Page images

he is God.” It is said of Gregory, that feeling a special interest in the welfare of the Angles, he was on his way to England as a missionary in 590, when he was taken back to Rome and declared the successor of Leo. But the name of Gregory will afterwards appear in connection with the efforts that were made to bring the early Christian inhabitants of Britain under the Roman yoke.

We have already seen that the spread of Christianity during these two centuries had been actively carried on. Both among the northern and western nations the work was steadily going forward. Nations unconquered by the Romans were becoming subject to Christ. Where the Roman standard had never been planted the gospel banner was unfurled.

Among the Goths and other northern nations the gospel had found a door of entrance, but it was introduced in many cases by the Arians, who were ever active in disseminating their own form of Christianity. Franks and Saxons in the west were disowning their heathen gods and professing adherence to Christ. As the light of the morning or eastern sun dispels the darkness of the preceding night, so did the light of the star in the east—the light of the sun of righteousness-gradually dispel the heathen darkness in which our ancestors were enveloped, and shine upon our native shores. “ The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and they who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light shined.”

Most interesting of all chapters of early British history is that which tells us of the dawu of Christianity upon our own land. Previous to this time the true light had shone on some lonely parts of our island home, but it was about the beginning of the fifth century that the day began to break and the shadows of heathen darkness and superstition to pass away. Ninian seems to have been one of the first Christian missionaries who laboured in Scotland. Having Hwitern, now called Whithorn, in the south of Galloway, as his headquarters about the year 400, his work of preaching the gospel and enlightening the people was not confined to Galloway, but was carried on by him and his successors along the western shores of Scotland, as far north as Glasgow, where a monastery was erected by Kentigern or Mungo. By means of these pioneers the way was gradually prepared for Palladius, Columba, Augustine, and others. It seems that the northern shores of Ireland, the western shores of Scotland, and the Northumbrian shores of England were chiefly favoured with the labours of these early Christian missionaries.

Palladius was sent by Bishop Celestine to the Scots in the north of Ireland, in 431, but it is generally supposed that he also laboured in various parts of Scotland. Of moderate scholarship and little energy, he laboured for a short time with but little success in Ireland. Thence he came to Scotland, and died at Fordoun, in Mearns. It is to be feared, however, that Palladius' chief aim was to draw the early Christians away from the simplicity of their faith and worship into a complete submission to the authority of the Roman bishop, and it is gratifying to know that his success in this direction was but little. He was succeeded by Patrick, a man of greater worth and more ability, in 432. There is no name in connection with the early history of Christianity in our land that has given rise to so much diversity of opinion. Some contend there was only one Patrick, others say that there were two or even three missionaries known by this name. Others again take an easy, if not a satisfactory, way of getting out of the difficulty, by telling us that there was no Patrick at all. It is said that he was a Scot by birth, and there can be no doubt that Ireland was the scene of his labours. Labouring there with great zeal and success, he founded 365 churches, and ordained 365 bishops and 3000 presbyters or elders. This implies that there was a bishop for every church and about eight elders to every bishop. This is according to the authority of Archbishop Usher, himself a prelate, and it clearly proves that the form of church government common in those days is certainly no argument in favour of that hierarchy laid down by the papacy and prelacy in later times. To a bishop or spiritual overseer over every congregation, as in the days of Patrick, there can be no objection, for this is scriptural, and it is a true saying, “ If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work."

This brings us to what is usually termed the history of the Church during the dark and middle ages. But from, what we have seen of the early Christian Church, it is evident that if Britain be at all indebted to Rome for the introduction of Christianity to her shores, it is to those fires of persecution that were kindled in her midst, and which have ever been productive of her good. The Word has prevailed not by the devices of man, but by the power of Him who has promised that it shall not return unto Him void, but accomplish that which He pleaseth, and prosper in the thing whereto He has sent it. For this purpose He overrules the wrath of man, and causes the Church to sing, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain."

[ocr errors]


ESTHER iv. v. From India to Ethiopia extended the dominion of Xerxes. Beyond these extreme points some casual members of the Hebrew race might perhaps have been found; but certainly the nation, as a nation, was in the grasp of the tyrant. Without a thought of the wickedness of the deed, he had given consent to its utter annihilation. In the northern portions of Assyria, around the Caspian Sea, were the remains of the ten tribes brought from Samaria ; while in Chaldea were located the captives carried from Judah and Benjamin, or their descendants. All these, as well as the Jews who had returned to Palestine, and other small clusters of them in various cities of Asia and Africa, appear to have been included in the dreadful decree. As the royal couriers conveyed it from province to province, and from city to city, the tidings rung in the ears of the devoted race like the trump of doom. Every Jewish face grew pale with horror, and every Jewish heart throbbed with fear. Weeping and wailing were heard night and day in their dwellings, and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

At the first intimation of the passing of the dreadful edict, Mordecai rent his garments, and, clothing himself with the dress of a mourner, went through the streets uttering a loud and bitter cry, which he repeated opposite the very gates of the palace. None might enter its court with mourning dress upon them. The kings of Persia thus shut out, as far as they could, everything from their vision which might recall painful thoughts, or remind them of their own mortality. And too many there are of every rank and in every age, who thus deliberately avert their eyes from what might suggest serious thought, and pass their days amidst unceasing mirth, or in mad jollity, as if thus they could cheat death and the grave of their portion. The truly wise take another course. Foreseeing the coming crisis they prepare for it in time.

