible-class, and the whole encampment was shaken with the presence of God. So Havelock went into the heathen temple in India while the English army was there, and put a candle into the hand of each of the heathen gods that stood around in the heathen temple, and by the light of those candles, held up by the idols, General Havelock preached righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. And who will say, on earth or in Heaven, that Havelock had not the right to preach?
In the minister's house where I prepared for college, there was a man who worked, by the name of Peter Croy. He could neither read nor write, but he was a man of God. Often theologians would stop in the house--grave theologians--and at family prayers Peter Croy would be called upon to lead; and all those wise men sat around, wonder-struck at his religious efficiency. When he prayed he reached up and seemed to take hold of the very throne of the Almighty, and he talked with God until the very heavens were bowed down into the sitting-room. Oh, if I were dying I would rather have plain Peter Croy kneel by my bedside and commend my immortal spirit to God than the greatest archbishop, arrayed in costly canonicals. Go preach this Gospel. You say you are not licensed. In the name of the Lord Almighty, this morning, I license you. Go preach this Gospel--preach it in the Sabbath-schools, in the prayer-meetings, in the highways, in the hedges. Woe be unto you if you preach it not.
III. I remark, again, that in order to be qualified to meet your duty in this particular age you want unbounded faith in the triumph of the truth and the overthrow of wickedness. How dare the Christian Church ever get discouraged? Have we not the Lord Almighty on our side? How long did it take God to slay the hosts of Sennacherib or burn Sodom or shake down Jericho? How long will it take God, when He once arises in His strength, to overthrow all the forces of iniquity? Between this time and that there may be long seasons of darkness--the chariot-wheels of God's Gospel may seem to drag heavily; but here is the promise, and yonder is the throne; and when Omniscience has lost its eyesight, and Omnipotence falls back impotent, and Jehovah is driven from His throne, then the Church of Jesus Christ can afford to be despondent, but never until then. Despots may plan and armies may march, and the congresses of the nations may seem to think they are adjusting all the affairs of the world, but the mighty men of the earth are only the dust of the chariot-wheels of God's providence.
I think that before the sun of this century shall set the last tyranny will fall, and with a splendor of demonstration that shall be the astonishment of the universe God will set forth the brightness and pomp and glory and perpetuity of His eternal government. Out of the starry flags and the emblazoned insignia of this world God will make a path for His own triumph, and, returning from universal conquest, He will sit down, the grandest, strongest, highest throne of earth His footstool.
"Then shall all nations' song ascend To Thee, our Ruler, Father, Friend, Till heaven's high arch resounds again With 'Peace on earth, good will to men.'"
I preach this sermon because I want to encourage all Christian workers in every possible department. Hosts of the living God, march on! march on! His Spirit will bless you. His shield will defend you. His sword will strike for you. March on! march on! The despotism will fall, and paganism will burn its idols, and Mohammedanism will give up its false prophet, and Judaism will confess the true Messiah, and the great walls of superstition will come down in thunder and wreck at the long, loud blast of the Gospel trumpet. March on! march on! The besiegement will soon be ended. Only a few more steps on the long way; only a few more sturdy blows; only a few more battle cries, then God will put the laurel upon your brow, and from the living fountains of heaven will bathe off the sweat and the heat and the dust of the conflict. March on! march on! For you the time for work will soon be passed, and amid the outflashings of the judgment throne, and the trumpeting of resurrection angels, and the upheaving of a world of graves, and the hosanna and the groaning of the saved and the lost, we shall be rewarded for our faithfulness or punished for our stupidity. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting, and let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.