When the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon.
The Queen of Sheba
In this history, there are various points of view wherein the Queen of Sheba appears as a type and representation of the Church, as we know that Solomon is in many respects a striking type of Christ. We have illustrations of God’s dealings with His people, and of the workings of Divine grace, in the following particulars relating to the Queen of Sheba.
I. The sovereignty of God’s election, and the freeness of His covenant mercy and grace, are set forth in her being brought to the knowledge of the truth and being taught and led by the Spirit of God. The calling of God is not confined to any time or place or people. Rahab of Jericho, Ruth the Moabitess, Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, the King of Nineveh, and other interesting characters may be cited, along with this Queen of Sheba, to whom God came in the sovereignty and freeness of His grace.
II. We see in this history how the purposes of God are sure to be accomplished and fulfilled. In the lives of saints and holy men of old, whether in the Scriptures or in private biographies, many such wonderful leadings of Providence can be admired. Every child of God can tell of such in his own experience.
III. We observe in the experience of the Queen of Sheba the ordinary workings of the spirit of God in the heart. Hard questions arise when the mind thinks at all about spiritual things, and recur all through the Christian’s experience.
IV. The conduct of the Queen of Sheba is what ought to be the conduct of every soul in regard to Divine things.
V. As it was with the Queen of Sheba, so it is with every spirit-taught and spirit-led soul, as to the knowledge and adoration, and worship of Christ. (J. Macaulay, M. A.)
The Queen of Sheba
The Queen of Sheba was an earnest inquirer. She was not content with the reports which she had heard in her own land. She thought she knew something which even he could not answer. She would have her own questions put in her own way. That is what every earnest inquirer must insist upon. No man can ask another man’s questions. The inquiry is never the same; in substance it may be identical, but in spirit, in tone, in quality, there is always a critical point and measure of difference, which every man realises for himself, and must insist upon making clear to the person to whom his inquiries are addressed. The Queen of Sheba was herein a model inquirer. She came a long way to see Solomon. She travelled northward, mile by mile, day by day; and the miles seemed nothing, and the days flew away, because her heart was full of a great hope that at last she would receive solutions to problems which had filled her with the spirit of unrest. She put herself to trouble on her own spiritual account. Therefore she became a prepared listener. Persons who do not put themselves to trouble in order to have their case stated and considered are not in a fit position to receive communications from heaven. We must not be mere receivers; we must be suppliants intensely interested in our own prayers, and so enriched with patience and with the grace of rational expectation, that God may see us in a waiting posture, and know that we are tarrying until the door open, or the answer in some way come. The Queen of Sheba represented the common desire of the world. The interview with the king was long-continued and marked by supreme confidence.
“She communed with him of all that was in her heart” (verse 2). We nowadays cannot get at people’s hearts. Civilisation has lent new resources to hypocrisy. We now put questions merely for the sake of putting them, and to such questions kind heaven is dumb. Jesus Christ answered some people “never a word.” He looked dumb. They were not speaking of what was in their hearts. Given a hearer who will tell the speaker all that is in his heart, and behold Jesus Himself will draw nigh, and, beginning at Moses, He will pursue His way through prophets and minstrels and all writers, until the listening heart glows with a warmth hitherto unknown. The great questions are in the heart. Let the heart speak its doubts and fears, tell its tale of perverseness, selfishness, littleness, relate all that is in its secret places, and force itself to put into words things that shame the heavens; then we shall see whether the gospel leaves unanswered the great questions of the soul. The Queen of Sheba saw with a trained eye that the accessories were in keeping with the central dignity: “And when the Queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, etc.” (verses 4, 5). This was fair reasoning. We may reason from within. Some cannot begin from the point that is within: for they have no experience that would warrant their assuming the right to reason from such an origin; but the open Bible is accessible to all men--namely, the open Bible of nature, life, and the whole scheme of providence. Jesus Christ often trained His disciples to reason Item the point that was external. The reasoning remains the same to-day in all its broadest effects. How very vividly the Queen of Sheba represented faith as overtaxed--“Howbeit I believed not the words” (verse 7). No wonder. And herein we should be gentle to those who on hearing the gospel, say, “How can these things be? Whence hath this man this wisdom? Never man spake like this Man!” But the Queen of Sheba also showed that imagination was overborne by fact: “Behold,” said she, “the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard” (verse 7). Here is truth again. This woman is true from the beginning of the interview unto the end. And all that Christ asks of us is to be true, and in our own way to say what we have seen Him do, and especially what we have seen Him do for ourselves. Nor could the Queen of Sheba limit her commendation and ecstasy to the king himself. Said she, “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom” (verse 8). And is the servant of Christ unblessed? Are they who are humblest and lowliest in all the Church without benefaction? Nay, do they not all live in the sunshine and eat at the hospitable table of God’s own summer? Is there a servant of Christ who has not a heaven of his own? We should be happier if we knew our privileges more. It is an awful thing to have outlived Christian privilege. What use did Jesus Christ make of this incident of the visit of the Queen of Sheba? We find an answer in Matthew 12:42 :--“The Queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.” “A greater than Solomon’“ He answers greater questions, He distributes greater blessings, He reigns in more glorious state. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Queen of Sheba
I. That we should diligently seek the highest and the holiest, and not be content with anything lower.
II. That difficulties and dangers should not keep us from the reception of truth.
III. That as we should diligently, and in spite of all difficulties, seek Divine truth, so should we admire it when we have found it. The Queen of Sheba does not attempt enviously to find fault with or to depreciate any of the endowments of King Solomon. She admires heartily his wisdom, his knowledge, his power, his riches, his grandeur. A useful example for the present age--an age especially given to criticise, rather than to admire; an age that laughs at romance, ignores mystery, and ridicules the idea of the supernatural. We know that romance and reality ,are one, that life is itself a mystery, and that without the supernatural there could not be any natural. The credulity of early ages may have been excessive; but it was likely to be productive of more noble deeds than the scepticism and indifference of to-day.
IV. That in matters that concern our eternal welfare it behoves us to act on evidence a little less than certainty. It has sometimes been objected to the Christian creed, that if God had sent it as revelation of His will to man, it ought to have been universally diffused and supported by irrefragable evidence. This argument, however, if carried out to its logical consequence, would go to prove that God ought to have dispensed with the necessity of a revelation to man at all, either by keeping him free from sin, or by supplying him with such an additional faculty as would have enabled him to intuitively grasp spiritual truths. All these suggestions, however, are the presumptions of ignorance. God chose to act in His dealings with men in a certain way; and what is man, that he should question the ways of God?
V. That those who are in the presence of perfect wisdom must be happy. “Happy,” says the Queen of Sheba, “are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.” With God is wisdom; and those therefore who, whether on earth or in heaven, feel themselves to be perpetually in His presence or watched over by His care, are indeed truly happy.
VI. That as the possession of the wisdom that is from above can alone make us truly happy, we ought to be prepared for it to offer the best gifts that we have. The Queen of Sheba pours forth before Solomon her most valuable presents. The best of our life, of our labour, of our talents, of our riches, should we give to God, for from Him we obtained all that we have, and all our blessings we hold at His will.
VII. That the possession of heavenly wisdom, which is the true riches, more than compensates for the loss of any unrighteous mammon. Not merely is the man who has reached to the appreciation and enjoyment of Divine truth happy, he is also rich--rich in treasures that moth and rust cannot corrupt and that thieves cannot break through to steal. (R. Young, M. A.)
A queen’s example
Mudie has no more interesting story with which to beguile the waiting hours of tired and lonesome women than this old tale of a woman’s perplexities and how she solved them. She lived in “the uttermost parts of the earth,” and in a far-away time, but we recognise our sister all the same. She had her difficulties and her dreams as we have to-day. She had all a woman’s longings to do the right, and to become strong and wise, and able efficiently to discharge her important duties. She was a queen, and had therefore an earnest desire to be the mother of her people. She was, we think, anxious to secure their love, which was, perhaps, not very difficult; and she longed to possess their reverence, which was, possibly, almost more than she could achieve. She had an intuitive comprehension of what real greatness was. And there is no doubt that she felt the need of some one wiser, stronger, better than herself, who should gently, firmly, and unhesitatingly tell her what to do and how to do it. She had, too, the woman’s wish to know, which is generally described by the word “curiosity,” but to which might often be applied the nobler term “aspiration.” She did not like secrets, probably could not keep her own, and took a little trouble to fathom those of other people. But the world was full of secrets which she could not understand. She wanted to know the meaning of everything; but all earth’s books were written in strange characters which she could not decipher. It was God whom she wished to hear of--God whom she wished to know--God whom she longed to worship and obey. The queen was much more earnest than curious. Of course she was wearied with her journey. Equally of course there were many enticing things to see in this great, grand place at which she had arrived. But she had come to Jerusalem with one dominant, overpowering intention, and nothing might put her aside from it. First of all, before she looked about her, or even took rest, she must have a long, close talk with the king. “And when she was come to Solomon she communed with him of all that was in her heart.” But what if she should be disappointed? She was not the first woman, and she most certainly was not the last, who has come to a king among men, with trembling hopefulness that her ignorance might be instructed, and her doubts set at rest. What if he should prove but little better than other men, and she should discover that the greatness of his wisdom was only pretence, and that his superiority lay only upon the surface? Alas for the queen if this should be! for then she would wearily return to her own country, and there hopelessly search in the darkness for that which she could never find. But we, who sympathise with her, are glad to know that it was not so. For “Solomon told her all her questions: there was not anything hid from the king.” Happy woman! She had leisure now for other things. There was, however, a good deal of honesty and candour in her even yet. She remembered her distrust of the tidings which she had heard, and could not be quite happy until she had made some honourable amends for her incredulity. There is not a woman among us but would like to have had the queen’s opportunity; for we, too, are trying, amid the darkness of doubt and uncertainty, to feel our way to the light. We, too, are longing to become wise by contact with wisdom, and strong by leaning upon strength. We, too, have our longings to know more, and to do better; and I think we would gladly take a journey as formidable as that of the queen to get what we want. But “behold, a greater than Solomon is here.” We have our Lord’s authority for using this narrative as an illustration of spiritual truth; and it is remarkable in how many points the Queen of Sheba resembles what we are and ought to be, and how truly Solomon is a faint image of Christ.
