Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
THE STONE THAT BECAME A MOUNTAIN
Daniel 2:44. In the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in. pieces, and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
THE various revolutions of kingdoms, however casual and contingent they may appear, all are fore-ordained in the inscrutable counsels of the Deity, and made subservient to the accomplishment of his eternal purpose; indeed they seem to be marked in Scripture solely in reference to the Church of God; as though the rise and fall of empires were scarcely worth a mention, except as they accelerate or retard the progress of true religion. In the time of the Babylonish captivity God gave to Nebuchadnezzar a very remarkable dream, and interpreted it to him by the Prophet Daniel. There appeared to him an image, whose head was of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, the feet of iron and clay; on the feet of which a stone fell, that utterly demolished the whole. This foretold the succession of four great monarchies, and the erection of the Messiah's kingdom upon the ruins of them all.
For the elucidation of this subject, it will be proper to consider,
I. The prophecy itself—
In which we notice,
1. The time and manner of its establishment—
The time of its establishment is here clearly marked. The Babylonish, Persian, and Grecian monarchies, were to rise in succession, each on the ruins of that which preceded it; and at last the Roman empire was to swallow up, as it were, and comprehend them all. And "in the time of the kings" belonging to this last kingdom, even while they should enjoy the utmost plenitude of their power, another kingdom was to arise, the kingdom of the Messiah. This was accurately accomplished; for Christ was born in the reign of Augustus Caesar, when the Roman empire was at the summit of its strength and grandeur: and, within the space of about fifty years from that time, his kingdom was spread, not only over Judea, but over a great part of the known world.
The manner of it is also plainly declared. It was foretold that a "stone which should he cut out without hands, should break in pieces this vast image;" that "the God of Heaven should set up a kingdom" solely by his own power, without the intervention of human force or policy; or, to use the words of another prophet, "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts." This also was remarkably fulfilled in the establishment of Christ's kingdom in the world. The persons who were his principal agents, were a few illiterate fishermen, alike untutored in philosophy, and unassisted by the authority of earthly magistrates. They were expressly forbidden to use the sword Matthew 26:52; and the most learned of all the apostles suppressed everything that savored of carnal wisdom, lest he should make the cross of Christ of none effect 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:1. Yet, notwithstanding their weapons were not carnal, they were mighty through God to the pulling down of the strong holds of sin and Satan 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. And indeed the heavenly treasure was committed thus to earthen vessels, on purpose that the excellency of the power might more evidently appear to be of God 2 Corinthians 4:7.
2. The extent and duration of its power—
It was to have the pre-eminence above all other kingdoms in respect of its extent. All the monarchies referred to by the prophet were great and powerful; but this far excelled them all. The stone cut out without hands fell upon the feet of the image which were of iron and clay, and broke the whole image in pieces; intimating that the kingdom of Christ should prevail over the Roman empire together with the other monarchies which were comprehended in it: all the powers of the world were to be as nothing before it. This was represented in the vision by "the stone becoming a mountain, and this mountain filling the earth." Christianity is to prevail over the whole earth. The idolatries of Pagan Rome yielded to the sublimer principles of the Gospel; and the superstitions of antichrist, which for a long season obscured divine truth, have in a measure fallen, and shall in due time vanish before its light and influence. Nor shall the authority of Christ extend, like that of earthly monarchs, merely over the bodies of men: it shall reach unto their souls, and "bring into subjection the very thoughts and desires of their hearts." There shall not be one disaffected subject in his whole empire: the happiness of all his people shall be bound up in their Prince, whose will shall be their only law, and whose honor their only aim.
It was to excel all others also in its duration. All other kingdoms have fallen, and shall fall; nor can the best constituted governments maintain their stability beyond the time allotted them in the Divine counsels. But the kingdom of Christ "shall stand forever;" his power shall "never be transferred to other hands;" nor shall any revolutions shake the foundations of his throne. "He shall put down all rule and all authority and power, and reign until all his enemies are become his footstool 1 Corinthians 15:24-25." The precise mode of administering his kingdom will indeed terminate when there shall be no more subjects upon earth to govern: but the kingdom itself will exist in Heaven to all eternity, when it shall be delivered up into the Father's hands, and God shall be all in all The perpetuity of this kingdom was afterwards revealed to Daniel, with some additional circumstances, in a vision similar to that before us. The four great monarchies appeared to him as four great beasts, the last of which had ten horns, corresponding with the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar's image, and intimating that ten smaller powers should grow out of that fourth monarchy, all of which should in due season fall before the kingdom of Christ, which was then to become universal in its extent, and everlasting in its continuance. Daniel 7:3-7; Daniel 7:14.
To improve this subject aright, we must distinctly mark,
II. The practical use of the prediction—
While it prepares us to expect the perfect triumph of Christianity, to the enemies of Christ's kingdom it speaks terror—
Persons may be enemies of Christ's kingdom either by denying the truth of Christianity, or by resisting its influence. But whether we be professed infidels or merely nominal Christians, the subject before us is highly proper for our consideration. Whence carne this marvelous correspondence between the predictions and the accomplishment of them, if Christianity be not of divine original? was it not established at the very time that was fixed in this prophecy? And has it not prevailed, not only without the aid of human authority, but in direct opposition to all the power and policy of the confederate world? And if it have broken in pieces so many adverse powers, and "made them even as the chaff of the summer threshing-floors," shall any of us withstand it with impunity? Our Lord, in reference to this very passage, has assured us, that "on whoever this stone shall fall it shall grind him to powder Matthew 21:43-44. See also Isaiah 60:12." But remember, it is not a feigned or forced sub-mission that is required of us: Christ reigns over a willing people, and must be enthroned in their hearts. Let such be his influence over you, my Brethren: Let "every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ be put down." Let his law be your only rule, his honor your highest aim, and his service your supreme delight.
To the friends and subjects of Christ, on the other hand, it is replete with comfort—
As Christianity has not prevailed in the world without much opposition, so neither will it gain a complete ascendency over the heart without many conflicts. But should any one despond because his adversaries are mighty? We need only look at the prevalence of Christianity in the world, and we may see what shall be accomplished in our hearts. Are we destitute of any power in ourselves? Be it so: yet the stone which was cut out without hands, and became a great mountain, shall crush our enemies, and bring our inmost souls into subjection to Christ. If the gates of Hell have not been able to prevail against the Church at large, neither shall they against the weakest member of it. If the greatest empires have yielded to the influence of the Gospel, so shall also the most inveterate lusts. Let Christians then lift up their heads with joy: their conflicts may be severe, but victory is assured to them by the promise and oath of an unchanging God Hebrews 6:17-18.
THE HEBREW YOUTHS IN THE FIERY FURNACE
Daniel 3:28. Then Nebuchadnezzar spoke, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshech, and Abed-nego, who has sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any God, except their own God.
A BRIGHTER example of fidelity to God than that before us is not to be found in all the records of antiquity. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, full of pride and vain-glory, determined to erect an image of gold that should be worshiped as a God. The image was above thirty yards in height, and three in breadth; and all covered over with plates of solid gold. The expense of making this image must have been immense; and it puts to shame the worshipers of Jehovah, who grudge to expend their money for the promotion of his glory. The image being erected, the chief men in all the provinces of the empire were summoned to attend at the dedication of it, and, at a given signal, to how down and worship it. The three Hebrew youths mentioned in our test, having been set over different provinces, were necessitated to be present at the ceremony; but, being convinced of the sinfulness of idolatry, they would not them-selves be guilty of it. As far as they could conscientiously obey their king, they would: but where there remained no alternative but to disobey him, or offend their God, they determined to "obey God rather than man."
To bring their history more fully under our view, let us notice,
I. Their fidelity—
They were certainly under great temptation to comply with the wishes of the king—
They were under far different circumstances from the rest of the governors that were assembled on this occasion. They were not merely subjects, but captives, who were entirely at the king's mercy. They were also under peculiar obligations to the king, who had educated them at his own expense, and had even invested them with authority over whole provinces of his native subjects. These considerations were calculated to operate strongly on their minds, and to render them somewhat less scrupulous than they would otherwise have been about a single infringement of the Divine law. A sense of duty to their king, and of gratitude to their benefactor, might seem to justify a small deviation from the stricter path of duty. They might possibly compare the act required of them with the con-duct of the whole Jewish nation, both priests and people: the Jews had erected idols of their own, and, of their own free-will, had worshiped them in preference to Jehovah: but these youths were brought into the situation against their will, and in their own minds intended no disrespect to the God of Heaven. Were they to act as their own priests and people had done, they would doubtless be highly criminal; but could there then be any great harm in merely bowing their heads, as an act of obedience to their prince? Moreover, when every governor in the empire complied with the edict, why should they refuse; more especially since their refusal would subject them to the most cruel death, and rob them of all opportunity of benefitting their respective provinces in future?
They who know how the mind and conscience are apt to be biased by such reasonings as these, will see, that they must of necessity present a very formidable obstacle to the preservation of integrity under such circumstances.
But they manfully withstood the royal edict—
They would not for a moment confer with flesh and blood. No regard to their own ease or safety, no, nor to their eventual usefulness in the world, could induce them to swerve from the plain path of duty. They were offered by the king to reconsider their determination: but their minds were made up, rather to suffer anything, than to sin against their God. The king had exultingly said, "Who is that God who shall deliver you out of my hand?" But they told him, that their God was able, yes, moreover, that he would deliver them out of his hand: but that, whether he would or not, they were fixed in their purpose, never to violate their conscience in bowing down to this golden idol Daniel 3:16-18.
In the midst of all this firmness, we observe not one indecorous expression; no invectives, no complaints, but simply a declaration of their affiance in God, and of their determination never to sin against him.
How God appreciated their fidelity, we may judge from,
II. Their recompense—
The judgment threatened was, that they should be cast into a burning fiery furnace: and the command was instantly given, that it should be executed upon them. But behold how God interposed for them!
1. While it was executing—
The mightiest men in all the army were selected to execute this judgment, and to cast the offenders into the furnace, now heated seven times more than usual for their reception. The youths were bound in their clothes, that nothing belonging to them might be preserved; and they were cast into the furnace, according to the king's commandment. But, behold! the flames burst forth, and consumed every one of the executioners. This, taken in connection with the mercy given to these faithful youths, marked indisputably the indignation of God against the persecutors, and his approbation of those who had braved death for his sake.
Had the Hebrews died, this destruction of the soldiers would have appeared an accident: but as God appeared, during the execution, to punish his enemies, so he appeared still more visibly in behalf of his friends.
2. After it was executed—
The youths fell down bound into the midst of the fire: but the fire had no power to hurt them. It burned the bands by which they were tied, so that, being loosed, they could walk about; but it could not so much as singe a hair of their heads, or incommode them in the least: they could breathe, and walk, and converse as easily as in the open air. Behold too, now "one like unto the Son of God," "an angel," (who, I doubt not, was "the Angel of the Covenant," the Lord Jesus Christ, who had often assumed the form of an angel before,) came into the furnace, and walked with them. This Nebuchadnezzar and his courtiers saw, and were beyond measure astonished at it. And how different now were the feelings of the oppressed and their oppressors! The oppressed had such communion with their Lord as they had never enjoyed before, such as was a foretaste of Heaven itself: but their oppressors were filled with shame and confusion of face.
Still further did God appear for his servants,
3. After it was reversed—
The king himself, who had sent them into the furnace, carne to call them thence; and was constrained, in the presence of all his people, to commend their constancy, and to acknowledge the supreme dominion and power of the God of Israel. On examination of the persons of these youths, it was found, that not so much as the smell of fire had passed on them. The fire that had consumed their bands, and destroyed their persecutors, had had no power at all over them; so that the king, who had just before persecuted unto death the adherents of Jehovah, now forbade, under the severest penalties, that a single word should be spoken against him.
What a triumph was here; and how gloriously attested! and what a report must now be carried into all the provinces of the empire, by those who had been summoned to attend the ceremony!
But further, these very Hebrews were not only restored to their respective governments, but were promoted to yet higher honors, as a recompense of their fidelity to God. And how they have since been rewarded in a better world, no tongue can express, no human imagination can conceive.
Among the numerous and important reflections which this subject suggests, consider,
1. What a mercy it is that we enjoy civil and religious liberty!
We have no power over us to make such cruel edicts: we are not subject to the decrees of a capricious tyrant: we all can worship God according to our conscience, without restraint. There are, it is true, some small sacrifices made by those who choose to dissent from the established mode of worship; but they are small indeed, and required only with a view to the welfare of the State: they are such as no man who is of a spiritual and heavenly mind feels in the least burdensome. These are now put aside by the repeal of the Test Act in 1828. In fact, there is no sacrifice at all, except of a negative kind: all are at liberty to serve God in their own way: the infidel, the Socinian, and the idolatrous Papist, are as free to follow the dictates of their conscience, as the servant and worshiper of our Incarnate God. Let us be thankful for this inestimable privilege. It is not universally so even in what is called the Christian world: there is yet in existence the Popish Inquisition, which is little else than a repetition of Nebuchadnezzar's edict; and which shows us, how necessary those very tests are, to which we have before alluded: for, were the Papists once to regain the ascendant in this country, we should yet again be subjected to all the bloody edicts of former days. O let us bless our God, that the rights of conscience are respected among us; and that, in relation to the object or manner of our worship, we are left to stand or fall to our own Master!