Some servants of the Queen, who knew of her relationship to Mordecai, hastened to inform her of his distress. Instantly she despatched to bim proper raiment, and directed her messengers to entreat him to accept it in lieu of his sackcloth and ashes. They had to carry back the tidings that he would not receive her gift. Summoning then a confidential chamberlain, named Hatach, she sent him to ascertain what was amiss. To him Mordecai narrated the whole matter, and gave him for Esther a copy of the decree ordering the destruction of the Jews. To this was added a special request that she would appear before the monarch, and petition for the sparing of her people.

Poor Esther was thus thrown into great perplexity. For a whole month her husband had never once asked to see her; and not even the Queen herself might dare to enter his presence uncalled without running the risk of losing life, unless indeed the King should hold out to his visitor the golden sceptre in token of his grace.

With this

explanation Hatach was charged to see Mordecai again, but only to receive for Esther a more imperative injunction :-“Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place ; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed : and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this ? "

Shut up thus to one only course, the resolution of the Queen was taken without delay. The chamberlain was directed to say to her cousin “Go, gather together all the Jews presently in Shushan, and fast


me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day? I also and my maidens will fast likewise ; and so will I go unto the King, which is not according to law : and if I perish, I perish." And Mordecai immediately proceeded to carry her wishes into effect.

Woman often rises above man in the hour of trial, and in Esther there were found courage and devotion sufficient for the terrible crisis. She had the heavenly wisdom, however, which guided her to the adoption of the best means for securing the accomplishment of her aim. With the fasting to which she directed the Jews of Shushan, and to which she gave herself and her maidens, there was without doubt intermingled much earnest prayer. The union of supplications for the one object was a practical application in Old Testament times of the New Testament promise—“ If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” Esther knew well that the King's heart was in the hand of the Lord, and that He could turn it according to His will. She was well aware that protection and support in her difficult undertaking could be had from God alone. To Jehovah therefore she appealed, and got many others to unite in appealing on her behalf and their own. In lowliest abasement the suppliants within the palace and without prostrated themselves before the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. They besought the outstretching of the same Almighty Arm that had broken Egypt to pieces, and made a way in the sea for the ransomed tribes to pass over.

Their prayers were offered, we may be certain, with their faces towards Jerusalem. From the altar at that sacred spot there now again ascended the smoke of divinely ordained sacrifices, pointing in prophetic type to the Lamb of God coming to be slain for the sin of the world. Their petitions offered thus in faith were not rejected. Their cry entered the ear of the Lord of Hosts, and secured a speedy response.

The closet, or the prayer meeting, is the battle-ground where the most important victories of earth have been won.

[ocr errors]


Is there a great revival in any neighbourhood—sleeping souls aroused, and dead souls quickened? Be sure that, as a rule, it has heen preceded by much earnest, personal, and social prayer. Is a wanderer seized, and led from the broad into the narrow way, where he tells of the peace and joy he has found, and where he labours for the glory of his God and Saviour ? Such a result comes not usually without many a longing cry from anxious friends, who had besieged the throne of the Eternal on his behalf. Is a feeble heart made strong to bear painful trials, to endure undeserved cruelties without a murmur, to breast with unflinching courage the wild waves of fiercest persecution? On bended knees strength has been sought and found. If, then, temptation beset us, if want stare us in the face, if vexation on vexation worry us, let us seek refuge in God. All we can require He can supply ; and He has said—“Ask, and ye shall receive."

The heart that has been dealing much with God in the way of truthful prayer will soon rise above the fear of man.

While supplications were still ascending from the assemblies of the fasting Jews in Shushan, Esther prepared to appear before the king. Robed in her royal garments, she advanced with all her native modesty and grace, between the lines of the soldiers and chamberlains, who guarded the entrance to the monarch's immediate presence. Her purple and white diadem proclaimed her Queen, and none therefore attempted to arrest her progress.

No sooner did her husband behold her, than feelings of tender love sprang in his bosom. He stretched out the golden sceptre; and she, making a lowly, loving obeisance, Grew near and touched its top. “What wilt thou, Queen Esther ? and what is thy request ? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom." So spoke her husband. With a winning smile, she replied that she simply desired the presence of the king and his prime minister at a banquet which she had prepared. The invitation was at once accepted. Haman was not in the palace at the moment, but the royal servants were directed to bring him without delay.

The banquet which had been provided was, without doubt, in all respects such as Esther knew would be relished by her lord. The viands would be of such richness and variety as became his royal ‘rank, and they would be prepared and laid out with all the skill and elegance which a fine taste and abundant means could supply. The King was greatly gratified ; and as he was enjoying himself, he asked his wife again what she wished, for it would not be withheld, even though she should demand the half of his dominions. Her answer was that she requested his presence with that of Haman at another banquet on the coming day; and she added that then she would lay

« PreviousContinue »