1. But our duty is plainly taught us by this queen’s example. We shall never know more of Him unless we go and see; and, if we are sensible women, that is exactly what we shall do. We need have no more fear than had this queen as to the reception that awaits us. Indeed, we know beforehand. We are not told that an invitation was sent from Judaea to Sheba, but Christ has most distinctly and pressingly invited us. “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest,” is the message which He has forwarded to us. Nay, He has done more, much more than this. He has not waited for us to go to Him, but He has come to us. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” This is our opportunity. Shall we let it go, or shall we thankfully avail ourselves of it? Oh, my sisters, do not let this Queen of the South rise up in judgment against you and condemn you, but be equally resolute in mind and prompt in action, and at once come to Jesus.
2. When we have taken this first decided step we may follow the queen’s example in another particular. “When she was come to Solomon she communed with him of all that was in her heart.” And we may do the same when we have come to our King. Let us make the most of our privileges. Why are any of us weak and miserable, and full of sin, seeing that Jesus is able to make us--even us--great and good, useful and happy?
3. But when we have proved Him to, be all that we have heard, let us be honest and say so.
4. But neither He nor ourselves need be satisfied with words. There must be a mutual exchange of gifts. Who can describe the greatness of His royal bounty?
The love of Jesus, what it is
None but His loved ones know.
Nor can any one beside tell the precious things which He gives to His beloved.
5. There is yet one other particular in which we are like the Queen of Sheba. “She turned, and went to her own country;” and we have to go back to the world after seeing our King, and to dwell among our own people. But we ought to be very much better than when we first came to Him. (Marianne Farningham.)
The wisdom of Solomon
In considering the interview between these two royal personages, we note--
I. The visited king. On every side were untold accumulations of wealth. The country was at peace, with a dominion extending from Thapsacus, on the Euphrates, to Gaza, on the Mediterranean. The king’s popularity was unbounded. He listened equally to the meanest of his subjects and those of courtly bearing, and gave judgment to each in accordance with that skill which was his without measure.
II. The visiting queen. Her lineage is not certain, nor the exact place of her sway. Probably she was a descendant from Abraham by Keturah, with a kingdom occupying the greater part of Arabia Felix, between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. This Sabean kingdom, whose capital was Sheba, was the richest among the Arabians, and would naturally be visited by the fleets of Solomon.
III. The visit.
1. Its motive. It is not difficult to find reasons prompting the Sabean queen with desire to stand in such a presence. It were easy to imagine her as urged by curiosity or by thoughts of rivalry. Hers was an empire of exceeding richness. Did the king’s really surpass it? She could bear presents to him indicating resources vast and varied. Could he lay at her feet those denoting wider imports or an ampler revenue? Doubtless, however, worthier reasons moved her. Could he solve the deep, perplexing problems of her soul? Hers was a deeper want, a profounder longing. Like the patriarch Job, her soul was stirred with profoundest questions of life, death, and immortality.
II. The visit’s disclosure.
III. The visit’s result. Among the lessons suggested by the passage, note--
1. Wealth and piety are not necessarily opposed. The time of this visit marks the climax of Israel’s strength and prosperity. Never before and never after did the kingdom take its place among the great monarchies of the East, able to cope with Egypt and Assyria. To-day as never before the duty of the Church is to make wealth the handmaid of religion.
2. Nothing but God satisfies. Neither the wealth of her own realm nor the glory of Solomon’s could satisfy the queen. In her heart was a void which nothing but the knowledge of God could fill. Augustine’s words are ever true, “Thou, O Lord, madest us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they repose on Thee.”
3. There is no safety but in a right heart. It is sad that to one like Solomon a decline should come. This favoured ruler fell because he was unfaithful to Him who had made him both wise and prosperous. His life departed from what his lips proclaimed. There is always danger when obedience to God keeps not pace with knowledge of God; when the head has more understanding than the heart has love. “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” (Monday Club Sermons.)
The Queen of Sheba
I. The time of the tale. The time is that of Israel’s grandeur. Politically, his star is at its zenith; his rose is full blown. In Saul’s days a department for foreign affairs would have been a sinecure. Israel was not recognised as having any place in the comity of the great powers of the time. What Italy was in Europe previous to 1859, that--less than that--was Israel in the then Mediterranean world, under the Judges and even under Saul. But all this is now changed. Solomon takes his place among the potentates of the time. The extension of his empire towards the east brings him into touch with the nascent nations of the Euphrates Valley; towards the north magnificent Tyre--at once the London and the Paris of the age--is his ally, and her king is his friend; towards the south the old national oppressor Egypt is reconciled into a fatal friendship, and the royal houses have met in an ill-omened alliance.
II. The hero of the tale. It is somewhat curious that, although we have a fuller account of Solomon’s reign than of that of any other monarch mentioned in Scripture, we know comparatively little about himself. His personality stands by no means clearly out in relief against his time. The very blaze of his magnificence dazzles the eye and obscures the vision. His reign has been called the “Augustan Age of the Jewish nation.” Dean Stanley, with characteristic felicity, calls attention to the fact, that “Solomon was not only its Augustus but its Aristotle.” Might he not have added, “and its Alexander and its Timon, too!” But as he is at the point of time of which we now treat, he is in the full sheen of his noonday glory, with no forecast of the clouds of the sunset. To him thus, and to his capital which his genius and his wealth have made to be “the joy of the whole earth,” a visitor comes. And so we reach--
III. The heroine of the tale. Like her royal host, she, too, can be but vaguely seen. Her very name is unknown. She has a title given but no name; she is a queen, and as a queen rather than as a woman can she be known by us. And yet the motive of her visit is essentially feminine. It is curiosity, alike of the higher and the lower kind combined. And not only was the motive thoroughly feminine; it was also characteristically national. For, though tradition assigns her a different origin, there can be little doubt she was an Arab, and the Arabs are, of all peoples, notoriously the most addicted to gossip and curiosity. The tradition to which I have referred represents her as queen of that city, on an island in the Nile, which, for so many centuries, either as tributary to Egypt or as independent, was one of the mighty cities of the ancient world, Meroe. Thus influenced in her mind--excited on the lower side by the lower curiosity and on the higher side by the higher, uniting and elevating the natural curiosity with the spiritual aspiration--the plan of a personal visit and the establishment of a personal friendship and communion takes shape and grows within her, till it becomes an imperative and mastering demand. It is a meeting most picturesque and full of interest--the heathen queen in the presence of Jehovah’s anointed king; natural piety seeking revelation’s light. As the motives which brought her to Jerusalem were of two orders, of a higher and a lower level, so would be the subjects on which they “communed” when they met. The Arab traditions, preserving the materials that were akin to Arab tastes, are full of stories of quaint enigmas and riddles propounded and of ingenious answers given, such as those in which the sportive fancy of the East has always delighted, and by which Solomon and Hiram had long corresponded, had stimulated their intellectual activities and relieved their cares of state. The queen, according to these traditions, tested the royal wit and ingenuity by such devices as the following: artificial and natural flowers to be recognised and marked by the use of sight alone; boys and girls, dressed alike, to be detected and distinguished; and a cup to be filled with water from neither earth nor cloud. Solomon read the first riddle by letting bees loose upon the flowers; the second, by setting the young people to wash their hands; and the third, by causing a slave to gallop furiously upon a wild horse and filling the cup from the flowing perspiration! In such playful manoeuvres the wit of the one was exercised and the curiosity of the other was satisfied. But we cannot doubt but that these were the relaxations not the substance of their communion, the relief not the satisfaction of the spirit of the Sabsean queen. But all the same we must conclude that the higher subjects that were, in measure, congenial to the better nature of both obtained a place in their fellowship, and that in the queen the king secured not only an ardent admirer of himself but a devout worshipper of his God, a reverent pupil in religion as well as a fascinated partaker in trifling. And so she passes off the Jerusalem stage, out of sight, and we see her no more. The traditions which tell of her marriage with Solomon, and of the three months which he spent with her every year at Saba, and of her burial at Tadmor, are utterly worthless. She lingers and figures in these legends, but they are void of credit and value. (G. M. Grant, B. D.)
The Queen of Sheba’s visit
I. Christianity challenges the greatest of the world to investigate its bold claims for supremacy as the one religion for the human soul. It was not mere curiosity which brought this Queen of the South to see Solomon. A question was raised; it could be settled by nothing except rigid experiment. Christ has represented Himself in Christianity; He is to be tested in the system of faith He came to proclaim. And what we insist upon is, that every thinking soul is bound to seek, search, sift, and examine what this Son of God, who was the Son of Man, has to say. This revelation from heaven for men’s salvation is either everything or nothing to each immortal being going to God’s judgment. For it claims to be all that any one needs for the final redemption of his soul.