2. What a mercy it is, if we are under the influence of divine grace—
The whole mass of the Babylonish courtiers, being under no divine influence, complied at once with the order that was issued. So it is with men among ourselves. Whatever has the sanction of the great, whether it be good or bad, is followed; and no one dares to stem the torrent of iniquity which overflows the land. But men who are renewed in the spirit of their minds, will "not be conformed to this present evil world:" on the contrary, "they are transformed in the renewing of their minds, and they prove in their conduct what is the good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God." What the principle is by which they are actuated, may be seen in the history before us: "By faith it was, that these pious youths were enabled to "quench the violence of fire Hebrews 11:33-34." And if faith was so powerful under that dispensation, when the object of faith was so indistinctly and partially revealed, what shall it not effect, now that the Sun of Righteousness is shining in its meridian splendor, and the full "glory of God is displayed in the face of Jesus Christ?" Seek then to have this grace formed in your hearts: it is the root from whence all other graces proceed: it is faith that "works by love," and "purifies the heart," and "overcomes the world." Live in the exercise of this grace, and all the persuasions or terrors of the world will lose their force.
3. What a mercy it is to have God for our God!
If once we possess this blessing, we need never fear what either men or devils can do against us. If we are persecuted for righteousness' sake, we need not be concerned about it; for our God will come and walk with us in the fire, and make the wrath of our enemies the occasions of richer Communications of his love. He has said, "When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon you; for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior Isaiah 43:2-3." "If our afflictions for his sake abound, our consolations through him shall much more abound:" and in due season he will bring us forth "out of the furnace, purified as gold." But oh! what a furnace awaits our impenitent persecutors! Who can conceive what "a lake that is which burns with fire and brimstone," into which all the ungodly shall be cast; and what it will be to "dwell with ever-lasting burnings?" But for the faithful servants of Jehovah there is reserved "an eternal weight of glory proportioned to the light and momentary afflictions" which they here endured. Fear not then, any of you, to give yourselves up to God, or to encounter the wrath of man for his sake; for "them that honor him, he will honor." Only "be faithful unto death, and lie will give you a crown of life."
NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S DREAM VERIFIED AND IMPROVED
Daniel 4:34-37. And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up my eyes unto Heaven, and my understanding returned unto me: and I blessed the Most High; and I praised and honored him that lives forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he does according to his will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What do you? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and, for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom; and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of Heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
A MORE remarkable history than this is not found in the annals of the world. Never was such a transition ever heard of, from such an elevation to a state of such extraordinary degradation, as that which is recorded in this chapter. The account is written by Nebuchadnezzar himself; and, doubtless by divine direction, it was incorporated with the writings of Daniel, and made a part of the inspired volume. Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest monarch then living in the world: he had subjugated many countries to his yoke; and he ruled over them with despotic sway. But on account of his excessive pride, God determined to humble him, and to make him an example to all future ages. Previously however to the execution of the judgment which he had decreed to inflict upon him, it pleased God to reveal to him, in a dream or vision, the judgment that should be executed. The vision was of a large and fruitful tree cut down; but the stump thereof was left in the ground: that stump however being intended to represent a man, who should be left exposed, like the beasts of the earth, to all varieties of weather, for the space of seven years, when he should again be restored to his former state of magnificence and power. The Chaldean magicians being unable to interpret this dream, Daniel was sent for; and he interpreted it to the king, in all its parts. The import of it was, that the king was to be reduced to the state of a beast for seven years; and then, being brought to a just knowledge of the one true God, he was to be restored with augmented power and splendor to his throne. Whatever impression was made by the dream, and the interpretation of it, at the time, it soon wore off; and the haughty monarch swelled with pride as much as ever. At the end of twelve months, when walking in his palace and surveying the extent and grandeur of the city Babylon, he exclaimed, "Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty verse 29, 30." And instantly, while the words were yet in his mouth, the wrath of God fell upon him, and he was reduced to the state of a beast, according to the vision that he had before seen. At the end of seven years the vision was yet further verified, in his restoration: and, in the words which we have read, we see the improvement which he made of the dispensation.
I. He acknowledges God as the Sovereign Disposer of all events—
He had throughout all his former life left out of his contemplation the thoughts of an over-ruling Providence, and had ascribed all his victories to his own wisdom and prowess. If he had given any honor to another, it was to his idol, Bel. But now he saw, that Jehovah was the God of all the earth: that, however men might appear to effect great changes upon earth, they were in reality "nothing;" they were mere instruments in God's hands; the axe, or saw, with which he executed his own designs Isaiah 10:15. This was clearly proved to him in the dispensation that had taken place; for, both in the judgment that he had suffered, and in the mercy he had experienced, God alone had wrought; "nor could any stay his hand, or say unto him, What do you?"
Now it would be well if all the professed worshipers of Jehovah acknowledged his uncontrollable sovereignty, and his universal agency, in like manner. But we, almost like the heathen themselves, are ready to ascribe everything, whether great or small, to the wisdom and power of man. We lose sight of the first great cause, and fix our minds only on the second causes; and rather than speak of Jehovah as determining events, we will ascribe them to luck, or chance, or accident; and will thus run into atheism itself, rather than give the glory to Him to whom it is due. But let it be remembered, that there is not anything in the universe which is not done by the express permission of God, and in accordance with his eternal counsels. Men indeed are free agents in all that they do; but still they "do only what God's hand and counsel have determined before to be done Acts 4:28;" not the falling of a sparrow takes place but "according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." This, while it does not in the least diminish the responsibility of men as moral agents Acts 2:23, tends greatly to compose the mind under all the variety of dispensations that succeed each other; and to impress us with the idea, that whatever may be designed or done by men, God will "get himself honor," as he did on Pharaoh, and will eventually be glorified.
II. He adores God for his dispensations towards himself—
These had been beyond measure humiliating: yet he speaks of them in the beginning of this chapter with wonder and admiration: "I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the High God has wrought toward me: how great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders Daniel 4:2-3." So also at the close of the chapter; "I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of Heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment The text." Here he shows indeed that he was restored, not only to the possession of his throne, but to the best possible use of his faculties. The end of the dispensation was now completely answered. In truth, painful as the dispensation was, it was richly compensated, yes, infinitely overbalanced, by the effect it produced. No suffering can be accounted great, that is over-ruled for such good to the soul. To bless and adore God for our afflictions is one of the highest exercises of faith and love. Who does not admire Job, when, under the pressure of his accumulated calamities, he said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord?" This is to be done, not merely when, as in Nebuchadnezzar's case, we see the termination of them; but in the very midst of them all, while they are yet lying heavy upon us, and we see no way for our escape: then, I say, we should give glory unto our God, convinced that "He does all things well," and saying, with Hezekiah, "Good is the word of the Lord concerning me." To kiss the rod in this manner, "O! how lovely a spirit does it manifest!" How much better is it than murmuring, and complaining, and fretting under our troubles "like a wild bull in a net!" Let us imitate Nebuchadnezzar then, in this respect; and however afflictive the dispensation with which we are visited may be, let us say, "It is the Lord; let him do what seems him good."
III. He warns others to avoid that sin which brought this calamity upon him—
He had "walked in pride," and been abased for it below the meanest of the children of men. Secure as he had imagined himself from any calamity, God had inflicted in a moment a punishment, which might well deter all who heard of it from the commission of a similar offence. God is never at a loss for means to accomplish his righteous will: in the judgment inflicted on this haughty monarch, he has sufficiently shown, that He is both able and determined to "abase all who walk in pride."
Now this consideration is of infinite importance, not to kings only, but to all the human race. Pride is natural to man: there is not a more powerful principle in our fallen nature than pride. The ungodly world are full of it. There is not any distinction, natural or acquired, which is not made an occasion of self-preference and self-delight. If a man be born of high parentage, or have acquired rank or fortune by his own exertions, how will he be puffed up with his honors, and almost conceive himself to be made of a finer clay than his less-distinguished neighbor! 'My might and my wisdom have procured me all these things:' and on the same endowments they rest for a continued enjoyment of them. Thus "they sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their own drag." Nor is this confined to the ungodly world: there are among those who profess godliness, many, who are as full of pride and conceit as those who are altogether ignorant of religion: the object in which they pride themselves is changed; but the principle is the same as ever. Some, like the Pharisee in the Gospel, "trust in themselves that they are righteous, and despise others:" they say in their hearts, "Stand by yourself; come not near to me; I am holier than you." Of these says God, "They are a smoke in my nose Isaiah 65:5." Others, like Diotrephes, "love to have the pre-eminence;" and are never so happy as when they are setting forth their gifts, and passing judgment upon all that they see and hear. Self-sufficiency and self-conceit, self-seeking, and self-applause, are their characteristic features; and so far from adorning the Gospel as they would be thought to do, they actually make it stink in the nostrils of all who have judgment to discriminate between good and evil. Not a few of such "novices," it is to be feared, "being lifted up with pride, fall into the condemnation of the devil." Even truly good men are by no means so holy, but that they are in continual danger of being drawn into the indulgence of this evil principle. Hezekiah, even after his most extraordinary deliverances from enemies without, and illness within, so far forgot himself as to be lifted up with pride; and thereby provoked God to withdraw from his descendants the mercies that had been given to him. And Paul himself was visited with a thorn in his flesh, to keep him low, "lest he should be exalted above measure Twice mentioned, 2 Corinthians 12:7."
Be it known then to all, that they need to watch and pray against this malignant evil; for God will most abase all in whom it is found. Man cannot abase them: to do this is a work far above the power of any created being Job 40:11-12,: but God is able to do it; and he will do it. He is at no loss for means whereby to effect it 1 Corinthians 11:30. Some, like Manasseh, he will take among the thorns: others, like Peter, he will leave to fall, and to disgrace their holy profession: and others, like Pharaoh, or Herod, he will plunge into the bottomless abyss of Hell. "Wherein soever they deal proudly, he will show himself above them." Let us never then forget, that "the proud in heart are an abomination to the Lord:" that "while he gives grace to the humble, he will resist them:" and while he fills the hungry with good things, he will scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts."
We exhort all, then,
1. To search their hearts, in reference to this sin—
Men who are under the influence of this sin, always find means to hide it from their own eyes. But it is to no purpose to deceive ourselves: God will not be imposed upon by specious names: he sees the evil, wherever it exists; and he hates it with a perfect hatred. Let us then endeavor to find out even the most hidden workings of this abominable evil, and implore help from God to mortify and subdue it.
2. To be thankful for that fidelity that strives to put them on their guard against it—
Nebuchadnezzar, though be did not reform his life, was not angry with Daniel for interpreting to him faithfully the vision he had seen. This is not always the case, especially when the sin of pride is pointed out: we are then in danger of being accounted "enemies for telling men the truth." But "let our counsel be acceptable unto you." We are constrained to "speak God's word faithfully," even if we were speaking to the greatest monarchs upon earth. Let none then, of whatever rank or class, be offended. Indeed, to take offence at a faithful ministration of the word, would prove the very point which it was a man's object to deny, namely, that he was under the dominion of pride. The humble will be thankful for every hint that can be afforded them for the discovery of their most secret sins, because they will be led thereby to a deeper humiliation before God, and to a more simple affiance in the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. To humble themselves for it as Nebuchadnezzar did—
Nebuchadnezzar not only wrote this whole account, but circulated it throughout the whole extent of his dominions. He thought he could never take shame enough to himself for all his former pride! What a glorious evidence was this of the transforming efficacy of Divine grace! It is no easy matter for any man to acknowledge and confess his pride: but to confess it openly, to take shame to himself for it publicly before all, this is a work of grace indeed! and it is the true and proper operation of grace upon the soul. We do not mean that it is necessary to publish our sins to all the world; but it is necessary to confess our faults unto those who have been more particularly affected by them. At all events, we must make confession before our God; for on that depends our present and everlasting acceptance with him: it is impossible, "if we harden ourselves against him, to prosper:" yes, "we shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." "Whoever exalts himself shall be abased; but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
BELSHAZZAR WARNED OF HIS IMPENDING RUIN
Daniel 5:5-6. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
IN former days, God was pleased to reveal his mind and will to men by dreams, and visions, and signs of different kinds; and this he did, not to his friends only, but also to his enemies. To Nebuchadnezzar he revealed his purposes towards the world at large, in the successive establishment and ruin of four mighty empires, and of the final erection of the Messiah's kingdom, which should stand forever. His purposes also towards this monarch in particular he was pleased to make known through the same medium of communication. In like manner, to the impious Belshazzar he here in a miraculous manner foretold the impending destinies of himself and of his falling empire. The effect of this revelation upon the mind of Belshazzar is described in the words which we have just read; and it will give occasion to many useful reflections, while we consider,
I. His overwhelming fears—
That the sight of a hand-writing upon the wall of his room should surprise him, we may well expect. But why should it create in him such terror as is described in our text? What though he did not understand the writing? he need not on that account to be dismayed, if he had no inward reason to interpret the sign itself as auguring ill of him. But conscience, which had long been silenced by him, now lifted up its voice, and spoke to him in the language of keen remonstrance, and of dire foreboding: and this it was that made "his loins to shake, and his knees to smite one against the other."
Now this is a striking and instructive incident. We may, by carelessness and dissipation, drown for a season the voice of conscience; (unhappily for them, many succeed in this too well!) but sooner or later it will speak, and that too in such an authoritative tone as will make the stoutest sinner tremble. Every one, whether willingly or not, must listen to it at last: and the longer our attention to it is delayed, the more poignant and terrible will its reproaches be. Behold the convictions of the converts on the day of Pentecost, or the desponding and self-destroying attitude of the jailor! Yet these were the kindlier offices of conscience for their good Acts 2:37; Acts 16:26-30. In many who continue to withstand its dictates, it stings, it rankles, it corrodes, it fills with gloom and melancholy, destroying all their peace, and leaving them nothing but "a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation to consume them." And oh! with what horrors does it fill them at the instant of their departure from the body, and will fill them in the day when they shall be summoned to the judgment-seat of Christ! What "fearfulness will then surprise the hypocrites, when they see nothing before them but dwelling with devouring fire and in everlasting burnings Isaiah 33:14." How will they then "call upon the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them from the wrath of that Lamb" of God, whom here they have neglected and despised! Brethren, listen to the voice of this faithful monitor: let not its slightest whispers be unheeded by you: cherish it; consult it on all occasions; labor to the uttermost to "keep it pure; attend to it, and it will prove your kindest friend: neglect it, and it will be to all eternity your bitterest enemy.
Consequent on these terrors were,
II. His anxious inquiries—
"He cried aloud to bring in all the magicians," that he might inquire of them the import of what was written: and when they were unable to give a satisfactory reply, he was induced to send for Daniel, who on former occasions had expounded the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, but had since been neglected by the weak ungrateful prince who now sat upon the Chaldean throne: now was he glad to learn, even from him, a just interpretation of the words before him.
Here again then we see what sinners will be driven to, when Conscience summons them to its bar, and constrains them to call their former ways to remembrance. Then they will be glad to be instructed in the written word of God: yes, they will request instruction even from a neglected and despised Daniel, in whose judgment and fidelity they can trust, when they have seen, that those on whom they before relied were "physicians of no value." But let not these inquiries be delayed. There is a hand-writing against us all; a writing so plain and intelligible, that "he who runs may read it." It requires no Daniel, no person of extraordinary wisdom, to expound it. We may see in the sacred volume, which lies open before our eyes, "the wrath of God revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." You need not go to men to interpret this to you: go to God; and he will expound it to you, and by his Spirit will "give you an understanding to understand it." But it is not a sentence of condemnation only that is written there: no; blessed be God! there are many glorious sentences which proclaim pardon and peace through the atoning blood of Christ: Read these; meditate on these: and your fears shall speedily be dispelled, and your sorrows be turned into joy. Mark the answers given to those whose terrors we have before spoken of, and the effect of those answers on their souls; and then you will see what you may assuredly expect as the result of your inquiries, if only they be made in sincerity and truth Acts 2:37-38; Acts 2:46-47; Acts 16:26-30; Acts 16:34.
The instruction given him was however unavailing: it had no effect on,
III. His confirmed obduracy—
He listened not only to the instructions, but also to the reproofs of Daniel, who set before him the guilt lie had contracted, by his misimprovement of those judgments which had been inflicted on Nebuchadnezzar for his pride; as also by his utter neglect of Jehovah, "in whose hand his life was;" and particularly in so heinously insulting God, as to take the sacred vessels of the sanctuary and profane them in his drunken revels, and make them an occasion of exalting his gods of wood and stone above him. Having set before him these grounds of God's displeasure, Daniel proceeded to explain the writing, and to tell him from God, that his life and kingdom were just ready to be delivered over to his enemies. All this he heard without offence; and he even gave orders, that the promised rewards should instantly be conferred on this faithful servant. But we hear not one word of humiliation on account of all his wickedness: he does not, like Ahab, humble himself in sackcloth and ashes 1 Kings 21:27; he does not, like the Ninevites, proclaim a fast; he does not even, like Pharaoh, say, I have sinned; nor does he even, like Simon Magus, desire Daniel's intercession, that these judgments might not fall upon him Acts 8:24. He seems altogether insensible, given over to a reprobate mind and an obdurate heart.
And do we not often see a similar result from all the most faithful expositions of God's word? A momentary fear perhaps may be excited, even to terror; but no solid improvement follows it; no godly sorrow is produced in the soul; no humiliation before God; no cries for mercy; no departure from iniquity. But, if we thus "harden ourselves against God, can we prosper?" No: "he who being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without a remedy."
In reading this account, we cannot but observe,
1. The vanity of all earthly enjoyments—
What can we conceive more gratifying to flesh and blood, than to be entertaining, as Belshazzar did, such multitudes of his nobles, together with all his wives and concubines? Yet, behold, how in an instant all his pleasure vanished, and was turned into insupportable agony of mind! Nor is such a change uncommon: many in the midst of the most licentious scenes have been struck with horror, and made to anticipate their final doom: even a thought passing through the mind has been sufficient to cast a damp over the spirits, and to rob the soul of all its gaiety. What folly then to seek our happiness in things which are so unsatisfactory at best, and which may so speedily become an occasion of our more aggravated woe! Let us remember, that all which the world can afford is "vanity and vexation of spirit." As for "laughter, it is mad; and of mirth, it may be asked, What does it?" Yes, even in "laughter, the soul is often sorrowful; and the end of all such mirth is heaviness."
2. The comfort of a good conscience—
Daniel was not alarmed, notwithstanding his life was in jeopardy, as well as the life of all who dwelt in Babylon. But Daniel enjoyed the testimony of a good conscience, and therefore had confidence towards God. He knew that the enemy could only kill the body; and that the death of the body would translate his soul into the more immediate presence of his God. Thus Paul, when ready to be offered up a sacrifice, contemplated his departure with joy, assured, that the Lord, the righteous Judge, had prepared for him a never-fading crown of righteousness and glory. And Peter also, when on the very eve of expected martyrdom, and chained to two soldiers, was sleeping as sweetly, as if he had known that God had decreed to liberate him from his prison. Such are the effects of peace with God, and peace in our own conscience. Let us but maintain "a conscience void of offence towards God and man," and nothing shall have power to disturb our rest. Assured that "nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus," we shall smile at all the storms that encompass us around, and "commit ourselves with confidence into the hands of a faithful Creator."
3. The blessedness of an interest in Christ—
Whatever "hand-writing there is against us" in the Scriptures of truth, Christ has "blotted it out, and taken it out of the way, nailing it, as a cancelled bond, unto his cross Colossians 2:14." Search the sacred volume from one end to the other, and not one word will be found menacing to a believing penitent. The very moment we believe in Christ, all our iniquities, of whatever kind, are blotted out as a morning cloud, and shall never more be remembered against us. Is there then any one among us that "trembles at God's word?" let him know, that the more he trembles, the less reason he has to tremble; since God looks upon him with delight Isaiah 66:2, and engages "in no wise to cast him out." Suppose that such an one beheld at this moment written on the wall before him, "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin;" and that we were authorized to expound it to him, "Your days are numbered; you are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting; and all that you have shall now be divided by your surviving relatives, your soul being summoned into the presence of its God;" even were this so, he need not fear, because Christ, being apprehended by faith, shall be put into the scale, and make it preponderate in his favor. We do not mean by this, that Christ and his merits are to be added to something of our own; (for He alone must be put into the scale against our sins;) but this we mean; that if there were the sins of the whole world lying on the soul of a single individual, the blood of Christ, applied by faith, should cleanse him from it, and the righteousness of Christ be a sufficient plea for his acceptance with God. Seek then, Beloved, to be united unto Christ by faith; and then, instead of trembling at his approach, you shall "rejoice before him at his coming."
Daniel 5:22. And you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this.
AMONG the endowments of a pious minister, two of the most important are, unselfishness and fidelity. A man who is "looking to his own gain," or is afraid to "declare the whole counsel of God," is unworthy of the sacred office: nor can he hope to be either profitable to man, or accepted of God. The example of the Prophet Daniel is worthy of universal imitation. He, having been sent for by king Belshazzar to interpret a writing which God had caused to be inscribed upon the walls of the room where the impious monarch was feasting, declined with scorn all the offered rewards; and reproved, to his very face, the sovereign, whom no other person in the empire would have dared to offend: "Your gifts be to yourself," says he; "and give your rewards to another." 'God has here written your doom, because of your impiety. He has borne with you long, and given you singular advantages for repentance, if you had had a heart to improve them: he has made known to you all his dispensations towards your father, Nebuchadnezzar:' "but you, his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this."
The reproof here given to Belshazzar is not a whit less applicable to ourselves. Permit me, then, to stand to you in the place of Daniel, and to show you,
I. What advantages we have enjoyed for the humiliation of our souls—
It was certainly a great advantage to Belshazzar, that he had seen God's dealings with his father, (his grandfather,) both in the judgments inflicted on him, and in the mercies given unto him. God had in these dispensations clearly marked his indignation against sin, and his readiness to show mercy to returning penitents. The judgment inflicted on Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest monarch in the universe, was the depriving him of his reason; and causing him, for the space of seven years, to resemble a beast, and to be treated as a beast; being turned out to eat grass like an ox, and to be exposed, like any common beast, to all the changes and inclemencies of the weather, without shelter, and without a friend to compassionate his forlorn condition. Having, however, by this humiliating dispensation, effected his gracious purpose towards him, God restored him to soundness of mind again, and to the exercise of his regal functions; yes, and brought him, also, to the possession of real piety, and ultimately to the enjoyment of a far nobler kingdom.
And has he not given to us the same advantage? Yes, and one far greater: for he has made known to us,
1. His indignation against sin; not in one instance only, but in all ages—
We may go back to the very first introduction of sin into the world; and there we shall see the indignation of God against it, written in the most tremendous colors. Not only was our first parent banished from Paradise; but a sentence of death was pronounced against him; and the whole earth, and all his posterity, were cursed for his sake. Hell, indeed, had been previously created, as a receptacle for the fallen angels: but it was henceforth to be peopled with millions of the human race, who, having received from Adam a corrupt nature, would follow his bad example, and perish in their sins.
As we descend further in the history of the world, we see again the displeasure of God against sin, as manifested at the Deluge; by which judgment every creature upon the face of the whole earth perished, except the few which were admitted into Noah's ark.
Nor was his abhorrence of sin less strongly marked by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the cities of the plain, by fire from Heaven. In this terrible judgment were involved the infant and the suckling, no less than the most daring offender in the land. Surely, after contemplating such events as these, we cannot doubt but that sin must, in the Divine mind, be an object of the deepest abhorrence.
But we need not go back to distant ages. We need only look around us, and within us, and we shall behold the same awful truth exhibited to our view on every side. Whence is it that storms and tempests desolate the earth, and plagues of every kind are inflicted on the human race? Whence is it that pains, and sorrows, and death assault, not the aged sinner only, but the new-born innocent? Whence is it that there is not a man upon earth, the godly alone excepted, that possesses peace in his soul, in the prospect of death and judgment? How comes it that all are "like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt?" There may, it is true, be found, in sad abundance, men as thoughtless as the beasts: but, of anything like solid peace, in the contemplation of eternity, there is not to be found one atom upon the face of the globe, except in those whose iniquities have been purged in the blood of our Incarnate God. We need only consult our own experience, and we must bear testimony to this distressing fact. And what does all this declare? It declares that sin, in whoever it exists, is an object of God's abhorrence, and has already stamped upon it the most unquestionable tokens of his displeasure.
2. His mercy to repenting sinners—
Here also we may go back to the period, when, unsolicited and unsought, God revealed a Savior to offending man, and promised that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head." What a demonstration was this of mercy struggling, as it were, for vent in the Divine bosom; and exulting, I had almost said, in the discovery of an object needing it, and of means whereby it might be exercised towards him! See the myriads to whom this Savior was revealed in types and shadows, previous to his arrival. See the work of redemption, as carried on, to its completion, throughout the whole process of the Savior's incarnation, life and death, and resurrection and ascension; and his full investiture with all power, to accomplish in us what he had already in his own person prepared for us. See the out-pouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost; whereby thousands, as far from God as ever Nebuchadnezzar was, were brought to God, and made partakers of God's kingdom and glory. Do not all these things speak to us as loudly as Nebuchadnezzar's conversion spoke to his son Belshazzar?
But of this, also, we have strong intimations, in what we see around us, and in what we feel within our own bosoms. We rind, even among the most savage barbarians, one general sentiment—that the Being to whom they are responsible will show mercy to those who, in a becoming manner, implore it at his hands. Among ourselves, there is universally prevalent a hope, that, on the repentance of a sinner, God will have mercy on him. But for this thought, the most careless sinner would give himself up to utter despair. In what way mercy shall be exercised towards him, he knows not: but of the readiness of God to show mercy, he has no doubt. And of this persuasion all of us are conscious: yes, so strongly is it impressed on all our minds, that it is the one source of all the comfort we enjoy.
If, then, we admit, as we must, that Belshazzar's advantages were great, much more are those with which we have been favored.
But we have reason to be ashamed, when we reflect,
II. How little improvement we have made of them—
What effect Belshazzar's knowledge ought to have produced upon him is here plainly declared. It should have led him to humble his soul before God. But it had been unproductive of any good: "he had not humbled his heart, though he knew all this." The revels, in which he was indulging at this moment, showed that he was as much under the influence of pride, dissipation, and impiety, as if no such warning had been ever given him. And what, I would ask, is the state of our hearts before God?
Are we not addicted to the same evils as he?
There may not be in us the same bold defiance of God as in him; but there is practically the same pride of heart which exalts itself against God, the same surrender of ourselves to the cares and pleasures of life, and the same actual preference of created confidences before Him who is the Creator of Heaven and earth. The Psalmist's description of the wicked too justly represents our state: "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts: his ways are always grievous: your judgments are far above, out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffs at them Psalm 10:4-5." Here is the same principle of pride as that by which Belshazzar was actuated. Here is God altogether banished from our thoughts, as much as from his; and utter contempt poured upon his authority and on his every word, whether of judgment or of mercy. Look around, and see if this be not the state of all around us. If the luxurious feasting of Belshazzar be unattainable by us, still it is that which is regarded as the very summit of happiness; and which is mimicked by persons, according to their ability, in every rank of life. From what we know of God's displeasure against such carnal proceedings, it might be supposed that they should long since have been banished from the world: but the world is as full of them as ever, and the heart of sinful man as much addicted to them as ever.