II. Sceptics might as well pause in uttering their decisions of personal rejection of Christ till they have fully understood Him. It is not every one that is competent even to disbelieve. It requires much thought to dispose of Christianity thoroughly. It is a system that stands very determinately upon conduct; and it insists that, before any intelligent investigator shall come to a fixed conclusion, he shall follow up what he already knows by working it into his life. And then he will, quite possibly, be surprised by further disclosures which he did not previously suspect. There is a great pertinence just here in the splendid figure of the traveller Humboldt; he says: “At the limits of exact knowledge, as from a lofty island shore, one’s eye loves to glance towards the distant regions. The images that it sees may be illusive; but, like the illusive images that people imagined they had seen from the Canaries, or the Azores, long before the time of Columbus, these may also lead to the discovery of a new world.” There is no field of study of which this remark is truer than that which religious investigation offers.
III. Religious inquirers should not hesitate in coming to Jesus Christ for a satisfying answer to all the soul perplexities which beset them. If there were only the revelations of God in nature for a direction and a comfort, there would be no small gain over what the heathen have in their poems and dreams; for what would come to us would be at least trustworthy, because it would be true. The best minds have often found solace in the mute world around them. Chaucer used to say that walking in the meadows, at dawn of day, to see the blossoms spread against the sun, was a blissful sight which softened all his sorrows. Henry Martyn, lonely and sad, in his far-away mission-field, exclaimed, “Even a leaf is good company.” And Ruskin writes in his essay: “What a fine thought that was, when God Almighty earliest thought of a tree!” Even with this for our Bible, our Lord would excel Ecclesiastes: “Consider the lilies,” etc. But the living Word and the written Word are better for a man, immortal and sensitively intelligent, than all this friendly communing with nature only, for he is pondering questions in his heart. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A scientific writer of wide experience and observation declares that all nectar-gathering insects, such as the common honey-bee, manifest a strong preference for the finest flowers. The more perfect in form, colour, and fragrance, the more are they attracted to it, as they seem to know by instinct that there they will find the richest supply of honey. It is from the characters and lives of those who are most like Him who is the altogether lovely that the souls of others can gather the most sweetness of God’s love and grace. To be Christlike is to be winsome; to grow in grace, to grow in divine attractiveness. (Helps to Speakers.)
She came to prove him with hard questions.--
Consulting with Jesus
I. Admire this queen’s mode of procedure when she came to Solomon. We are told, in the text, that “she came to prove him with hard questions.”
1. She wanted to prove whether he was as wise as she had been led to believe, and her mode of proving it was by endeavouring to learn from him; and if you want to ascertain what the wisdom of Christ is, the way to know it is to come and sit at His feet, and learn of Him. He has Himself said, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
2. The Queen of Sheba is also to be admired in that, wishing to learn from Solomon, she asked him many questions;--not simply one or two, but many. If you want to know the wisdom of Christ, you must ask Him many questions.
3. The Queen of Sheba proved Solomon “with hard questions.”
II. Let us imitate her example, in reference to Christ, who is “greater than Solomon.” Let us prove Him with hard questions.
1. Here is the first hard question. How can a man be just with God?
2. Here is another hard question: How can God be just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly?
3. The next question is one which has puzzled many: How can a man be saved by faith alone without works, and yet no man can be saved by a faith that is without works?
4. Here is another hard question: How can a man be born when he is old? At first sight, it seems as if that were unanswerable; but Jesus Christ has said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
5. Here is another hard question: How can God, who sees all things, no longer see any sin in believers? That is a puzzle which many cannot understand.
6. Here is another hard question: How can a man see the invisible God? Yet Christ said, “Blessed are the pure in heart” for they shall see God; “and the angel said to John:” His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face.”
7. Moving upward in Christian experience, here is another hard question: How can it be true that “whosoever is born of God sinneth not,” yet men who are born of God do sin?
8. This helps also to answer another hard question: How can a man be a new man, and yet be constantly sighing because he finds in himself so much of the old man?
9. Here is one more of these hard questions: How can a man be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing?
10. I have one more hard question: How can a man’s life be in heaven while he still lives on earth?
III. Let us answer certain questions of a practical character.
1. Answer first, this question--How can we come to Christ?
2. “Well,” says one, “supposing that is done, how can we ask Christ hard questions?” You may ask anything of Him just the same as if you could see Him.
3. “But,” you say, “if I ask of Him, how will He answer me?” Do not expect that He will answer you in a dream, or by any vocal sound. He has spoken all you need to know in this Book. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
What were these questions? They may have been riddles like the one which the story of Samson recalls. Asking riddles was a common pastime amongst the ancients, especially the Arabs. Still, it is hardly likely that a sensible queen would have journeyed all the way from Arabia to Judaea merely to have a game of conundrums. More probably she did so in order to get a solution of mental and moral difficulties of what we call the enigmas of life. A thoughtful, earnest woman she was, no doubt; perplexed by the problems of her day, as some of us are with those of ours, and she felt that it would be a relief to talk them over with one wiser than herself. There is a greater than Solomon, whom we can prove with hard questions, with whom we can commune of all that is in our hearts. Have we done so? If not, we cannot say that our doubts are unanswerable. A correspondent wrote to Canon Liddon: “The only thing that now attaches me at all to Christianity is that it alone of the systems of thought with which I come into contact seems to give a working answer to two questions: ‘Whence am I?’ and ‘Whither am I going?’ All else is dark, all else at least uncertain.” Many of us are attached to Christianity for the same reason. We have proved its Founder with hard questions, and our creed has simplified itself into some such form as this: “About God, the soul, a future life, the sin and sorrow of the world--about such matters as these I know little, but Christ knows much, and any conclusion that was good enough for Him in reference to them is good enough for me.” The German philosopher, Kant, tells us that there are three questions which mankind has always been asking: “What can I know?” “What shall I do?” and “For what may I hope?” What answer does He who called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life give to these questions? Some persons, says Bishop Butler, “upon pretence of the light of nature, avowedly reject all revelation as in its very nature incredible.” Things have changed since Butler’s day. Few now think that the light of nature is sufficient; with most of us it is Christ or nothing. We have come to see that the objections made to Christianity may be urged with equal force against natural religion--that the difficulty, for instance, of accounting on the supposition of a good Creator for the origin and continuance of evil in the world ought to be felt by the Deist far more than by the Christian because the latter has a theory of redemption to offer which at any rate professes to reconcile God’s preknowledge of evil with His wisdom, power, and goodness. This, together with the history and present condition of the Church of Christ,.makes it easier to be a Christian than a Deist or Theist. But here comes the Agnostic, and he says to humanity, with its recurring questions, “Do not ask yourself or any one else what you can know about God, the soul, and a future state. These matters are unknowable, and you had better be humble, as I am, and acknowledge the fact.” In reference to this state of mind it may be remarked that we can only assert the unknown to be unknowable on the assumption--surely, anything but an humble one--that we know all that can be known. If it be true that God cannot be known by man, it will be the last truth which man will ever learn. I heard lately an intelligent, sympathetic woman remark that there is no being in the Universe she so much pities as God, for if He has a heart, she said, He must feel terribly the responsibility of creating such a world as this. That God does feel for the sorrows of the world and does admit responsibility In the matter He proved when He gave His Son to die for it. What more could He have done for His vineyard? There is the pathos of a beautiful simplicity in those words in Genesis, “It repented the Lord God, and grieved Him at the heart.” May there not have been some contrariness in the nature of things which it was as impossible for even Him to prevent, as it would be to make two and two five instead of four? May it not be said, for instance, in all reverence, that even God could not create a virtuous being without the discipline of trial--the very idea involving a contradiction? Plutarch tells us that Alexander, King of Macedon, used to say that he loved and revered his teacher Aristotle, as much as if he had been his own father, because if to the one he owed his life to the other he owed his power of living well. What is it that we do not owe in this second respect to our Saviour? No Solomon has answered as He has the hard question, “What shall we do?” This is admitted even by those who do not accept the full measure of Christ’s teaching. John Stuart Mill, for instance, has observed that it would not be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of virtue from the abstract to the concrete than to endeavour so to live that Christ would approve our life. In any moral difficulty we can and we should ask ourselves, “What would Christ have me to do in this matter?” But Christ does more than enable us to per-calve and know what things we ought to do. He gives us grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same. In this He differs from merely earthly teachers. They are like a man standing on the shore showing a drowning man how the arms should be moved in swimming. Jesus Christ rescues the drowning person, or at least gives him a helping hand, as He did to Peter when that apostle began to sink. Lord Tennyson, in the biography of his father, tells us that the late Poet Laureate had a measureless admiration for the Sermon on the Mount, and for the parables; “perfection beyond compare,” he called them. At the same time he used to express his conviction that “Christianity with its Divine morality, but without the central figure of Christ, the Son of Man, would become cold, and that it is fatal for religion to lose its warmth.” The question for what may we hope when the few years of life’s fitful fever here on earth are over is answered by Christ as no mere man, though as wise as Solomon, could answer it. Apart from Christ we could not know whether death were a door or a wall; a spreading of wings to soar or the folding of pinions for ever. Before Christ’s coming the human body was thought of as a mere instrument made use of by the soul, and no part of man’s true self. The soul was considered to be free only when at death it was disunited from it, and became the “shade” of ancient classical poetry. This was a very shadowy belief, and one that physical research entirely contradicts. The fuller discoveries in modern days of the action and reaction of body and soul, of the need of physical machinery, not only for act and word, but even for thought, have shown that the body is a part of man’s true self. In this matter Christianity agrees with science. It teaches the resurrection of the body, or that there will be a continued existence of soul and organism, that in the next world the soul will not be unclothed, but clothed upon. Jesus Christ is the Head and Representative of our race, and by rising from the dead Himself He brought life and incorruption out of the haze of speculation into the calm, clear light of fact. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
How to act when perplexed
We very often puzzle ourselves, and tug and strain. Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, used to say that his mind could lie as quietly before a confessed mystery as in the presence of a discovered truth. It would be better for us if we cultivated more such serene trust as Dr. Arnold’s In the nature of things there must be mystery. Certainly there is such a thing as limit to our capacity. Certainly, therefore, the action and the knowledge of a limitless God must wear frequently a misty look to us. Certainly the conjoining of revealed truth into an exact and harmonious system may be a piece of work quite beyond our simply finite powers. The truths do conjoin, but at a point so far beyond the range of our finite vision that we cannot see their marriage. What, then, are we to do? Grasp firmly both of the revealed truths, and where the point of their conjoining runs up beyond the region of our finite capacity, wait lowlily and trust steadily. (Homiletic Review.)