Have we "humbled our hearts," any more than he?
One might expect, from all that we have read of God's dealings with the world, that we should all be like the Ninevites, humbling ourselves before God in sackcloth and ashes. But where do we see anything of humiliation and contrition? Where do we hear persons bewailing their past iniquities, and crying mightily unto God for mercy? Say, is this common? Say, is it not uncommon? Is it not very rare? If you hear of two or three awakened to a sense of their undone condition, you are ready to congratulate the minister and the Church of God on an event so truly wonderful, and so replete with mercy; a sure proof, that the instances are very few, and that the knowledge of the generality is awfully unproductive.
Is not our sin then, in this point of view, greatly aggravated?
Daniel spoke of Belshazzar's knowledge as an aggravation of his guilt: "You have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this." And is not our knowledge also a fearful aggravation of our guilt? Our blessed Lord said of the Jews, "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin John 15:22." And, in like manner, I may say to you, that had you been less instructed in the mind of God, you would have had less to answer for, on account of your departures from it. This is placed in a very striking point of view by the Prophet Jeremiah. He speaks of the ten tribes of Israel as having abandoned themselves to idolatry, and as having been discarded of God on account of their wickedness: yet, when the other two tribes saw this, so far from improving it for their own spiritual good, they "turned not to the Lord with their whole heart, but insincerely." Upon which, the Lord himself said concerning them, "The backsliding Israel has justified herself more than treacherous Judah Jeremiah 3:6-11;" that is, great as Israel's guilt is, it is not equal to that of Judah; because Judah has had an advantage not possessed by Israel: Judah has seen the judgments inflicted upon Israel, and yet has gone on impenitent: and therefore his guilt is great in proportion to the advantages which he has neglected to improve. And to the same effect our blessed Lord also has told us, that "the servant who knew not his lord's will, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes; but the servant who knew his lord's will, and yet violated it, shall be beaten with many stripes Luke 12:47-48."
That I may still adhere to the character of my text, let me address you, finally, in a few words,
1. Of warning—
I would not unduly magnify any advantages which have been enjoyed by you: but I may with truth say, that, according to the ability which God has given me, I have "ministered unto you faithfully the Gospel of Christ," "not keeping back any one thing that would have been profitable unto you." You therefore have much to answer for. And the words which have been spoken to you, "if they be not unto you a savor of life unto life, will be unto you a savor of death unto death." Yes, much as I have desired to save your souls, I shall be "a swift witness against you in the day of judgment," if you do not truly turn to God, and devote yourselves sincerely to his service. I pray you let not our meeting at the judgment-seat of Christ be so fraught with sorrow to our souls; but now make a suitable improvement of what you hear, that I may have you as "my joy, and crown of rejoicing, in that day."
2. Of advice—
Let the dealings of God with mankind be treasured up in your minds. They are designed to teach you what you yourselves may expect at his hands. You may see in his judgments, what the impenitent shall endure; and you may see in his mercies what the penitent shall enjoy. Belshazzar himself may be a lesson to you, if you will not attend to other and more encouraging instructions. He was a powerful monarch; yet his greatness could not screen him from the wrath of an avenging God. "That very night was king Belshazzar slain." Had he humbled himself at that moment, who can tell but that he, like his father, might have been spared to be a monument of God's saving grace to all eternity? Delay not you, my beloved Brethren, to obey the heavenly calling; lest death arrest you also, and it be too late. "Today, while it is called today, harden not your hearts; but now that you know all this, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and seek for mercy through him, as the atoning sacrifice for your sins." "To him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin James 4:17." But, "if you know these things, then happy are you, and happy shall you be, if you do them John 13:17."
BELSHAZZAR'S IMPIETY AND OURS COMPARED
Daniel 5:23. The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all your ways, have you not glorified.
WHEN we look around us, and see what iniquity prevails in the earth, we are ready to imagine that God does not notice the affairs of men, or take any interest in their conduct. But, when we open the inspired volume, we find that, on many occasions, the sins of men have been so strongly marked in their punishment, as to bear ample testimony to a superintending Providence, and to constrain us to say, "Truly, there is a God that judges in the earth Psalm 58:11." The judgment inflicted on Nebuchadnezzar so exactly accorded with the prediction which had been uttered respecting it, that no doubt can be entertained of the hand from whence it came. Nor was the hand of God less visible in the punishment of the impious Belshazzar. In the midst of his drunken revels, "there came forth, as it were, the fingers of a man's hand, and wrote on the plaster of the wall where the king was sitting." The words he could not understand: nor could any of his astrologers or soothsayers interpret them. But, on his application to Daniel, the import of them was declared unto him. The prophet first set before him, and reproved, his impiety: and then denounced the impending destruction of himself and his whole empire; which accordingly took place that very night.
The charge which is here exhibited against Belshazzar is more or less applicable to all the children of men, even to ourselves, as well as others; and will give me occasion to show,
I. How far our conduct has resembled his—
Belshazzar was as dependent upon God as any of his subjects could be—
He received his breath from God; by whom also "his sold was upheld in life Psalm 66:9." His times were altogether in God's hands Psalm 31:15," who could prolong or cut them short, as he saw fit. Nor was Belshazzar ignorant of this. He could not but feel his dependence on a Superior Being: and he had an evidence, in the dispensations with which his father (his grandfather) had been visited, that this Being was God.
Yet had he not glorified God, in any part of his conduct—
He had not acknowledged his supremacy, or regarded his authority, or rendered thanks to him for his mercies, or dreaded his displeasure. On the contrary, he had, with daring impiety, profaned the vessels of God's sanctuary, "drinking out of them, together with his wives and concubines; and praising his gods of gold and silver, of brass and iron, of wood and stone verse 3, 4." and thus provoking the Most High to jealousy, and setting him at defiance. In this, he not only "had not glorified God," but had greatly and impiously dishonored him.
And we, too, like Belshazzar, are dependent on God—
"In him we live and move and have our being Acts 17:28." "In his hand," says Job, "is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind Job 12:10;" and, "if he take away our breath, we die, and return again to our dust Psalm 104:29. So jealous of his own honor is God, in this respect, that he characterizes himself as much by the preservation of all things, as by their first creation: "Thus says the Lord, he who created the heavens, and stretched them out; he who spread forth the earth, and that which comes out of it; he who gives breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein Isaiah 42:6." "He sees our ways, and counts all our steps Job 31:4." Nor does he leave man to walk at large without control: "I know, O Lord," says the prophet, "that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps Jeremiah 10:23." In a word, it is as true of us, as it was of Belshazzar, that "our breath is in God's hands;" and "his, even under his governance, are all our ways."
Yet, like him, have we also forgotten to "glorify our God"—
Though "we have known God, yet have we not glorified him as God Romans 1:21." We have not a "given him glory by repentance": though that would have honored him in a very especial manner Joshua 7:19. Jeremiah 13:15-16. Nor have we honored him by the exercise of faith: though that also would have greatly redounded to his glory Romans 4:20. Nor have we endeavored to honor him in a way of holy obedience: though our blessed Lord has so expressly told us, that by our fruitfulness in good works "his Father would be glorified John 15:8." Had we acted, in any respect, as we ought to have done, we should have labored that "the name of our Lord Jesus Christ might be glorified in us John 17:10. 2 Thessalonians. 1:12." But, in having altogether neglected this, we are obnoxious to the very same charge as the impious Belshazzar.
But as our opportunities of instruction have greatly surpassed any that that unhappy monarch ever possessed, I shall go on to show,
II. How far our guilt has exceeded his—
"To whoever God has committed much, of him will much be required:" and our demerits are aggravated in proportion to the advantages which we have enjoyed. As a heavier condemnation was denounced against the cities of Bethsaida and Capernaum, because of the special mercies which they had abused, so will God regard us as more guilty than Belshazzar himself; because,
1. Our knowledge of him has been more clear—
It was but little that Belshazzar knew of God. He did know that Jehovah was above all gods, and that he was able either to save or to destroy, He had seen this, in the degradation to which his grandfather had been reduced, and in the mercy that had been given unto him verse 20–22; and he knew it, from the testimony which that restored monarch had borne to the honor of Jehovah Daniel 4:34-37. But we have a revelation from God himself; a revelation, wherein he has made known to us his nature and perfections, his works and purposes. There is not anything respecting him which we are concerned to know, which he has not clearly revealed unto us: so that it is not an unknown God that we are called to serve, but one "with whom we may acquaint ourselves, and be at peace Job 22:21." The precise nature of Ins will, too, he has declared unto us; so that we are informed respecting everything which he would wish us either to forbear or do. We cannot plead ignorance in any respect: and therefore "knowing, as we have done, our Master's will," we have contracted greater guilt by our disobedience; and deserved a heavier punishment than he ever did, who knew it not Luke 12:47-48."
2. Our obligations to him are more abundant—
Belshazzar was indebted to God for all the blessings both of creation and providence: but we are made partakers of the infinitely higher blessings of redemption. O! what tongue can declare the obligations we owe him for the gift of his only dear Son to die for us, and to redeem us to God by his blood?: This as far exceeds all other mercies, as the radiance of the noon-day sun exceeds the glimmering of a twinkling star. By the consideration of this, we should have been impelled to the most strenuous efforts in his service. The surrender of our whole selves to him, in body, soul, and spirit, has been our reasonable service. Yet have we not given to him the glory due unto his name; but have "set up idols in our hearts;" and in the whole course of our lives have "worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is God over all, blessed for evermore Romans 1:25." What then do not we deserve at his hands? we, who "have trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and done despite to the Spirit of Grace?" If by this we have incurred a far sorer punishment than they did who "despised the law of Moses Hebrews 10:28-29." much more must our guilt and punishment exceed that of the impious Belshazzar.
3. Our responsibility to him is more manifest—
Of a resurrection from the dead, and a future judgment, that unhappy monarch must have had a very indistinct notion. But we are as assured of these things as if they were at this moment exhibited before our eyes. We know that God has appointed a day "wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom he has ordained," even by the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he has raised from the dead. We know that he will then call, not our overt acts only, but "every secret thing, into judgment;" and recompense us "according to what we have done, whether it be good or evil." Hence we have been concerned to take especial care to our ways; and so to order them before him, that we may find acceptance with him in that day. What guilt, then, must attach to us, for our neglect of him, and for our numberless violations of his holy laws! What excuse shall we have, when we stand at his judgment-seat? Belshazzar, though he can never excuse, may palliate, his guilt, by saying, 'Lord, I knew not what a judgment would await me:' but we must stand self-condemned, as having set at nothing our God and Judge, and, in defiance of his justice, have "treasured up for ourselves wrath against the day of wrath Romans 2:5.
1. Those who are insensible of all the guilt they have contracted—
The greater part of mankind, though they live altogether as without God in the world, are as unconcerned about their state as if there were no God to call them into judgment: But, Brethren, this is a most awful infatuation. You do not wonder that King Belshazzar trembled, so that "the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another, when he saw the hand-writing upon the wall: but do you not wonder at your own insensibility, when ten thousand heavier judgments are written against you in this book? And what is written against you, there is no need of a prophet to interpret: it is expressed in terms plain and intelligible to the meanest capacity. Take but that one sentence: "The wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the people that forget God Psalm 9:17." Will you not tremble at such a word as this? Know you assuredly. that, whether you will believe it or not, it shall be fulfilled in its season; and that, if it ever be executed upon you, it would have been "better for you that you had never been born." You may possibly be distinguished among men for rank; and learning: but, if you were as great as ever Belshazzar was, yet should you find no protection from your greatness: for God's declaration is, that "though hand join in hand," and there were a confederacy of the whole world to protect you, "the wicked shall not pass unpunished."
2. Those who are trembling for fear of the Divine judgments—
Others may pity you because of the terror that has seized your mind: but I will congratulate you from my inmost soul. Not that terror constitutes repentance: for, in truth, it is no part of true repentance; but it is often introductory to it: and the man that is "pricked to the heart," and led to cry out, "What shall I do?" is "not far from the kingdom of Heaven." Only let your sorrow for sin become more sincere, so as to feel like those of old: "We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covers us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God Jeremiah 3:25;" and you need not fear but that "the handwriting that is against you shall be blotted out Colossians 2:14," and "your iniquities also be blotted out as a morning cloud Isaiah 44:22." Hear what God himself has spoken for your encouragement: "To this man will I look, even to him that is of a broken and contrite spirit, and that trembles at my word Isaiah 66:2." Yes, God himself will look upon you with delight, and "all the angels around his throne rejoice in your behalf." Be of good comfort, then: and look to that Savior "whose blood will cleanse you from all sin:" and fear not, but that in Him you shall be justified from all the iniquities that you have ever committed Acts 13:39.
Daniel 5:27. You are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting.
THE words before us were uttered in reference to a single individual, Belshazzar, king of Babylon, whose open acts most fully attested the truth of the allegation contained in them. But God discerns the heart, and weighs every man in his unerring balance; and, though he do not now declare the result of his examination, as he then did, by a written testimony that shall be seen of men, he records it in the book of his remembrance, and will make it known, concerning every one of us, in the last day. Now, as upon this testimony our eternal happiness will depend, it becomes us to ascertain beforehand what the state of our souls really is. And this we may do, if we weigh ourselves in the balances to which we have access. Let me then show you,
I. In what balances we should weigh ourselves—
Certainly we must not take the scales by which the world forms its estimate of men and things. They are so deceitful, that we can never by them attain any just knowledge of ourselves. They are so constructed, that sin, unless it be of a very enormous character, scarcely affects them at all: and virtue, of however low a character it be, produces a vast preponderance in the scale of merit. Those which I would recommend for your use, are,
1. The balance of God's perfect law—
The law of God requires that we love God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength; and that we love our neighbor, even every child of man, altogether as ourselves. It admits of no departure from this; no, not so much as in thought. Anything short of the obedience of Christ himself is a violation of it, and renders us obnoxious to its curse.
Now, if we try ourselves by this standard, who among us will not be found wanting? or rather I should say, who among us has ever, for one single moment, come up to it? The light of a glow-worm actually approaches nearer to the splendor of the sun in the firmament, than our obedience has done to that which is required of us. To say that "we are found wanting," is to say nothing. Truly, if weighed in this balance, the best man upon the face of the whole earth will be found "lighter than vanity itself." To us it may appear, that in this respect there is at least a great difference between the states of different men: but, if viewed aright, the goodness of any natural man would really be found to weigh as little before God as the dust upon the balance; so grievously wanting are we all, insomuch that "every mouth must be alike stopped, and all the world become guilty before God Romans 3:19."
2. The balance of his blessed Gospel—
Persons greatly mistake respecting the nature of the Gospel: they suppose it to be a kind of remedial law, lowered to the standard of human infirmity. But this is a fatal error. The Gospel does not dispense with any one duty that was enjoined by the Law, or lower it in any respect. To suppose that it did, would be to imagine that God at first required more of us than was necessary, or that now he requires less than is necessary; or that some change has taken place in the relation that exists between him and his creatures; so that that which was necessary in the first instance, is now no longer necessary. The Gospel makes no change whatever in the law: but it prescribes duties, of which the law gave no intimation, and could take no cognizance. It prescribes repentance. For this the law made no provision t but the Gospel commands "all men everywhere to repent:" its language is, "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness: humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up James 4:9-10." In addition to this, it enjoins faith; even faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the appointed Savior of the world. Of this the law spoke nothing: it knew not of a Savior for fallen man: it simply said, "Do this, and live." But the Gospel reveals a Savior, who is "able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him;" and preaches through him the forgiveness of sins, assuring us, that "all who believe shall be justified from all things Acts 13:39." Once more, the Gospel calls us to obedience; even to such an obedience as a poor fallen sinner, when aided by the Holy Spirit, is able to render. Such obedience as this the law could not accept: hut the Gospel declares, that it shall be accepted of God through Jesus Christ 1 Peter 2:5. If only we serve God with a willing mind, he will "not be extreme to mark what is done amiss;" but will be "well pleased with our sacrifices," notwithstanding the imperfection of them, and will grant to confer upon us a recompense of reward Hebrews 13:15-16.
Now, then, let us inquire how far we comply with the gracious terms of the Gospel. What know we of repentance, even of "that broken and contrite heart which God will not despise?" Have we not still found "a heart of stone" within us, even while we have desired "an heart of flesh?": And how have we exercised faith? Have our souls gone forth to the Savior, to lay hold on him, and trust in him, and glory in him? Have we not found a most astonishing backwardness towards this holy exercise, insomuch that we seem to have accounted the Gospel a cunningly-devised fable, rather than a divine reality?: Then, as to the surrender of ourselves to God, how has it been with us? Has there been that entire devotion of our souls to him, which his love and mercy have so justly demanded? Have we not rather been amazed at our own insensibility and ingratitude, so far exceeding all that we could ever have conceived?
If, then, we weigh ourselves in this balance, what shall we find, but sad occasion for grief and shame?.
3. The balance even of our own conscience—
This, I must confess, is a very inadequate mode of estimating our real character. Conscience is blind. Its views of duty are very imperfect: its observation of our conduct also is extremely partial; and its judgment very erroneous. Yet even in this balance, unduly favorable as it is, we shall be found sadly wanting. We all know that God ought to be loved and served: that the Lord Jesus Christ also ought to be precious to our souls. We know that sin should be mortified; and that holiness of heart and life should be cultivated. We know, that, as immortal beings, we should rise superior to the things of time and sense, and seek chiefly the happiness and glory of eternity. Now, then, how far have we corresponded even with our own standard of duty? Are we not sensible that the interests of the soul, and the concerns of eternity, have not been of such paramount value in our estimation, as their real importance has required? Defective as our own standard of duty has been, have we not fallen greatly and shamefully below it?.
Let me. then, proceed to show you,
II. What lessons we should learn from our defects—
There is no reason for us to despond: on the contrary, the more sensible we are of our defects, the more hopeful is our state before God. Let us then search out our defects to the uttermost; and then learn from them,
1. To be thankful for the Gospel—
O! what glad tidings does the Gospel proclaim! Salvation! Salvation for sinners, even the chief! Salvation for those who have broken the law! yes, and have despised the Gospel also! and have lived hitherto only for themselves!—What thanks can we render to God, that we are permitted to hear this joyful sound, before the curses of the broken law come down upon us, and we are shut up in that place of torment, where the voice of mercy never sounds, nor one ray of hope can ever enter! Truly, Brethren, if you will not now bless your God, "the very stones will cry out against you." What, if king Belshazzar could have a proclamation of mercy to his soul, what feelings would it excite in him? But it is observable, that no call to repentance was given to him; for his day of grace was past. This, however, is not your state: to you the Savior says, "Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth!" "Come unto me, all you that are weary and heavy laden! and you shall find rest unto your souls." Rejoice then, and leap for joy; for in Christ you have your every defect cancelled, and your every want supplied.
2. To walk humbly before God—
Be it so, that your iniquities are pardoned, and your sins are covered:" still, how can you do otherwise than loath and abhor yourselves, when you contemplate your daily walk before God? What might not be expected of one who has been redeemed from death by the blood of God's only dear Son? What admiration, and love, and gratitude would you suppose must fill the soul of one who has been bought with such a price, and, from a child of Satan, been made a child of God, from an heir of wrath, an heir of everlasting glory? You would naturally suppose that he would not have so much as a thought but how to praise and glorify his Benefactor. But, alas! not even the wonders of redeeming love can produce upon us all the effect that might be wished. We still are in a great measure carnal, looking too much to the things which are visible and temporal, and too little to the things which are invisible and eternal. In truth, our very best services furnish us with but too just occasion for penitence; our very tears needing to be washed in the blood of Christ, and our repentances to be repented of. Let this lesson then be learned; To walk softly before God, in the remembrance of your sins; and, when you have done all that is commanded, still to say, "We are unprofitable servants; we have done that only which it was our duty to do."
3. To be preparing daily for the scrutiny that awaits you at the last-day—
God will come shortly to judge the world; and will call every secret thing into judgment, whether it be good or evil. Then will innumerable defects, which here you overlooked, be brought to light; and every counsel of the heart, whether good or evil, be made manifest. Should you not, then, be preparing for that day? Should you not get every evil of your heart mortified, and every good thing matured within you? Belshazzar, when he received his warning, had but a few hours to live: for that very night was his soul required of him. And may it not be so with you also? And if it should, in what a pitiable state will you be, as unprepared for your great account! Yet, go you must, and be weighed also in the balance of God's sanctuary; and, if found wanting, like light or reprobate silver, be cast away. Think, I pray you, of the representations given of that period by our blessed Lord: some, as wheat, will be treasured up in the granary of Heaven; but others, as chaff, be cast into the fire of Hell, even the fire that never shall be quenched. "The net, at present, drags to land both good fish and refuse: but then the good will be gathered into vessels, and the bad be cast away." Well, thanks be to God! there is yet time to prepare for that day; and time to have every defect of your souls supplied. The Lord Jesus Christ is both able and willing to accomplish in you his good work: and if you truly and sincerely commit yourselves to him, he will "perfect in you the work he has begun," and "preserve you blameless unto his heavenly kingdom."
Daniel 5:30. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
"KNOWN unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." We speak of things as fortuitous and contingent, because we see not the hand by which they are directed; but, in reality, there is nothing contingent, not even the falling of a sparrow: "the very hairs of our head are all numbered." Sometimes it has pleased God to make known, beforehand, events, which depended entirely upon the free will of man; while at the same time they were as infallibly foreseen by him as if man had been a mere machine, without the smallest exercise of choice or inclination. Such were the events which facilitated or attended the destruction of the Babylonish empire. It was optional with Belshazzar whether he would make a feast for his lords, and drink to excess: and it was optional with Cyrus what moment he should seize for making his attack upon the city: but all was foretold by God, with a minuteness and precision which proclaim at once the omniscience of the Deity, and the dependence of all things upon his sovereign will Jeremiah 51:11; Jeremiah 51:39; Jeremiah 51:57. The event before us had long before been proclaimed by the voice of inspiration: and it will be profitable for us to consider,
I. The time of Belshazzar's death—
In the words, "that night," there is an emphasis which must not be overlooked. It was the night,
1. Of his feasting—
He had "made a feast for a thousand of his lords." We mean not to condemn all feasts: for our blessed Lord himself repeatedly given to be present at a feast. But the generality of "banquetings," and "ravelings, and such like" are among those works of the flesh, "which they who do, shall not inherit the kingdom of God Galatians 5:21." Of this kind was Belshazzar's feast; at which he gave himself up to mirth, and banished all thoughts of death from his mind.
What an awful thing to be taken at such a moment! Yet how many are there, who, if not slain like him, yet are called away from the midst of the cares or pleasures of this life as unprepared as he! It was so at the time of the Deluge: it will be so at the end of the world: and it is so yet daily and hourly Matthew 24:37-39. "The foolish virgins" greatly out-number those who are wise; and have their oil to seek when the Bridegroom's arrival is announced. "They are saying, Peace, peace; until sudden destruction comes upon them as a thief in the night, or as travail on a woman with child 1 Thessalonians. 5:2-3." The Lord grant it may never be so with us!
2. Of his impiety—
Feasting and impiety are not unfrequently associated. The generality of men seem to think that they cannot enjoy any comfort in social converse, unless they give way to excess, and banish decency and religion from their presence. Belshazzar could not be content with the pleasure which this feast afforded, but he must openly pour contempt on God, and set him at defiance. Accordingly, he ordered the sacred vessels, which his grandfather had taken from the temple at Jerusalem, to be brought forth for the use of himself and his wives and concubines; and then celebrated his gods as superior to Jehovah, over whom (as it should seem) they had triumphed. This completed the measure of his iniquities, and drew down upon him "the vengeance of the Lord." Perhaps we may think the crime and the punishment uncommon: but neither the one nor the other is at all uncommon. What are the songs that are usually sung at feasts, but songs in honor of Bacchus and Venus, the heathen patrons of riot and debauchery? What are the toasts or sentiments, in commendation of which the wine is poured out and drunk? what, but a tissue of lewdness and profaneness? And how often do they who engage in such scenes, come to an untimely end! One falls from his horse; another is overturned in a carriage; another run over by a cart; another is drowned; another is killed in an affray. We call these things accidents: but if an inspired prophet were sent to declare the truth, we should find them "the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his temple."
And may not we look back to some day, or some night, when God might have cut us off as it were, to advantage, if not in a state of riot and intoxication, yet in some other state equally displeasing to him? O let us call to mind those seasons; and adore his name, that "in that night" we were not summoned, with all our iniquities upon us, to give account of ourselves at his judgment-seat!
3. Of his warning—
While Belshazzar was indulging in his impious revels, he saw a hand writing upon the wall of the room wherein he sat. Terrified beyond measure at so strange a sight, he called for all his magicians and astrologers to read and explain the words. None of them being able to explain the writing, Daniel was sent for: and he, by Divine inspiration, declared the sentence which God had thus visibly proclaimed. On any other occasion, if we may judge from the neglect into which Daniel had fallen, Belshazzar would have fiercely resented the faithfulness with which this prophet of the Lord had denounced his doom: but his terror had softened him for a moment; yet not so softened him as to produce any genuine repentance in his heart. He ordered the promised reward to be given to Daniel; but we do not find that he humbled himself before God, or uttered one prayer for mercy. Scarcely was the warning explained to him, but it was executed on him, and on all his dissolute companions. Yes; "in that night was Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, slain." As his royalty did not save him, so neither did his terror obtain for him one moment's respite. He heard, he trembled, he died. He had seen (as Daniel told him) the judgments that had been executed on Nebuchadnezzar, his grandfather; and yet had not profited by that warning, or humbled himself before the God of Heaven: now therefore the warning and the judgment came together: nor was any further space given him for repentance.
How differently has God acted hitherto towards us! Many are the warnings which we have slighted; and yet, behold, we live!: But how soon his patience may come to an end, and a termination be put to our day of grace, who can tell?.
Such was the season when this unhappy monarch was called into the presence of his Judge. Let us next consider,
II. The instruction to he gathered from it—
Surely we may learn from this,
1. Not to provoke the Lord to jealousy—
It matters not whether, with Belshazzar, we "praise gods of wood and stone," or whether we "set up idols in our hearts:" in either case, God is dethroned; and "other lords besides him have dominion over us." And shall we think lightly of our guilt, while in such a state as this? or shall we imagine that God regards it with indifference? No: "he is a jealous God: his very name is Jealous Exodus 34:14;" and "his glory will he not give," or allow to be given "to another." Look then within your own bosoms, you who are so addicted to the pursuits of this life as scarcely to have any time or inclination for reading the Scriptures and for secret prayer; you whose feelings are quickly roused when your honor or your interest are at stake, and yet are unconcerned about the honor of God or the interests of your souls; look, I say, within, and see whether God has not reason to be jealous of you; and whether he might not justly destroy you instantly with fire, as he did Nadab and Abihu; or cause the earth to swallow you up quick, as he did to Korah and his rebellious associates? Do not imagine that you are innocent, because you do not follow the practices of Belshazzar: see whether you be not living in his spirit; and whether you are not despising God in your heart, as much as he did in his actions; and idolizing the world in your heart, as much as he did his fictitious deities in his drunken carousals? And know, that though your idolatry is less gross than his, it involves you in deeper guilt, in proportion as the meridian light of the Gospel transcends the darkness of Heathen superstition.