Christ the revealer of truth
The greatness of the ancient world culminated in Socrates and Plato, and the greatness of Socrates and Plato culminated in their power to ask questions, and not in their power to answer them. The ancient world started problems; it remained for the new world to solve them. Herein lies one of the vital differences between the wise men of the East, and the West and the founder of Christianity; they wore mere seekers after truth--He was its revealer. (Cynddylon Jones.)
She came to Jerusalem with . .. camels that bare spices.
A gospel of sweet spices
1. All theologians agree in making Solomon a type of Christ, and in making the Queen of Sheba a type of every truth-seeker; and I will take the responsibility of saying that all the spikenard, and cassia, and frankincense which the Queen of Sheba brought to King Solomon is mightily suggestive of the sweet spices of our holy religion. Christianity is not a collection of sharp technicalities, and angular facts, and chronological tables, and.dry statistics. Our religion is compared to frankincense and to cassia, but never to nightshade. It is a bundle of myrrh. It is a dash of holy light. It is a sparkle of cool fountains. It is an opening of opaline gates. It is a collection of spices. Would God that we were as wise in taking spices to our Divine King as Queen Balkis was wise in taking the spices to the earthly Solomon.
2. We need to put more spice and enlivenment in our religious teaching; whether it be in the prayer-meeting, or in the Sunday school, or in the church. We ministers need more fresh air and sunshine in our lungs, and our heart, and our head. Do you wonder that the world is so far from being converted when you find so little vivacity in the pulpit.and in the pew? We want, like the Lord, to plant in our sermons and exhortations more lilies of the field. In other words, we want more cinnamon and less gristle. Let this be so in all the different departments of work to which the Lord tails us. Let us be plain. Let us be earnest. When we talk to the people in a vernacular they can understand, they will be very glad to come and receive the truth we present. Would to God that Queen Balkis would drive her spice-laden dromedaries into all our sermons and prayer-meeting exhortations.
3. More than that, we want more life and spice in our Christian work. The poor do not want so much to be groaned over as sung to. With the bread and medicines and garments you give them, let there be an accompaniment of smiles and brisk encouragement.
4. Religion is sweetness and perfume, and spikenard, and saffron, and cinnamon, and cassia, and frankincense, and all sweet spices together. Just put it on the stand beside the pillow of sickness. It catches in the curtains and perfumes the stifling air. It sweetens the cup of bitter medicine, and throws a glow on the gloom of the turned lattice. It is a balm for the aching side, and soft bandage for the temple stung with pain. It lifted Samuel Rutherford into a revelry of spiritual delight, while he was in physical agonies. It helped Richard Baxter until, in the midst of such a complication of diseases as perhaps no other man ever suffered, he wrote The Saint’s Everlasting Rest. And it poured light upon John Bunyan’s dungeon,--the light of the shining gate of the shining city. And it is good for rheumatism, and for neuralgia, and for low spirits, and for consumption; it is the catholicon for all disorders. Yes, it will heal all your sorrows. Some one could not understand why an old German Christian scholar used to be always so calm, and happy, and hopeful, when he had so many trials, and sicknesses, and ailments. A man secreted himself in the house. He said, “I mean to watch this old scholar and Christian”; and he saw the old Christian man go to his room and sit down on the chair beside the stand, and open the Bible and begin to read. He read on and on, chapter after chapter, hour after hour, until his face was all aglow with the tidings from Heaven, and when the clock struck twelve, he arose, and Shut his Bible, and said, “Blessed Lord, we are on the same old terms yet. Good-night. Good-night.” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
She communed with him of all that was in her heart.--
I. We ought to commune with Jesus of all that is in our heart.
1. Tell Jesus all that is in your heart, for neglect of intercourse with Christ, of the most intimate kind, is ungenerous towards him.
2. And we must tell him all that is in our heart, because to conceal anything from so true a friend betrays the sad fact that there is something wrong to be concealed.
3. If we cannot tell Jesus all that is in our heart, it shows a want of confidence in His love, or His sympathy, or His wisdom, or His power.
4. I am quite certain that if you will carry out the plan I am commending to you, it will bring you great ease of mind; whereas, if you do not, you will continue to have much uneasiness.
5. If you do not come to Jesus and commune with Him of all that is in your heart, you will lose His counsel and help, and the comfort that comes from them.
6. Sometimes our habit of reticence towards Jesus is aggravated by our eagerness to tell our troubles to others. In the time of trial we often imitate King Asa, who, when he was sick, “sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians.”
II. We need not cease communing with Christ for want of topics.
1. There are, first, your sorrows.
2. Then, also, tell him your joys, for He can have aa much true fellowship with the joyous as with the sad.
3. You may also go to Jesus and tell Him all about your service.
4. Then, next, go and tell Jesus all your plans
5. When you have any successes, go and tell Him. The seventy disciples returned to Jesus with joy, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through Thy name.”
6. And when you have any failures,--when your hopes are disappointed,--go and tell it all to Jesus.
7. Tell Him all your desires. If thou desirest anything that thou oughtest to desire, and mayest desire, let Him know it. Tell Him also all your fears. Tell Him that you are afraid of falling.
8. Tell Him all your loves.
III. We shall never cease communing with Christ for want of reasons.
1. For, first, it is most ennobling to have fellowship with the Son of God; “and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
2. It is also highly beneficial to commune with Christ.
3. How consoling it is to do this! You forget your griefs while you commune with Him. How sanctifying it is! A man cannot take delight in sin while he walks with Christ. How delightful it is, too, to commune with Jesus! There is no other joy that is at all comparable with it, and it prepares us for the higher joys above. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And when the Queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom.
The Queen of the South versus the men of this generation
1. When the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem she did not come to find fault, she did not come to drive away whatever she might see by an envious or jealous, or petulant or unbelieving, questioning disposition. She evidently was prepared for a feast, and she got it. Come dull, come with the blinds pulled down and the shutters up, and you will go away thus. I think that element is in the gospel, and the other side of it is--come with the pure spirit, and you will get the pure blessing. Come expecting nothing, and you will get nothing. What is nothing? Nothing is what you get in church, for you came for it. Oh, come expecting! Although the preacher may be very dull and very flat, the Lord will remember you, and the Lord will remember Himself, and before you or I are aware, through His grace, our hearts may be made like the chariots of Amminadab! Sometimes the Lord comes with wonderful suddenness, just because there are people sitting here who are worth their room, and He cannot disappoint them.
2. And Solomon told her all her questions. There was not anything hid, or secret thing, which he told her not. And if this woman came from the uttermost ends of the earth, to speak of hard questions, so may we well come to the heavenly Solomon. Which of us has not his hard question--your torturing question, that tortures your own soul; your question that you can get no answer to anywhere else? Oh, what deep hard questions, I had almost said, are natural to our minds when we begin just to reflect and to think ever so little! Whom am I? Where am I going? Yes, there are hard questions. Come to Christ with them! I despise no man’s researches and no man’s science, but as the truth of the heavenly Solomon is in me, and is loved by me, I trust I have increasingly a most healthy and perfect contempt for their contempt of the Christ of God. Let us all be dowered with the hate of their hate, the scorn of their scorn. Ay, come to Him who is a greater than Solomon, and He will answer the hard questions.
3. Further, “And when the Queen of Sheba had seen of Solomon’s wisdom,” etc. “When she had seen,”--what? “When she had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built.” Have you seen the heavenly Solomon’s house? That is to say, have you seen His person? He is fairer than the sons of men. You never saw His like. Think of His Godhead, and think of His manhood, and think of the perfect way in which these two are joined together. There He is walking by the Lake of Galilee, a man among men; and yet the eternal glory of the Godhead is in that man from Nazareth. This is the house that the Father built for Him -this human frame, and this human flesh, and this human nature of ours; think of that! Who--what architect piled a house like the house that God’s Son dwelt in and will dwell in for ever and ever? The Eternal in the human; think of it! So like ourselves after a human plan, and after a human model, bone of our bone; else we never could understand Him. His glory would just be a blinding blur and blaze that would reveal nothing to us. But God built Christ’s person a second Adam; “bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh,” and yet so high and towering and over-topping, so broad and wide, like us, and yet so unlike us.
4. “And the sitting of his servants and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel.” When she saw that, then as the eighth verse says, she broke out, “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants that stand continually before thee and hear thy wisdom.” Oh, believer, I want to re-echo the Queen of Sheba’s word, spoken in that far-distant day! Dost thou know the Son of God? Hast thou come into the household of faith? Art thou His, and in such close relationship with Him, that thou art yielding thyself, body, soul, and spirit, a living sacrifice and help, for His service and glory? Then hear this word: Happy art thou. Rejoice, oh, man; rejoice, oh, believer; lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees! Wherefore art thou moping and sighing and groaning, and for ever hanging thy head like a bulrush? What i in the presence of such a King wilt thou dare to mope and sigh? What! wilt thou sit down at such banquet as this, and begin with a soiled, tear-stained face? “Why art thou cast down, oh, my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?” If thou art the close servant of this King of kings and Lord of lords, be more like your work; look as if a great honour and glory had suddenly and unexpectedly come to one who was a bond-slave till this Christ, by His truth and wisdom and grace, redeemed and made thee anew, and gave thee a place in His house for ever and ever. “The meat of His table.” Have you thought of that. And what a splendid table! and the dishes on the table! and the meat in the dishes! You could not have translated the menu card if you had got a king’s ransom. And you tell about it to your children, and it has filled your whole soul, and your memory, and your imagination. Well, well, if that is in the things of life, and it is genuine, and it is legitimate, there is a good thing in it--that, man, that is in religion. The meat of His table; think of it. Look at the dishes on that table! Look at the abundance provided to that people, not of the corporal and carnal kind, but the abundant feast for your reason, for your conscience, for your heart! Look at the piles that are there, the things you need, absolutely need, to fill your soul! Look at the wine and bread of heaven; look at the grace, look at the pardon! In this mountain doth the Lord make for all people a feast of fat things; of wines upon the lees! Look at the delicacies as well as the essentials! Look--look--all things in Christ that the heart can possibly conceive. “The meat of His table, and the sitting of His servants, and the attendance of His ministers, and their apparel.” The world can show great things in dress, and so can the Church; so can Christ. Oh, poor man, poor woman, poor preacher, let us only get a look at ourselves as we are reflected in some of those flashing mirrors in the banqueting-hall of Christ’s love and grace, and we will see something in the way of magnificent apparel! Clothed upon with what? With Christ Himself. With wonderful grace and power He that comes puts Himself, as a flowing garment, right over every soul into allegiance with Him.
5. There is one thing more to notice that took the heart out of the Queen of Sheba. “The ascent by which Solomon went up into the house of the Lord.” She was almost overcome; heart and flesh began just a little to reel and stagger at the sight of this material splendour. What is the ascent to the house of the Lord? When I think of the ascent by which He has gone up to the temple of the Lord; that is to say, when I think of Christ’s resurrection, the splendid staircase by which, O Lord, Thou hast ascended on high; when I see Christ’s resurrection; when I gaze up that shining stairway, then glories upon glories burst in upon mind and heart and imagination. “Thou hast ascended up on high, Thou hast led captivity captive!” Surely, when that magnificent stairway was open, when Christ ascended to the highest glory, then the angels and archangels burst forth, “Lift up your heads, oh ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and let the King of Glory come in.” Again I charge you, again I charge myself, look--Behold the glories of the Lamb! Look at your ascended Lord, see His resurrection glory; see His resurrection magnificence, and never let your eyes shut to it again, never. Now, what are we going to say of all this? Oh, it is a pity to criticise, but when one thinks of how people creep and crawl into God’s house and sit with their hands in their pockets, and then creep and crawl out again, and begin to grumble; and instead of saying, “Blessed, blessed! Happy, happy! Oh, my Saviour! Oh, His wisdom! Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out; may His name endure for ever, and last as long as the sun”--no, instead of that, you drag yourself out, and what can you grumble at, and what can you find fault with, and how dark and dreary can you look! May it not be so! (J. M’Neill.)
The wisdom of Solomon
Good was the quest of the earnest queen, and great was Solomon, whose wisdom she sought to hear; but far better the yearning for the “wisdom from above,” as the Son of God is “greater” than the earthly son of David.
I. Wisdom is worthy of diligent pursuit.
1. Wisdom does not come unsought. The Balearic mothers hang their children’s food on the limbs of trees, and they must go hungry until they can bring them down with the bow. So God lets the vein of gold look through but not lie open upon the rock. He puts the star-depths within reach of the telescope, but not of the naked eye. The secrets of Nature are given up to the wit and not to the listlessness of men. “The clouds may drop down titles and estates,” but “wisdom must be bought.” In vain, however, is “the price of wisdom in the hand of a fool,” if he have “no heart to it.”
2. Wisdom is the principal thing. All else is appendage. Dean Stanley says, “our success in life depends not only on a right perspective--that is seeing great things as great--but on a right order--that is, seeking first things first. In vain does the rich man” lay up much goods for many years for his soul, if he has not first made certain that he will have a “soul” beyond to-night. Wisdom “held (even) in her left hand riches and honour” for Solomon. She, and not they, made him known in “the uttermost parts of the earth.”
3. Wisdom is akin to piety. It is the righteousness of the mind as that is the righteousness of heart and life. The wise man knows the truth, the religious man does the truth. And this is practical wisdom; for all sin is folly. The sinner breaks himself upon or grinds himself to powder under the rock which is always in the way, and on which the wise man builds. True science is no more at right angles with true religion than the multiplication table with honest dealing.
II. The truly wise are truly great.
1. He had a rare acquaintance with the facts of Nature, with “trees” and “herbs” and “fowls” and “creeping things” and “fishes.”
2. He “knew” better than most “what was in man.” His writings show ample knowledge of affairs and of the subtler agencies by which men are affected.
3. He had “largeness of heart.” His large intercourse with other peoples had brought breadth of view and deliberateness. His utterances are neither provincial nor ephemeral; they are the fruit of judgment, not of passion, and so belong to all men in all times.
4. He had an eminently quick and penetrative glance. He did not look round the circumference, but shot at once to the centre.
III. The earthly is but the shadow of the true. Commendable as was the zeal of the queen, and splendid as were the attainments of the king, there were manifest flaws in both, for--
1. Her notion of the nature and function of wisdom was low. Her supreme test was the ability to answer “hard questions,” and when her riddles were mastered she was satisfied.
2. The wisdom of Solomon could not save him from ruin. All worldly wisdom is fallible, being limited in scope to the inductions of experience, and narrow in appeal, since it points mainly to prudential motives. The “ wise are taken in their own craftiness”; wise in the abstract and for others, they are blind and weak for themselves.
3. In his old age he pronounced it “vanity” and pointed beyond. (J. B. Thomas, D. D.)
The worth of wisdom
We may regard the Queen of Sheba as a woman who paid a great price for wisdom.
I. The sense in which wisdom is open to us all.
1. The objects of nature are about us; human life is spent in our presence; we need but the open eye, the hearing ear, the understanding mind, and we shall be wise in that direction.
2. The record of revealed religion, of Divine truth, is to be had for a few pence.
3. Jesus Christ, who Himself is the wisdom of God, is offering Himself to us as our Saviour, our Friend, our Guide, if we will give Him our heart, if we will take His hand.
4. Eternal life, with all that it includes, both here and hereafter, is “the gift of God” (Romans 6:23).
II. The sense in which it is costly.
1. Much of the practical wisdom of life is only to be gained from a suffering experience. We buy them at the counter of experience.
2. The fixed persuasion of the Divine origin of the Christian faith is often only to be reached after the upbreaking of early confidence; after painful and perplexing doubt; after earnest and prolonged inquiry; after prayerful waiting. With much tribulation many spirits enter the kingdom of truth.
3. Entrance on our Christian course is often attended with inward strife or outward loss.
4. Attainment of the loftier heights of wisdom is the result of patient effort, of sacred thought, of fervent prayer, of self-sacrifice. For we can only see God with the pure heart (Matthew 5:8). Only love understands love; nothing but spiritual excellency will appreciate spiritual beauty. “Only the good discern the good.”
III. The supreme worth of wisdom. (Anon.)
The meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants.
At the king’s table
“To be carved for at table by a great prince would be counted as great a favour as the meal itself. To take outward blessings out of God’s hand, to see that He remembereth us, and sendeth in our provision at every turn; this endeareth the mercy, and increaseth our delight therein.” What, indeed, would most men give if they could say, “The queen herself carved for me, and was most anxious that I should be well supplied”? But each believer has the Lord Himself for his Provider. He loads our table, and fills our cup. Providence is no other than God providing. He measures out our joys, weighs our sorrows, appoints our labours, and selects our trials. There is no morsel on the saint’s plate which is not of the Lord’s cawing, unless he has been so foolish as to put forth his hand unto iniquity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The king and his servants
Those who entertain a king reckon upon receiving his train. It is not fit that he should come alone. So those who receive Jesus by faith into their hearts, receive also His Church, His ministers, His Word, and His cause. They take the Saviour and all His belongings. As the old proverb hath it, “Love me, love my dog,” so they love all who belong to Jesus for their Lord’s sake. Where Jesus comes with pardon, He brings all the graces with Him and we are right glad to entertain them all: not only faith, but love, hope, patience, courage, zeal, and the whole band of virtues. It would be idle to say, “Christ is in me,” if none of the graces of His Spirit lodged within our souls. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
His ascent by which he went up into the house of the Lord.--
Ascent to worship
There are no such steps as these to be found anywhere in the world. A step to honour, a step to riches, a step to worldly glory, these are everywhere, but what are these to the steps by which men do ascend to the house of the Lord. He then that entereth into the house of the Lord is an ascending man; as it is said of Moses, he went up into the mount of God. It is ascending to go into the house of God. The world believes not this; they think it is going downward to go up to the house of God; but they are in a horrible mistake. The steps then by which men go up into the temple are, and ought to be, opposed to those which men take to their lusts and empty glories. Hence such steps are said not only to decline from God, but to take hold of the path to death and hell (Psalms 44:18; Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:25-27). (John Bunyan.)
Howbeit I believed not the words until I came.
Seeing and believing
This Queen of Sheba would not rest content with secondhand knowledge. Her example is worth following. Never rest content with secondhand knowledge. The great crisis is past, and the Christian life begins in its full beauty and strength when hearing gives place to seeing and the glory of the living Christ becomes a present fact and the governing factor in the daily life. There is something lacking m your experience unless you can say, “Mine eyes have seen.” It is the eternal distinction between the world and the Church, the children of the age and the children of eternity. Have you thus seen the Son? Has the glory of Jesus been so revealed to you as to capture your heart and deprive sin and the world of their power to allure you? Or is your knowledge of Jesus Christ still secondhand, unconvincing, unsatisfying, ineffectual? We take this Queen of Sheba then as a model seeker after truth, one of those sincere and genuine souls of whom Jesus said, “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.”