2. Not to despise the warnings you receive—
You have not a hand-writing visibly on the wall: but have you not other warnings, equally legible, on every side? How many are cut off around you, some old, some young, and some in the prime of life! How many sudden deaths take place, or, if not sudden in respect of time, yet unexpected by the persons themselves If this be preached as a New-Year's Discourse, the last year may be represented as dead, or as cut off from our short span of life, which therefore is proportionably contracted. Are the disorders which you see or feel, no warnings? But you have a hand-writing, yes, the hand-writing of God himself; you may see it in the Scriptures of truth: there you may see written, as with a sun-beam, "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin:" to you it speaks: your days are numbered, and nearly finished: you are weighed in a balance, and found wanting: and all hope of enjoying the kingdom of Heaven will be quickly taken from you, if you do not turn unto God with your whole hearts. God says to you, "My son, give me your heart:" anything short of this will be to no purpose. O that you would now "open unto Him that knocks at the door of your hearts;" and that "the long-suffering of God might now at last lead you to repentance!"
3. Not to delay the great work you have to do—
While you are living at your ease, and putting the thoughts of death far from you, God may be saying, "You fool, this night shall your soul be required of you." And O, how terrible would this be to the generality! To some indeed sudden death would be sudden glory: but to others how different! Herod made a feast; and, in compliance with his daughter's request, gave her John Baptist's head in a charger: yes, that night was John the Baptist slain. But how different was that night to John the Baptist and Belshazzar! The one went from a prison to a crown; the other from a palace to a lake of fire. Inquire, I pray you, how death would find you, if it should come this night: and if you are unprepared to meet it, O delay not one hour; give not sleep to your eyes, or slumber to your eye-lids, until you have obtained peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. "Converted you must be; or you can never enter into the kingdom of Heaven." Your "conscience must be sprinkled with the atoning blood of Jesus," or your sins will infallibly plunge you into everlasting perdition. Seize then the fleeting hour. Adore your God that you have not been taken away, as thousands of your fellow-creatures have been, with all your sins upon you: and "today, while it is called today, harden not your heart;" lest like them you perish in impenitence and unbelief.
CHARACTER OF DANIEL
Daniel 6:5. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.
AMONG the numberless things which Solomon denounces as "vanity and vexation of spirit," is this, that "for every right work a man is envied of his neighbor Ecclesiastes 4:4." No consideration, either of the intrinsic excellency of virtue, or of the benefits resulting from it to the world, will abate the malignant workings of an envious mind. For many years had Daniel, as a minister of state, conferred great blessings on the Babylonish empire Daniel 2:48-49. And now, after the conquest of Babylon, Darius, the Medo-Persian monarch, from a conviction of his pre-eminent attainments, had placed him next to himself in power and authority in his empire also. And such had been the wisdom and integrity of Daniel in the discharge of his high duties, that the persons most capable of discovering any fault in his administration, and most intent on making such a discovery, if any could be found, were incapable of alleging any one thing to his disadvantage. But were they grateful to him for his services? No: they were envious of his talents, his virtues, and his honors, and labored with all their might to destroy him. "Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom: but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him verse 4." This they were constrained to acknowledge, at the very time that they conspired to take away his life. "Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God." Here they not only acknowledge the astonishing excellence of his character, but they actually found upon it their hope of prevailing against him; since it was only by placing in direct opposition to each other the commands of God and the commands of man, that they could involve him in anything which should furnish them with an occasion of complaint against him.
As for their envious malignity, I shall wave all further notice of it. It is the character of Daniel on which I would now fix your attention; a character the more remarkable, as being drawn, not by friends, but by foes; and not for the sake of commendation, but for the sake only of finding out the most successful method of directing their efforts for his destruction.
For the establishment of such a character as this, there must have been in Daniel a very rare assemblage of virtues; which, therefore, it will be proper for us distinctly to consider, in order that we may clearly understand the character itself, and be stirred up to seek, each of us for himself, the attainment of it. Let me,
I. Open to you the constituent parts of this character—
Here we behold, in combined and unintermitted exercise,
This, beyond a doubt, was at the root of all. And how deeply-rooted it was in him, his enemies themselves proclaimed, when they grounded upon that their hopes of prevailing against him; since, if his piety was not sufficient to bear him up under his present difficulties, their plot, so far at least as a violation of human laws was concerned, would be defeated.
And it is from this principle alone that any real good can flow. Nothing but piety can produce a perfect uniformity of conduct. The corruptions of human nature are too strong to be overcome by anything but the grace of God. A man may indeed be a wise and experienced statesman, though he fail in the practice of religion and virtue. But no man can maintain, for a long course of years, and under every possible complication of difficulties, a conduct which shall not be open to some degree of censure, especially from those who "watch and wait for his halting;" unless he be assisted from on high, and be in the habit of walking as in the presence of the omniscient God. To this, then, I would call you in the first instance, since without it all human efforts will be in vain. Let your hearts be right with God. Come to him as sinners, in the name of his dear Son. Obtain from him a sense of acceptance with him, and a confidence in him as your reconciled God and Father. Beg of him to write his law upon your hearts, so that you may have an unerring standard, to which to refer every motion of your minds. Look to him for the assistance of his good Spirit under all difficulties; and make it your constant aim to please him. Then will you have within your own bosoms a compass, by which you may find your path in safety through this trackless wilderness; while your eye is directed to his law as your rule, and his glory as your end.
In this he must have excelled in a very extraordinary degree; else he never could have conducted himself so unexceptionably as he did, for many years together, in circumstances so intricate and arduous as his. The Queen of Babylon's account of him to King Belshazzar was, "There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and, in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him Daniel 5:10-11." And Ezekiel, in the very life-time of Daniel, spoke of him as eminently distinguished in this respect Ezekiel 28:3. Indeed, this was the chief ground of the preference given to him by the King of Persia above all the native princes: "He was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him verse 3."
In us, too, should this be found; nor can we without it hope to be held in estimation by any, except a few kind and partial friends. To those who are enemies of religion, we shall only give disgust, if our piety be not under the direction and control of wisdom. It is certain that many well-meaning people give very great offence by their injudicious proceedings; yes, and involve themselves, too, in many troubles, which they might, by a greater exercise of wisdom, have avoided. Our blessed Lord cautions us on this head: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine; lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you Matthew 7:6." There may, indeed, be a carnal wisdom, to whose dictates we ought not to listen; for flesh and blood are but blind counselors to confer with Galatians 1:16; but there is a sound wisdom and discretion, which is highly commendable, and greatly conducive to good. Hence Paul says, "Walk in wisdom towards them that are without Colossians 4:5." I cannot but recommend, therefore, to all who are possessed of piety, to take heed how they exercise it; lest, by their weaknesses and follies, they make religion itself to be accounted foolishness, and involve in one common reproach all who profess to serve their God. The resolution of David should be that of every one among us: "I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way Psalm 101:2."
It is clear that Daniel attended to all his duties; as well those which concerned his fellowship with men, as those which had a more immediate reference to God. Happy would it be if the same care prevailed among the religious professors of our day! But, in too many instances, religious people set the two tables of the law in opposition to each other; as though a fulfillment of the one necessarily precluded an observance of the other. How common is it for young people to set at nothing parental authority, under an idea that obedience to God must swallow up every other consideration. It must, doubtless, swallow up all regard for authority that is directly opposed to it; but many concessions may be made, and should be made too, in relation to matters which involve in them no moral guilt, no direct opposition to a divine command: and where the path of duty is clear, the greatest tenderness should be shown to the feelings and prejudices of a parent, in the prosecution of it. Filial obedience stands, in God's estimation, second only to that which we owe to him. There is frequently a great fault in servants also, who, from a pretended regard for God, neglect the duties of their station; and, instead of exercising a becoming respect for their masters, are petulant, and impatient of reproof, and ready on every occasion to "answer again Here the case of Students was adverted to; and a conscientious observance of academic discipline, together with a diligent prosecution of their academic studies, was strongly enforced." In the conduct of superiors, too, there is often much to blame: for it is but too true, that religious duties, as they are called, often induce a carelessness in those which are personal and domestic. But all this gives just occasion of offence; and must be sedulously avoided by all who would maintain a consistent conduct, and adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
On this the enemies of Daniel especially relied. They gave him credit for piety; and they believed that not even the terror of a den of lions would induce him to violate his conscience, and offend his God. In matters relating to the kingdom they could find no occasion against him: but, in what concerned the law of his God, they assured themselves that they should find the desired ground of accusation against him. In this they judged right. He not only would not withhold from God his accustomed sacrifices of prayer and praise, but he would not even appear to do so. He would not even shut his window; lest he should, though in appearance only, give them a ground of triumph over him. He therefore persisted, as before, to worship God in his accustomed way, and publicly to avow his determined adherence to the dictates of reason and religion.
In this he affords to us an admirable example. We must expect "persecution from men, if we will live godly in Christ Jesus." No piety, no wisdom, no consistency, can disarm prejudice, or suppress the workings of envy. Rather, we must expect opposition in proportion as we make our light to shine before men. No one was ever so blameless as our blessed Lord; yet no one was ever persecuted with such general and unrelenting animosity. But our hearts must be fixed: we must be determined to sacrifice all that we have, not excepting even life itself, rather than dishonor God, or violate his commands. Persons in this respect should know beforehand where to find us, even in the path of duty: nor should the whole earth combined be able to turn us from it. This is the state to which we should all attain; and, under circumstances of whatever kind, we should have that reply upon our lips, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you."
This character approving itself to every considerate mind, let me,
II. Urge you all to the attainment of it—
Let me invite you to consider,
1. How it honors God—
Truly, such a conduct as Daniel's never was seen on earth, except among the servants of Jehovah. Nothing but God's grace can possibly produce it. But, wherever his grace operates, there, in proportion to the measure of that grace, this character is found. No one can ever "behold such light" as Daniel reflected, but he will be instantly constrained to "glorify our Father which is in Heaven." Man could as soon create a world, as form this new creation. Wherever it is found, that acknowledgment must be made: "He who has wrought us to the self-same thing, is God."
2. How it disarms prejudice—
A want of piety, or wisdom, or consistency, in a professor of religion, causes "the way of truth to be evil spoken of," and "God himself to be blasphemed." But a pious and consistent conduct wrests from the very enemies of God a confession, that "the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor." Hence Paul, exhorting Titus to "show himself in all things a pattern of good works," adds, "that he who is on the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you Titus 2:7-8." I well know that no blamelessness of conduct can conciliate the regards of an ungodly man; for, as long as he loves darkness rather than light, he must hate you: but you may at least hope to "put to silence the ignorance of foolish men 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 2:15," and to "make those ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ 1 Peter 3:16."
3. How it tends to the welfare of your own soul—
Beyond all doubt your everlasting reward will be proportioned to your present attainments. As he who "builds on the good foundation nothing but wood, hay, stubble, will suffer loss, and, if saved at all, be saved only so as by fire 1 Corinthians 3:12-15;" so he who embraces in his mind, and illustrates in his life, the whole circle of his duties to God and man, will have an entrance ministered unto him abundantly into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ 2 Peter 1:5-11." The more we have improved our talents, the richer will be the recompense of our fidelity. We may not in this world have such an interposition in our behalf as Daniel had in the den of lions; or see, as he did, the vengeance of God executed on our adversaries: but we shall have strength given us to sustain our trials, and a weight of glory awarded to us in proportion to them. Go forward, then, "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might:" and "hold fast your confidence firm unto the end:" then "your labor shall not be in vain in the Lord 1 Corinthians 15:58;" for "if you surfer with him, you shall also be glorified together Romans 8:17."
DANIEL'S UNDAUNTED PIETY
Daniel 6:10. Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house, and, his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.
SUCH is the hatred which ungodly men bear to real piety, that it is not possible to serve our God aright without incurring their displeasure. Neither eminence in station, nor prudence of conduct, will screen us from the assaults of their envy and malice. If anything could have secured the favor of mankind, the wise and benevolent deportment of Jesus must have gained him universal approbation. But he was as much distinguished by the virulence of men's hatred, as he was by the unrivaled excellence of his own character.
Of all the persons whose history is recorded in the Old Testament, we know not one who surpassed Daniel in wisdom, in integrity, or in a firm adherence to practical religion. His bitterest enemies, who were very desirous of finding in him some fault or error, were constrained to acknowledge, that they should not be able to attain their wishes, unless they should find it concerning the law of his God. Would one not have thought, that a person who could conduct the affairs of a large empire with such skill, as that no error could be imputed to him; and whose piety was so consistent, that not the smallest flaw could be found in his whole conduct, should be universally beloved? Yet, so far was he from being an object of universal regard, that a conspiracy was formed against him by all the great men of the kingdom, and a law was framed, that rendered it criminal to pray unto his God. By this law he had no alternative, but to violate the law and incur its penalties, or to violate his conscience and offend his God.
Daniel, without hesitation, chose the better part: and, "when he knew that the writing (which doomed him to the den of lions) was signed," he openly worshiped God, precisely as he had done aforetime.
To encourage all who are oppressed and persecuted, to follow his example, we shall,
I. Make some remarks on his conduct—
It might be said of Daniel continually, "Behold, he prays!": But why, in praying, did he look "towards Jerusalem?" Canaan was the land, Jerusalem the city, and the temple the house, in which God more particularly dwelt. And at the dedication of the temple, Solomon repeatedly entreated that God would hear the supplications of his people which should be offered towards that land, that city, that temple 1 Kings 8:29-30; 1 Kings 8:35; 1 Kings 8:38; 1 Kings 8:42; 1 Kings 8:44, but especially 46–50, which specifies what was to be done in a state of captivity, as Daniel now was. This had been before practiced by David Psalm 5:7, as it was afterwards by Jonah when at the bottom of the sea Jon. 2:4; and it may be considered as a typical ordinance, directing us to pray unto God, as our covenant-God in Christ, as dwelling with man, yes, as dwelling in our very nature John 1:14. óêÞíùóåí suggests the precise idea, which the type was intended to convey; even to Him, "in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily Colossians 2:9."
In this manner he prayed "three times a day." It seems to have been the habit of all pious Jews to observe stated seasons of worship three times a day. David practiced it in his day Psalm 55:17; and in the Apostolic age the practice was continued Acts 2:2; Acts 2:15; Acts 3:1; Acts 10:9. The third, sixth, and ninth hours answered to nine, twelve, and three with us. One would have thought that a person who had so much secular business upon his hands as Daniel had, should have found it almost impossible to maintain such a practice with any degree of regularity, or indeed with any spirituality of mind: but, if the heart be thoroughly imbued with Divine grace, it will be found neither difficult nor irksome to lift it up to God in prayer, even in the midst of the most urgent business.
Nor was Daniel inattentive to his posture in prayer: "he kneeled upon his knees and prayed." We do not say that this posture is indispensably necessary to the acceptance of our prayers; because we find instances in Scripture of persons standing when they prayed: but it is sanctioned by the example of the most eminent saints Thus did David; Psalm 95:6. Solomon; 2 Chronicles 6:13. Ezra. 9:5. Stephen; Acts 7:60. Peter; 9:40. Paul; 20:36. a large assembly on the sea shore; 21:5, and even by our blessed Lord himself Luke 22:44. As for the idle slothful posture of sitting during the time of prayer (as is the habit of too many), we do not hesitate to say, that it is most irreverent, unscriptural, and offensive. But what shall we say to those who defer their prayers until they have lain down in their beds, and then offer some petitions, in the midst of which they fall asleep? Surely it is scarcely needful to tell them what acceptance such services must meet with: they may account it a mercy, if their solemn mockery of God be not visited with some signal judgments: to hope for any favorable answer to such prayers, were folly and impiety. Daniel would not yield to such indolent habits, though he was above ninety years of age; because he knew that the deepest prostration of body should accompany the devotions of the soul, and that nothing but extreme weakness could justify us in dispensing with it.
With all his prayers, Daniel offered also a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving: "he prayed and gave thanks." This argued the sincerity of his heart. They can feel but little gratitude to God, who do not acknowledge the mercies they have received, as well as ask for the continuance and increase of them. The direction given us by God himself is, "that in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we should make our requests known to him Philippians 4:6;" yes, it is his express will and command that we should abound in thanksgiving as much, and as constantly, as in prayer itself 1 Thessalonians. 5:16-18.
Perhaps it may surprise us, that Daniel offered these his devotions always "with his windows open." Was this from ostentation? Was Daniel like those Pharisees who "prayed standing in the corners of the streets, that they might be seen and admired of men?" No: Daniel was in a heathen land, where the established religion was idolatry; and where Jehovah was not worshiped or acknowledged. He therefore felt it incumbent on him to let it be universally known, that he was a worshiper of the one true God: he wished to be a witness for God, and against idolatry; and to lead men, by his example, to inquire after the God of the Hebrews, in whom alone they could obtain peace and salvation. And though this habit rendered him singular, and excited the odium of his ungodly neighbors, "he endured the cross, and despised the shame," and persevered in the performance of his duty without any regard to the opinions of men.
The most extraordinary thing is, that Daniel persisted in this habit "when he knew that the writing was signed." The writing was the law which had been recently enacted, condemning to the den of lions every person, who, for the space of thirty days, should presume to ask any petition of any God or man, except of the king only. This writing was signed by the king; and the law was thereby rendered (according to the absurd custom of the Medes and Persians) unchangeable. But this could not deter Daniel from serving God, or induce him for one moment to change his mode of serving him. He was willing to die for the Lord's sake; and was determined to suffer all the penalties of the law rather than violate his duty to his God.
But as there are various other modes in which Daniel might have proceeded, we shall consider his conduct more minutely, and,
II. State the reasons of it—
Daniel persisted in this open acknowledgment of Jehovah,
1. From a sense of duty—
He knew that it was his duty to pray unto his God, and to confess him before men. Had the laws of the realm enjoined nothing contrary to the laws of God, he would have felt it his duty to comply with them: "he would have obeyed every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." But when man took upon him to supersede the laws of God, he felt that he had a paramount obligation to serve the Lord. In this respect he resembled the holy Apostles, when they were forbidden to preach in the name of Christ: they answered the magistrates who laid a similar injunction on them, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you: for we cannot but speak the things which we have heard and seen Acts 4:19-20;" "we must obey God rather than men Acts 5:28-29."
2. From a regard for God's honor—
We will suppose that Daniel had withdrawn from his place of abode, or shut his window and contented himself with worshiping God in secret; he might still have performed his duty as far as respected the mere act of prayer: but what would have been the consequence with respect to God's honor? Would not the framers of the Law have boasted, that they had triumphed over Jehovah; that they had set up a God superior to him; and that his most devoted servant dared not to confess him? Would they not have said, that the worshipers of Jehovah were as devoid of principle as any other people in the world; for that, with all their professed regard for him, they did not believe him able to rescue or support them; and that they loved their own safety in preference to their God? No doubt, they would have gloried thus, and have despised both Jehovah and all his servants. But would Daniel give occasion for such profane triumph? He abhorred the thought; and therefore he would not relax, or intermit so much as once, his accustomed mode of worship. Similar to his was the conduct of Nehemiah, when Sanballat and Tobiah wanted to intimidate him, and to lead him into an act which should betray a want of confidence in his God: "Shall such a man as I flee? said he: and who is there, that being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in Nehemiah 6:10-11." Thus, whatever specious arguments might have suggested themselves to him for the preservation of his life, Daniel determined to die rather than dishonor God; being anxious only that "God should be magnified in his body, whether it were by life or by death Philippians 1:20."
3. For the encouragement of his own people—
Suppose that Daniel had not thus openly maintained his steadfastness, what would all the rest of his captive brethren have done? Would not they have caught the infection? would not they have dissembled with him, just as Barnabas and others were led away with Peter's dissimulation Galatians 2:12-13. It would have been to little purpose that he prayed in secret, if he had been so shamefully regardless of the influence of his example. On the other hand, by boldly confessing his God before men, and offering himself up as a sacrifice for him, the rest of his nation must be emboldened to maintain a similar fidelity, and to brave all the threatenings of their idolatrous oppressors. This was the effect produced by Paul's submission to bonds and imprisonment for the Gospel's sake: "Many of the brethren in the Lord waxing confident by his bonds, were much more bold to preach the word without fear Philippians 1:14." Daniel, being at the head of the kingdom, knew the vast importance of his example; and therefore on this account, as well as for the foregoing reasons, "would not give place, no, not for an hour Galatians 2:5;" yes, we doubt not but that in offering himself upon the sacrifice and service of his people's faith, he joyed and rejoiced with them all; and (in his heart) called on them to joy and rejoice with him Philippians 2:17-18.
1. Those who live in the neglect of prayer—
We see in the example of Daniel how a child of God will act: he will pray with frequency, with fervor, with an especial regard to God as his Covenant-God in Christ Jesus: and he will confess his God openly, determining to die for him rather than deny him Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13. Now what resemblance have you to Daniel? He could not be kept from prayer; you cannot be prevailed on to pray: he could not be kept from prayer, though he knew that, for continuing it, he should be cast into the den of lions; and you cannot be prevailed on to pray, though your neglect of it will infallibly bring you into the depths of Hell. Not all the terrors of death could induce him to omit so much as one single opportunity of praying; and not all the terrors of damnation can instigate you to pray even once with real fervor and devotion. Only ask yourselves, How often have you prayed like Daniel? how often in the day? in the week? in the year? how often even in your whole life? This question will give you an insight into your state before God. O that it may be the means of bringing you to his footstool, and of forming in you those habits which are altogether necessary to your salvation.
2. Those who are habituated to serve their God—
Be not surprised if you are called to suffer for righteousness' sake, "nor think it strange if you be tried with a fiery trial." Should this be the case, we congratulate you upon the honor conferred upon you; and we exhort you to "rejoice and leap for joy; for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you Matthew 5:11-12." Our Lord's direction is, "Be not afraid of man, who can only kill the body; but fear Him who can cast both body and soul into Hell; yes, I say unto you, Fear Him."
But while we exhort you to "be faithful unto death," and, like Daniel, to withstand all the powers of earth and Hell, we would particularly entreat you to imitate his spirit. In the first place, let your enemies "find nothing against you, except concerning the law of God." In the next place, conduct yourselves with meekness under your sufferings. You read not of his exciting clamor and rebellion in the state, but of his submitting patiently to the cruelty of his oppressors. We mean not to condemn such an opposition to tyranny, as the law itself admits; but such as is unconstitutional, turbulent, and factious: and we cannot but recommend a cheerful submission to persecution, as, on the whole, most profitable to ourselves, and most honorable to our God 1 Corinthians 4:12-13. Indeed, when suffering for righteousness' sake, we may expect extraordinary interpositions for our deliverance or support, and may hope to win those who have been the authors of all our troubles See a most encouraging and well-authenticated instance in Benson's Life of Mr. Fletcher, p. 309. first edition.
THE DECREE OF DARIUS
Daniel 6:25-27. Then King Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for he is the living God, and steadfast forever; and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed; and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivers and rescues, and he works signs and wonders in Heaven and in earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.
IT is the prerogative of God, not only to defeat all the designs of men or devils against him, but to advance his own glory by the very means which his enemies use to obstruct it. The wisdom and fidelity of Daniel had secured for him at the court of Persia the same influence as he had been honored with by the kings of Babylon; but the princes of that empire sought his destruction, and, together with that, the subversion of all the influence of Daniel's God. They devised a plan, in which they too fatally succeeded, to establish a law, by which Daniel must of necessity, if faithful to his God, be condemned. King Darius, when lie saw into what a snare he had been drawn, sought to deliver Daniel from the sentence which the law, so inconsiderately enacted, denounced against him: but he could not prevail; and therefore at last consented to the execution of it on his faithful and unoffending servant. Daniel was cast into the den of lions: and with him, the hope of further protection to the Jewish captives must cease. But behold, God, as Darius himself had hoped, interposed for the preservation of Daniel; and thereby showed to the conviction of Darius, that he was the One omnipotent and only true God. Darius now ordered the very punishment which Daniel's enemies had sought to inflict on him, to be executed on them; and immediately issued throughout the whole extent of his dominions the decree contained in our text.
We propose to consider,
I. His views of Daniel's God—
We are quite surprised that a heathen, who had so impiously exalted himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped, should have such just views, as he shows himself to have had, of the God of Israel. In describing Jehovah, he speaks of,
1. His essential perfection—
Darius had hitherto known only the gods of gold and silver, or of wood and stone, which had no existence until they were formed into an image by the hands of man; and which, when formed, were lifeless and motionless as the materials of which they were made. But of Jehovah he had far different views: he saw him to be the eternal self-existent God, who, while he alone had life in himself, was the one only source of life and being to all his creatures. Him too he saw to be an unchangeable God, "steadfast forever" in all his purposes, and immutable in all his counsels.
This is such a view of God as all of us should have: if we see not his self-sufficiency, we shall never feel persuaded of his all-sufficiency for our help Isaiah 26:4; and if we be not convinced, that "with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning James 1:17." we shall never know whence our own stability arises Malachi 3:6, or enjoy the consolation which God himself designs that we should derive from this never-failing source Hebrews 6:17-18.
2. His universal dominion—
Here, we apprehend, this heathen monarch did not limit his views to the providential government of Jehovah over all the works of his hands; but that, he spoke also of that spiritual kingdom which should be erected by the Messiah, and which was to be both universal in its extent and everlasting in its duration. The dream and vision of Nebuchadnezzar were well known throughout all the Babylonish empire. In this vision the destruction of Babylon was expressly foretold; and, after the establishment and ruin of three successive kingdoms, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman, a fifth kingdom was to arise, namely, that of the Messiah, which should break in pieces all other kingdoms, and stand forever. The first part of this dream had now recently been fulfilled; and fulfilled by the very person who had been foretold by name three hundred years before he was brought into the world; and in the precise manner also that had been circumstantially foretold at the same distant period. These prophecies, beyond all doubt, were shown to Cyrus and Darius, as soon as they became masters of Babylon: and the miracle just wrought by Jehovah in favor of Daniel, brought additional conviction to the mind of Darius, that the Messiah's reign should be such as had been predicted.
This is a glorious view, of which we should never lose sight. It was this which Abraham delighted to contemplate John 8:56, and which has filled the saints of all succeeding ages with unutterable joy. To us, no less than to those of former ages, it yet remains as an object of hope. The predicted kingdom is indeed established; but it is as yet but very limited in its extent: nevertheless we believe that the word of God respecting it shall stand, and that "all the kingdoms of the world shall in due time become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ".