I. She was true to the needs of her own heart. As a great queen, she might easily have become engrossed in State affairs or in the pleasures of court life. But she would not allow even the din of an empire to drown the voice of her own heart. Spiritual suicide is seriously urged in some quarters as the ideal of true religion. People are urged to forget all about their own souls, and care or pretend to care for other people only. This Queen of Sheba put everything else aside until her inner life had been put right. For though a queen she was not satisfied. Questions kept coming before her which she dared not set aside and could not answer.
II. This Queen of Sheba proved her sincerity by making a personal inquiry. No man can put another’s questions, for no man can read another’s heart. You can never be saved by proxy. The hunger of your heart will never be met until you make personal application to Jesus Christ. And you must take trouble over it. Those who never put themselves to any trouble seldom get their questions answered. Of course you can hear the gospel without travelling 1500 miles. But with many there is a barrier between them and Jesus Christ more difficult to overcome than 1500 miles of space. It is the barrier of nearly 1900 years. The Bible seems such ancient history. It deals with a state of society so different to ours. It is an Eastern book wearing an Eastern dress, and its teaching is full of reference to Jewish customs and ideas. The education which can perfectly understand Tennyson or Browning is often utterly at a loss in reading the New Testament. Those who would find Christ in the Bible must take real pains to master the history of Genesis and Exodus and the types of Leviticus, or they will never understand either the Gospels or the Epistles. You might as well expect to understand the differential calculus by the light of Nature as think to understand the Bible without giving years to patient systematic study of it. When the word of God was rare and precious, men studied it and meditated upon it night and day. Now that the Bible is in everybody’s hands men think they know it because they can quote a few odd verses, though they have taken no pains to master its deep teaching. They will not take the trouble to make a personal inquiry. Certainly the Queen of Sheba will rise and condemn all such.
III. This queen was genuinely true in her private interview with Solomon. “She communed with him of all that was in her heart.” She had not meant to do this. Her questions had been carefully prepared, all couched in general terms and in the third person. How can one explain this? How can one answer this? How should one act under these circumstances? But when she came to Solomon it was no longer “How can one?” but “How can I?” She felt at once that her disguise was penetrated. Solomon read her heart and drew out with perfect tact all her personal longing and unrest. Do be true in your dealings with God. Never attempt to wear a mask in God’s presence. As soon as you really draw near to God you find out that you are personally involved. You are the guilty culprit needing propitiation and forgiveness, you are the sick and helpless one needing the Good Physician’s touch. You can never have a satisfactory interview with God until you take your right place.
IV. The Queen of Sheba was true in the confession she made of her former unbelief. She was a sincere, candid, and whole-hearted seeker, but she was an unbeliever when she came to Jerusalem. Such unbelief is most wholesome. It is the unbelief of those who are staggered at the greatness of the gospel message. Have you ever been thus staggered? Has it come home to you as the greatest wonder in the world that God should love sinners? Have you ever when listening to the joyful tidings of a Saviour able to.save to the uttermost, of a God willing to forgive and forget all your sins, of a throne of grace to which all needy souls may flee for succour, said in your heart, “It is too good to be true, I cannot believe it”? Solomon was not vexed when the Queen of Sheba said, “I believed not the words.” It is the blind unbelief that sees no glory in redeeming love that deserves rebuke, not the weak faith that is so dazzled by it that it can hardly believe it to be true. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
I. That rumour as to truth should lead us to inquire as to its reality. How many are content with the mere rumour or report of what has transpired. It does not do to be content with hearsay; there must be some endeavour to learn the truth for ourselves. Listening must result in action. When we have heard, we must seek personal acquaintance with the facts.
II. That the realities relating to truth will prove greater than the rumours.
1. If our pursuits arise out of our curiosity, until it becomes an anxiety to gather knowledge, we shall never fail to acquire more than we sought. The retailing of impressions is never the same as the possession of experience--the one is infinitely richer than the other can indicate.
2. Nothing that may be told us about Jesus Christ can equal what we shall know when we have been to Him for ourselves. The eye of the soul must behold His glory before His greatness and His beauty can be appreciated and understood. Thus nothing that can be written about Him ever seems to equal what the soul, when given up to Him, has experienced of His love.
3. There are some things which in their recital seem to transcend belief. If the account of them has stimulated inquiry, then any latent scepticism with which the facts may have been treated is beneficial--we are making the right use of doubt when we are looking out for the truth. Personal experience is the best criterion of truth. (U. R. Gardner.)
The visit of the queen
I. Learn first from this subject what a beautiful thing it is when social position and wealth surrender themselves to God. If there are those here who have been favoured of fortune, or, as I might better put it, favoured of God, surrender all you have, and all you expect to be, to the Lord, who blessed this Queen of Sheba. Certainly you are not ashamed to be found in this queen’s company. I am glad that Christ has had His imperial friends in all ages. Elizabeth Christina, Queen of Prussia; Marie Feoderovna, Queen of Russia; Marie, Empress of France; Helena, the imperial mother of Constantine; Arcadia, from her great fortunes, building public baths at Constantinople, and toiling for the elevation of the masses; Queen Clotilda leading her husband and three thousand of his armed warriors to Christian baptism; Elizabeth of Burgundy giving her jewelled glove to a beggar, and scattering great fortunes among the distressed; Prince Albert singing “Rock of Ages” in Windsor Castle; and Queen Victoria incognito reading the Scriptures to a dying pauper. Again--
II. What is earnestness in the search of truth. Do you know where Sheba was? It was in Abyssinia, or some say in the southern part of Arabia Felix. In either case it was a great way off from Jerusalem. To get from there to Jerusalem she had to cross a country infested with bandits, and go across blistering deserts. When I see that caravan dust-covered, weary, and exhausted, trudging on across the desert and among the bandits, until it reaches Jerusalem, I say, “There is an earnest seeker after the truth.” But you want the truth to come to you; you do not want to go to it. There are people who fold their arms and say, “I am ready to become a Christian at any time; if I am to be saved, I shall be saved; and if I am to be lost, I shall be lost.” A man who says that, and keeps on saying it, will be lost. Jerusalem will never come to you; you must go to Jerusalem. The religion of the Lord Jesus Christ will not come to you; you must go and get religion. Bring out the camels; put on all the sweet spices, all the treasures of the heart’s affection; start for the throne. Goad on the camels! Jerusalem will never come to you; you must go to Jerusalem. Take the kingdom of heaven by violence. Urge on the camels. Again--
III. Religion is a surprise to anybody that gets it. This story of the new religion in Jerusalem, and of the glory of King Solomon, who was a type of Christ--that story rolls on and rolls on, and is told by every traveller coming back from Jerusalem. Religion is always a surprise to any one that gets it. The story of grace--an old story. Apostles preached it with rattle of chain; martyrs declared it with arm of fire; death-beds have affirmed it with visions of glory, and ministers of religion have sounded it through the lanes, and the highways, and the chapels, and the cathedrals. It has been cut into stone with chisel, and spread on the canvas with pencil; and it has been recited in the doxology of great congregations. And yet when a man first comes to look upon the palace of God’s mercy, and to see the royalty of Christ, and the wealth of His banquet, and the luxuriance of His attendants, and the loveliness of His face, and the joy of His service, he exclaims with prayers, with tears, with songs, with triumph, “The half--the half was not told me!” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The reality beyond the report
A brief enumeration and invoice of some of the departments of Christian truth and life.
1. First among these riches of grace should be named the life-giving, everlasting book which we call the Bible. As to its certainty, completeness, and power “not half has been told.”
2. Not half has been told by poet, artist, or preacher concerning the wisdom, power, and love of God in the created universe. God’s world as well as His Word should be studied. “Nature is Christian and preaches to us.”
3. Not a tithe has been told of the glory of the words, works, and life of Christ.
4. The most sanguine saint has scarcely dreamed of the power of the gospel to save, yea, “even to the uttermost.” Modern Miracles, such as Leila Thompson writes of, should become common occurrences.
5. Not half has been told of the blessedness and possibilities of Christian experience;--“exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
6. How faint our conception of the golden opportunities of Christian activity and usefulness.
7. And who can delineate, who can tabulate the attractions of heaven? That is the true home of the soul, the ideal society and kingdom without fault, the Church without spot or blemish. The exclusion of all evil, the inclusion of all that is pure, true and good. (P. Ross Parish.)
Exceeding all thought
The love of God passeth knowledge; man cannot grasp it. When Columbus landed in America, he did not know that he had discovered a vast continent. He knew nothing about its vast rivers, its great lakes and valleys. What did he know about the wealth of minerals hidden in its mountains? So it will take us all our days to discover the love of God; its depths we know nothing about. We shall need all eternity to fathom it.
Realisers alone can appreciate
The queen’s words and gifts suggest wide truths. Her experience that the reality transcended all report and expectation is repeated in every, heart that faithfully clings to Jesus and brings its questions and doubts to Him. “He must be loved ere that to you He will seem worthy of your love.” Just as, after all the speech of poets from the beginning of the world, he sweetness of love has not been told, and every heart that is blessed by it feels that it is more than all words can declare; so, after all that saints and evangelists have said of Christ, each soul which enters into faithful fellowship with Him finds that “the half was not told” it. No painter can put the melting glories of sunset on his canvas. No description can give one who has not heard it a true impression of the majesty and pathos of Beethoven’s thunderous music. Nothing but tasting for ourselves can tell us how good the Lord is. Even here Jesus gives “to eat of the hidden manna,” and the secrets of His love are only known by the loving heart. No man who rejects Him knows rightly Him whom he rejects. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Because the Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore made He thee king.
Christ appointed King
The Queen of Sheba acknowledgeth and praiseth Jehovah, as the author of Solomon’s advancement. She observes, that it was an evidence of God’s special regard to him, that he was set on the throne of Israel, God’s peculiar people. And she further observes, that it was a token of God’s great and everlasting love to Israel, that so wise and pious a prince was set over them. With much more justice may these words be applied to our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God hath “set as king, on His holy hill Zion.” Let us see how the words are applicable to Christ, and what reason we have to bless God for so wise and gracious an appointment.
I. The designation or appointment of Christ to be head and king of the Church was an evident instance of God’s delight in Him. Thus a great honour was conferred upon the Son of God. It is an honour to be any way employed for God. In this view the work of Christian ministers is honourable, and it becomes them to magnify their office. It is an honour to the angels to be the ministers of God and do His pleasure. But signal honour was conferred upon Christ, in being invested with so great authority, exalted to so extensive a dominion, and having all things put under His feet. This was an evidence that He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, that God thus exalted Him.
II. The appointment of Christ to be King of the Church, is a remarkable instance of God’s love to man. Because He loved the world, He made Jesus Christ king, to do justice and judgment. It was an evidence of God’s love to men, that He appointed prophets and teachers to instruct and reclaim an ignorant, idolatrous, sinful world. But in proportion to the excellency of the persons commissioned to this work, will the Divine love and grace be apparent. It is a merciful scheme, to rescue the world from ignorance, superstition and vice; to erect a spiritual kingdom in it; to destroy the works of the devil, and to deliver men from the worst slavery. But to manifest His Son for this purpose, was an astonishing instance of mercy. The perfections of His nature, and especially His moral excellences, qualify Him for this work. (J. Orton.)
Behold, the half was not told me.
The religious function of language
This incident brings before us the penalties of a great reputation. When once a man rouses popular expectation, he is its slave. Every one of his acts must henceforth be titanic, every casual word must flash and smite like one of the bolts of Jupiter. Obscurity has this advantage, that it gives us a chance of being appraised at our worth, and even of occasionally surpassing our fame. Those who aspire to notoriety should be sure of their resources, otherwise they will rise only to fall, and their end will be worse than their beginning. For it is not given to many to surpass a great reputation, as Solomon did in his contest of wit with the Queen of Sheba. It is to the credit of this queenly woman, however, that her admiration outgrew her envy; and her grateful homage took the shape of warm praise and costly gifts. It is no often, as I have said, that language fails to do justice to human greatness; but there are certain great, ultimate realities in the universe of God of which it is true that the half of their glory hath never been told.
I. The function of language. And first let me try to make clear what language is, and its function in relation to thought. Language is a distinctively human endowment, and its place is to form a bridge between one mind and another, so that the ideas, emotions, and intentions of one man may become known to his fellows, and that all may share the mind of each. Now, thoughts are, primarily, the reproductions of things; and since, in the far-off ages when language was first evolved, men’s thoughts were almost exclusively of their physical surroundings and needs, we find that the fundamental words of every language are names of material objects or of the impressions made by them on the primitive, childlike mind. And when man’s mental horizon widened, and his grasp of abstract ideas strengthened, instead of inventing new names for these higher operations of his mind he linked each abstract thought to a physical symbol, and used for the purpose the words already in vogue. It would surprise some of us, if we studied the matter, to find what a large proportion of our intellectual, moral, and religious vocabulary has physical roots. Right means straight; spirit means wind; transgression, the crossing of a line; supercilious, the lifting of an eyebrow. We still use the word heart to denote not only the physical organ, but the abstract emotions of love; and the word head, not only for that part of the body, but for the intellectual processes which are supposed to go on within it. And here we have the first suggestion of both the beauty and the imperfection of language as a vehicle of mind. It is beautiful because, by the use of natural imagery we employ nature as a symbol of the spiritual world of which she is the antechamber, or as an index finger, pointing away from herself into the deeper mysteries of the spiritual world. Language helps us to realise that these mountains and clouds, these trees and flowers, this earth, sky, sea, still have more to say when they have told us all about their physical properties. Words are the symbol of spirit, and every natural object they connote is a letter of some Divine word. Thus the more clearly we have it proved to us that language is sense-born, the more spiritual are its uses seen to be; for leaf, bud, fruit, horizon-line, mountain-masses, the foam of ocean waves, the eternal stars that blossom nightly in the skies, are one vast illuminated scroll on which, in letters of crimson and gold, green and midnight blackness, is spread the message of the Eternal. But now, if the physical basis of language is a part of its beauty and its power, it is also a source of its weakness. There is no philosopher who does not acknowledge that matter and mind are the most widely sundered realities in the universe. The spiritual and the material are at opposite poles of our experience. Yet we have to use the one not only to illustrate but to express the other. The spiritual has to clothe itself in a material image in order to be communicable at all. Our souls are like prisoners in the cell of sense, able to communicate with each other only through narrow loopholes of eye and ear. And so in dealing with the deep realities of the spirit we are never able to express exactly what we think and feel. Every great sentence is an unsuccessful effort to body forth an elusive thought in words too clumsy to hold it. Always more is meant than meets the ear. We feel like Titans who have strength and passion enough to sport with the hills and to fling mountains at one another, but who can lay their hands on nothing better than a handful of pebbles on which to exercise their muscle. So much greater is sense than body, so much finer is spirit than matter! Human language can no more compass the spiritual riches and vastness of life than a narrow inlet can contain the ocean. And so I might go on to show, by one line of example after another, how it is that in spiritual matters--where the mysteries of the soul, and God, and the life eternal brood darkly within and around us--when we have done what we can to compass them in thought and describe them in words, “the half hath not been told.” Far beyond our reach still stretch the heaving waters, still breaks the eastern dawn, still rise the everlasting snows. If this is fairly clear, some important conclusions follow.
II. The mystery of religion. The first conclusion we are led to is this--we can understand the great difference between the clear results of scientific thought and the uncertain and debatable questions that still try us in our theologies. The plain man--he who is now usually called the “man in the street”--and the scientific thinker are constantly throwing it up to us theologians and preachers, that while they see their way so clearly in practical things, and in dealing with the laws of matter, we never seem to quite agree for long about anything. That is quite true, but the inference which they draw is wrong. If religious thought dealt with material realities, our conclusions about it would be as clear, I suppose, as the rule of three or the theorems of Euclid. But it deals not with matter, which provides the basis of language, but with spirit, which can only use the clumsy instrument lent to it as best it may. This being so, it is unreasonable to expect the same exactitude of thought in theology as in science. We are battling with realities too big for us, and with weapons forged in a furnace too cold for the work. Man, it is true, is made for science, for he is the creature of time and space; and we know something of his surroundings, and it is well. But still more, man is made for religion, for he is the child of eternity, and in the mighty things of the spirit we find our truest and highest life; and so, even at the cost of being condemned to an endless quest, we must battle with the mystery which is also the glamour of religion. And we cannot leave spiritual realities alone for another reason. For in this higher quest and battle there is a supreme reward. Here are the supreme problems and hopes and aspirations of our soul. In this dim, tremendous region we find our truest selves, we find each other, we find God, our Maker and Redeemer. And in wrestling with the realities of religion, the soul grows, realises its true self, comes to its own, makes progress in all that is holy and good, as in no other way.
2. And here I would point out an obvious but perpetual snare that lies in the path of all religious thinkers. That is the danger of thinking that any one can reach finality in theologic thought. How often has this warning been forgotten, or not even recognised? It is the besetting sin of theologians, and of Church councils, and of all system-mongers, to imagine that they have reached the ultimate goal of religious certainty. Too often, in their hurry to reach religious rest, they have treated the high subject-matter of theology--God, the soul, personality, atonement--as if it could be tabulated like the contents of a museum. But museums are for dead things, not for living souls. Let creeds have their place. Let them rise as spontaneous utterances of the common faith of Christian communities--as the changing forms the ever living and growing tree of truth. But directly they claim to be more; directly, to change the figure, they profess to be other than the high-water marks of devout thought, and to be binding on the mind and heart of living men, they become dams, keeping back the swelling tide; they are prison walls that exclude the light and air. The only worthy attitude towards the great mysteries of the spiritual life, then, is one of humility.
3. A word in conclusion to the plain man. Where does he come in in this big, wide, mysterious world of religious thought? He has had no training in exact thinking; he is no logician; he has no time, and less inclination, to dive into the perplexing problems of theology. Yet he has his place and function in religion. For it is his business to live great truths even though he may not be able to understand them. He may have a reasonable faith, even though he may not be able to give full reasons for his faith. And we must always remember that but for the plain, ordinary, devout, and more or less unthinking Christian man or woman the theologian’s occupation would be gone. For it is the common everyday religious experience and consciousness that provides the theologian with his material., Therefore, let us all live the life. Let us put religion to the test. Let us “follow the gleam.” Let us pray and wrestle and fight with temptation Let us in the strength of God and by His redeeming grace follow Jesus, and put His promises to the proof. (E. Griffith-Jones, B. A.)
The king made of the almug-trees pillars for the house of the Lord.
Strength and sweetness
Pillars and psalteries were made out of the same timber, and in this respect we may take the tree of the text as a symbol of the strength and sweetness which inhere in the Christian character.
I. The first characteristic of the true Christian is strength. “Pillars for the house of the Lord, and for the king’s house.” The almug-tree was close in grain, firm in fibre, only such wood being fit for pillars. The people of God must first be strong in spirit. Our Lord Himself was distinguished by sublime faith and bravery, and His apostles and disciples shared His supreme power and confidence, bearing triumphantly immense strain and suffering, as a pillar its tremendous burden. Another point to be noted is this: in the various catalogues of the virtues which occur in the New Testament the virile virtues are as amply recognised as in the most austere ethical systems of Greece and Rome. And this strength of conviction, sternness of principle, and constancy of purpose, this force of character and conduct, formed the basis of the beauty and sweetness which distinguished the primitive Christians.
1. Without strength there is no beauty of life. Without depth and thoroughness character does not attain to sweetness. We say, “Beauty is skin deep”; but really this is a consolation of philosophy in which the consolation is much in excess of the philosophy, for beauty springs from the roots and foundations of things. The loveliness of the earth is maintained by forces which operate below the surface; the bloom of the human face is secured by the health of organs concealed in the depths of the body; and the loveliness and sweetness of character spring from the soul--spring from the soul when pure and strong. Without firmness and vigour character does not attain beauty and sweetness. Reality, solidity, and energy underlie all satisfying winsomeness of manner and conduct. Hidden within the leaves of the tree are stout boughs, beneath the blooming skin hide well-knit bones, the greensward rests on granite, and the basis of flowers is not rarely iron and flint. So genuine charm of character is impossible without strong conscientiousness, serious views, unbending principle, firm, pure, uncompromising purity of mind and heart. There is no short and easy way to grace of life; its secret is the strength and integrity of the soul. Seeking to make life sweet, first make your heart sound, for out of radical, organic purity blossoms real courtesy, gentleness, and the manifold graces of life. “Whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely.” The pure comes before the lovely. Do not patch, powder, and paint the face, get health at the centre; do not coax your dress, get a better figure; do not revise your etiquette, be transformed in the spirit of your mind. Depth, strength, vitality, freedom, harmony, love, joyfulness are the roots of beautiful Christian character. “Out of the heart are the issues of life,” and in the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, do we find the secret of satisfying and abiding sweetness.
2. As there is no real grace of life without strength, so there is no efficient service without it. “He made pillars for the house of the Lord.” Men efficient for high holy service in God’s Church must possess positive qualities, elements of strength and stability, independence of thought, uprightness of character, steadfastness of faith, and power of patience and sacrifice. Fussy men in all the denominations seem to be pillars, but in fact are poor creatures of little moment. The secret of efficiency is reality. Lath-painted iron is soon detected; without sincerity, strength, and self-forgetfulness service is shallow and sterile. “And he made pillars for the king’s house.” If we are to render real and permanent service to the State, we shall need the strong, fine qualities of the Christian character. We cannot make a pillar of bamboo: there must be something in it, something of heart of oak, solidity of marble, texture of iron and bronze. “He who would become a pillar in Church or State must first be a pillar in deed and truth.” Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.”
II. The complementary characteristic of true christian character is sweetness, “Harps also and psalteries for singers.” Fragrance and music proceeded from the wood that furnished the pillars: so Christian character suggests harmoniousness, smoothness, sweetness. Mr. St. John, the naturalist, relates that when exploring the recesses of the Highlands he frequently came into contact with men living in the rude Highland way, and at first he thought them morose, unobservant, stupid; but as he continued to live amongst them the truth appeared: they appreciated their majestic hills and lakes more keenly than their visitor did, in their soul was the love of beauty, and in their lips the law of kindness; they were really thinkers, poets, saints. Many Christians who ruffle the polite and provoke the reproach of aestheticism are really the gentlest and loveliest of men and women. Forbidding to the hasty glance and superficial judgment of dilettantism, it is the exterior only that is uncut and unpolished, which is, after all, infinitely better than social refinement hiding moral rottenness. Harriet Martineau, writing about the disappointing revelation of the true Walter Scott in Lockhart’s Life, ends with this just reflection: “If great men fall below our expectation, let it be remembered that there is another point of view from which the matter should be looked at--that we gain thus a new sense of the glory and beauty of virtue and incorruptibleness in the humble matter of everyday life.” Dexterous exhibitors introduce into the flower-shew blooms which put to shame their modest neighbours, but when the prizes are adjudged these pretentious flowers are rejected when it is discovered that their leaves and petals are artificial and doctored; so the great Day will doom many a manufactured article, and confer the final reward upon flowers of the field whose whole charm was truth and sweetness. We, therefore, magnify conscience at every turn, and think to show how much we have of it by ignoring the obligations of grace, and blurring the beauty of holiness whenever it tends to reveal itself. A perverse conception of the Puritan deforms our sanctuaries, impoverishes our worship, and blights our character. In the house study to express the sweetness of Christian character. One of the finest aspects of modem times is the art that is finding its way into lowly homes, and giving the touch of grace to every humblest, household, necessary thing. “The aim of art is to express the sublime in the trivial,” said J. F. Millet; and if in the home we reveal our sublime faith and righteousness in doing gracefully many little things, the home will be far happier than it sometimes is. In the business sphere is much need of sweetness. Nowhere is gentleness more effective than in the stern world of toil and trade. Silk is said to be stronger than steel, and the graciousness of a strong man renders him as nearly omnipotent as a mortal may come. The lyre ought to figure in business as well as the firm, hard columns; and fine behaviour and persuasive speech in those who rule without a moment’s surrender of right and authority, are more influential than any outburst of vulgar wrath. Instead of a cudgel try a psaltery. In our entire intercourse with general society we need to cultivate this grace of spirit and life. A sceptical writer in a current magazine argues that the old evidences for Christianity are utterly discredited, and that the one consideration which now gives sanction and effectiveness to its claim is “ the beauty of the character of Jesus Christ.” We do not for a moment agree with this contention; but it is undeniable that no evidence for Christianity is so commanding as that drawn from the incomparable, transcending loveliness of our Lord. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The king had at sea a navy of Tharshish.
The lessons of prosperity
The period of Solomon’s reign was the period of the greatest commercial, political, and intellectual splendour that Israel knew.
I. The advantages of a state of prosperity. Christians are sometimes disposed to look with suspicion on wealth and greatness. Lord Bacon said that prosperity was the blessing of the Old Testament, and adversity the blessing of the New Testament. But this aphorism may very easily be misunderstood. Prosperity is the blessing of the New Testament as much as it is of the Old. In its proper nature, in its legitimate influence, in its Divine design, prosperity must be regarded as a blessing. One of Emerson’s ancestors was in the habit of praying that none of his posterity might be rich. It is easy to imagine a man offering a prayer like that for his posterity, although it would be rather a shabby thing to do, but you will hardly find a sane man offering such a prayer for himself. Terrestrial prosperity is still one of God’s benedictions.
1. Prosperity is a blessing, as it widens the range of our physical enjoyments.
2. Prosperity is a blessing, as it gives freer play to man’s intellectual powers, and renders possible a fuller intellectual life. Elihu Burritt laments that the English peasant is a blind painter, creating on the hillside glorious pictures in green and gold, but strangely insensible to the splendour he creates. Ruskin complains that few people ever look at the sky. Emerson writes ruefully that whilst he was strolling on the beach in raptures with the azure and spiritual seat the tanned fishermen had nothing to say to one another except, “How’s fish?” And most of our intellectual masters lash us for our neglect of the sights and sounds of a glorious creation.
3. Prosperity is a blessing, as it gives opportunity for the expression of highest character. Prosperity properly used, truly sanctified, brings character to its very highest and brightest manifestations. Humility is never more lovely than when it is clothed in scarlet; moderation is never more impressive than when it sits at banquets; simplicity is never more delightful than when it dwells amid magnificence; purity is never more divine than when its white robes are seen in palaces; gentleness and kindness are never more touching than when displayed by the great and powerful.
4. Prosperity is a blessing, as it enables us to act out more frilly our noblest aspirations. It is quite true that many who promise large things when their ship of gold comes in, nevertheless on the arrival of that gallant bark forthwith put the whole cargo into bonded stores, but noble souls rejoice exceedingly to find their power increased to glorify God in the service of humanity.
II. The perils of a state of prosperity. It has its perils to a nation. The ships of Solomon brought ruin; so did the ships of Carthage, of Greece, of Rome; so did the rich argosies of Spain. The other day in Whitby they showed me the ruins of the grand old Abbey. On the south aspect the wall is much more dilapidated than on the north, showing, it would seem, that the light of the sun had been more destructive than all the wild storms of the North Sea. So the sun of prosperity has often proved more fatal to empire than the bitterest tempests of danger and want and conflict. There is plenty of morbid matter everywhere, and the sun of prosperity soon develops it disastrous|y enough. Prosperity has its perils to the individual. It is said that birds of paradise are often captured through their becoming intoxicated with the spice forests on which they alight, and we have all seen fine men and women, with the light of heaven in their eye and the beauty of holiness in their life, fall miserable victims to prosperity. Some rich men degenerate fearfully, so do some popular’ men. On the American prairies travellers are sometimes brought to a standstill through the wheels of their chariots becoming locked by the flowers which grow there so profusely; and many a noble pilgrim to heaven has been hindered, brought to a fatal halt, by the golden and purple flowers of fortune which Heaven, in its goodness, had made to spring in his path. The lower good may destroy the higher good; as a man becomes richer in gold he may become poorer in faith, in virtue, in charity, in hope. Christianity gives us a social ideal of prime interest and efficacy. The curse of the old civilisations was selfishness. “I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards,” etc. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-9). The I’s stand up like a regiment of Grenadiers. Here was the curse of the old nations, in the flush of their power and prosperity. Here is the curse of much of the prosperity of to-day. Selfishness is the rock on which rich argosies suffer shipwreck, the rock on which the grandeur of nations and the happiness of men go to pieces. Christ changes the I into we, the my into our. Christianity brings us the larger measure of moral power. (W. L. Watkinson.).