3. His miracles of love and mercy towards his believing people—
Here also Darius speaks in general terms: the deliverance of Daniel from the lion's den is considered by him as a single instance only of the innumerable interpositions which God vouchsafes to his people, and of the wonders which he works in their behalf. The whole history of the Jewish people, from their departure out of Egypt to their final dispersion by the Romans, is one continued record of stupendous miracles and gracious deliverances.
True it is, that miracles are ceased: but wonders, if we may so speak, are quite as common as in the days of old. Wherein is the deliverance of a soul from death and Hell inferior to the deliverance of the Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace; or the preservation of Daniel in the lions' den, to the preservation of believers from the assaults of that roaring lion that is ever seeking to devour them? This view then of the Deity is still to be ever kept in mind, in order that we may never give way to fear, or doubt a moment but that He who has hitherto delivered us, will go on to deliver, and will preserve us safely to his heavenly kingdom.
Such being his views of the Deity, we are no longer surprised at,
II. His decree founded upon them—
An external worship was deemed sufficient for senseless idols; but not so for the God of Heaven and earth: the decree before us required much more than that. Let us distinctly notice,
1. Its import—
The terms "fear and tremble" seem to import only a dread of God, as a terrible being whom it was dangerous to provoke: but the meaning of them is widely different from this. Throughout all the New Testament these words express rather a holy reverential regard, blended with love to Him who is the object of it. Paul, when at Corinth, was among his converts "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling 1 Corinthians 2:3;" not surely with a slavish dread of their wrath, but with a holy anxiety to fulfill his ministry to their greatest advantage. He exhorts servants to "obey their masters with fear and trembling Ephesians 6:5," that is, with a tender conscience, and an affectionate regard to their will. He bids us also to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling Philippians 2:12," that is, with the utmost watchfulness and care. Thus we understand the decree of Darius as enjoining to all his subjects, that they should serve God with a holy and affectionate regard to his revealed will. We conceive that the terms of the decree do in effect enjoin all that worship which is required of us under the Gospel: for David, speaking expressly of the worship to be paid to the Messiah, says, "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling Psalm 2:11;" which shows that "fear and trembling," properly understood, does not expel, but only moderates and tempers, our joy. Indeed, "the angel that is represented as carrying the everlasting Gospel throughout all the earth," proclaims it in terms of similar import, "Fear God, and give glory to him Revelation 14:6-7." We see then, that the decree did go, in fact, to the abolition of idolatry, and to the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom throughout that vast empire: only, not being followed up by similar enactments, and a practical exhibition of its import by those who were at the head of the empire, it fell to the ground; as all precepts must do, if not followed up by constant exertions and corresponding examples. One effect however necessarily followed from it, namely, to procure more favor to the Jews throughout the empire, and ultimately to facilitate the reception of Christianity throughout the world.
2. The reasonableness of it—
Who can contemplate the foregoing views of the Deity, and not confess the reasonableness of the decree founded upon them?
Consider the power and authority of God; consider him as the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the universe; and can a doubt be entertained whether we ought to fear and serve Him? Consider also the love and mercy of God, particularly as manifested in the redemption of men by the blood of his only dear Son, and the blessings given to them through his all-sufficient grace; can any one who adverts to this subject question the propriety of surrendering ourselves up, in body, soul, and spirit, to his service?: It matters not what rank in society we hold, or what office we may fill; the decree is equally applicable to all, and equally reasonable for all; kings and princes are no more exempt from these duties than the meanest of their subjects: as long as subordination to rulers is enjoined, much more must a duteous regard to the God of Heaven be held sacred: and, as long as gratitude is esteemed a becoming principle in relation to men, so long must its exercise be obligatory on all towards the Redeemer of the world.
Behold then in this decree,
1. The effect which God's mercies should have upon us—
Darius felt the deliverance of Daniel to be in fact as great a mercy to himself as it was to Daniel: and a sense of this penetrated his soul with a desire to honor that God by whom the mercy had been given. This was right. And is it not right that mercies and deliverances should have the same effect on us? Consider what mercies we have received; some public and national, and others private and personal Here any public or private mercies may be glanced at; Should no improvement be made of these? Should we not say, "What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits that he has done unto me?" Surely these things, and especially the mercies given to our souls: are calls from God himself to glorify him with all our faculties and all our powers The particular objects of the Society may here be stated at large.
2. What use we should make of our influence—
To serve God ourselves is right and necessary: but it is far from comprehending the whole of what is required of us in return for the mercies given unto us. We all have influence, which it is our bounden duty to exert: if that influence reach only to a very small circle, we should not on that account think ourselves at liberty to leave it unimproved: nor if it extend over a vast empire, should we be backward to encounter the opposition and obloquy which the exercise of it may bring upon us. Whatever it be, whether more or less, we should regard it as a talent to be employed for God. Even a heathen, and he, we fear, not truly converted, felt this obligation: how much more then should we, who profess to embrace the Christian faith, and to enjoy all the blessings of the Gospel salvation! But we greatly mistake, if we imagine that the influence of any among us is small: for if we unite our efforts together, and act in concert with each other, we may do far more than Darius could with all his power. Let any one contemplate the Bible Society, in which the poor, strange as it may seem, do far more than the rich; and see what wonders are doing by means of it throughout the world: Let any one contemplate Mission Societies, which are in fact forwarding, as it were, the very decree of Darius, and calling on "all people, nations, and languages to fear and tremble before the God of Israel verse 25, 26.": Let us then rise to the occasion: let us unite as one man: let us not merely issue the decree, but do the thing; providing all the means for it, and carrying into effect the objects we profess to aim at. Thus shall we indeed approve ourselves good and faithful servants to our God, and be rewarded by him according to our improvement of our respective talents.
THE DESTRUCTION OF POPERY
Daniel 7:9-10. I beheld until the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued, and came forth from, before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.
WHILE God exercises his sovereignty, he displays also his wisdom, in revealing his mind to man. As we may trace on many occasions a peculiar propriety in the time and manner of making known his will, so we may observe a kind of suitableness in the revelations themselves to those to whom they were made. The succession of four great empires had been made known to Nebuchadnezzar under the figure of a colossal image composed of various metals Daniel 2:31-45; and the same is revealed to Daniel by a vision of four dreadful beasts: the propriety of these different representations is evident; for the mind of that haughty monarch was engrossed with the love of earthly grandeur; whereas the humbler mind of Daniel would view great conquerors rather in the light of ferocious beasts, eager to gratify their own appetites, though it be by the desolation of the human race. In Daniel's vision also many things were added relative to the church of God, which, though of infinite importance in his eyes, would have been of small moment to the king of Babylon—
If we notice the terms themselves, nothing can be conceived more majestic than this description of God's coming to judgment. First, "the thrones are set down So the words "cast down" should rather be rendered, and "the Ancient of days," the eternal incomprehensible Jehovah, with Christ as his assessor, takes his seat. The august appearance of the Judge, "clothed in a garment white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool," denotes his unsearchable wisdom that penetrates the deepest secrets, and his unsullied integrity as discoverable in all his decisions. His throne is compared to a triumphal chariot, whose seat and wheels are of fire, and from which issues a stream of fire, to destroy those whom his justice shall condemn. "Myriads of angels minister to him" as the willing executioners of his decrees, and "innumerable multitudes stand before him" to receive their sentence from his mouth. "The judgment being thus set, the books are opened;" as well the book of his remembrance, wherein the actions of all were written, as the book of his law, whereby they are to be judged.
This is a prophecy; in considering which we shall show,
I. To what it refers—
The destruction of Antichrist is the first event to which this description refers. The prophet directs our attention, not to the general judgment, but to a particular judgment which shall be instituted for the punishment of a blasphemous, persecuting, and presumptuous power. Who that power is we cannot reasonably doubt. The little horn spoken of in the context will appear evidently to be the Papal Hierarchy, if we consider how exactly the characters of that anti-Christian power are described by the prophet. It arose after that the Roman empire had been divided into ten smaller kingdoms: it reduced under its dominion three of those kingdoms The Exarchate of Ravenna, the kingdom of the Lombards, and the state of Rome; and from the time that it had gained this ascendency, has never ceased to persecute the saints, and to assume to itself the unalienable prerogatives of the most high God Who is ignorant of their claims to infallibility, and of power to dispense both pardons and indulgences? Who knows not how they have set up their authority above that of God himself, changed the institutions of his sacramental supper, prohibited to their clergy the very first ordinance of God and nature, and dispensed with every obligation human and divine?. Paul's account also of the man of sin corresponds exactly with this, and confirms this application of the prophecy in the strongest manner 2 Thessalonians. 2:3-4; 2 Thessalonians. 2:8-9.
The enlargement of Christ's kingdom is another event, to which the judgment before us has respect. The connection between this and the destruction of popery is very strongly marked by the prophet. Repeatedly in this chapter does he unite two events Daniel 7:11-14; Daniel 7:26-27; teaching us thereby to expect assuredly, that, as they are united in God's purpose, so shall they be also in their accomplishment.
As to the time when these things shall come to pass, we know that it shall be one thousand two hundred and sixty years from the time of Antichrist; but we must wait for the event, before we can positively say from what precise period the numeration of those years must commence. Partial checks has popery already received, as at the Reformation. So was there then a correspondent increase of zeal to spread the knowledge of Christ. But when the time shall arrive, and that idolatrous power shall be destroyed, then shall "the kingdoms of the world speedily become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ."
That we may make a just improvement of this prophecy, let us consider,
II. What should be the state of our minds in reference to it,
1. We should look forward to its accomplishment with holy confidence—
There is a state of mind peculiarly proper for the investigation of unfulfilled prophecy. To treat any part of divine revelation with indifference, as though it were an unprofitable task to search into it, would argue a very criminal disregard of Him from whom that revelation proceeds. On the other hand, to be stirring up ourselves to a state of feverish excitement, as though we could already discern every minute particular which shall take place when the period that has been predicted shall have arrived, is to dive into futurity with an unhallowed boldness, and to pervert the true end of prophecy. Prophecy is not intended to make us prophets, but to show us, after that the predictions shall have been fulfilled, that the events so predicted were both foreseen and fore-ordained by the Most High God. The true medium is that which the prophets themselves. observed: "They searched diligently what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow 1 Peter 1:11." The Prophet Daniel, when he understood from books that the time for the delivery of his people from the Babylonish captivity was drawing near, "set himself by prayer and supplication and fasting," to attain a more perfect knowledge of God's purpose respecting it. And the saints who lived near the time of our Lord's advent in the flesh, engaged in constant prayer, "looking for him as the consolation of Israel," and waiting for his promised redemption. Now, if we would attend upon God in such a spirit as this, we should never sustain any injury to our souls from such holy exercises. But, when we so engage in searching into future events as almost to overlook what is past; and so please ourselves with our own imagined discoveries, as to place almost on the back ground all the wonders of redeeming love; we betray a very depraved appetite, and foster both in ourselves and others a spirit the very reverse of humility and love. In relation to future events, we stand in the same predicament with the saints who lived before the coining of our Lord. If we presume to pry into them with unhallowed curiosity, and to dogmatize respecting them as if they were already open to our view, we shall both suffer loss ourselves and inflict an injury on others: but, if we explore them with the modesty that becomes us, we shall find the contemplation of them profitable to our own minds, and the development of them, so far as they are revealed to us, truly beneficial to the Church of God. Take, for instance, what is spoken in Scripture respecting the destruction of Popery, and the establishment of Christ's kingdom throughout the world, we should be content with asserting only what the Scriptures have asserted, and with stating as conjecture whatever has not Divine authority for its support. If we go beyond this, we render the record itself questionable, by adding to it our own conceits, and loading it with circumstances not clearly revealed. It is sufficient for us to know, that both the one event and the other shall assuredly take place, and that when the Lamb has vanquished that idolatrous and bloody power, he will reign over the whole world Revelation 17:14, "there being throughout the whole earth but one Lord, and his name One Zechariah 14:9."
2. We should look forward to great events to which God's present dispensations are only a prelude—
The time is surely coming, when the whole world shall be judged, all the wicked being cast down, and all the righteous exalted, in strict accordance with the prophecy before us. For so has John informed us: "I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the Heaven fled away: and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God: and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.…And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire Revelation 20:11-15." On that occasion will all the pomp described in our text be fully realized: "for the Son of Man will come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him; and he shall sit upon the throne of his glory; and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.…And of these, some shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal Matthew 25:31-32; Matthew 25:46." To the same effect Paul also says, "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe 2 Thessalonians. 1:7-10." About this event no diversity of sentiment can arise. It is fast approaching to us all: for though the day of the general judgment is distant, the time for our being individually summoned into the Divine presence is near to every one of us. Disease or accident may at any moment carry us to the judgment-seat of Christ, and fix our eternal destinies either in Heaven or Hell, according as we are prepared or unprepared to meet our God. Let us then ask ourselves, What is recorded concerning us in the book of God's remembrance, and what evidence we possess that our names are written in the book of life? When that hour shall arrive, it will be of small moment to us, what judgments have been executed on the Church of Rome, or what blessings have been given to God's elect. We are all of us chiefly interested about our own eternal state: and therefore, though I would by no means discourage an inquiry into the general designs of Providence, I would most earnestly entreat every one to look to his own ways, and to judge himself now, that he may not hereafter be judged of the Lord.
THE REIGN OF THE SAINTS
Daniel 7:18. The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.
THE vision of Daniel contained in this chapter accords with that which had before been given to Nebuchadnezzar, and interpreted by Daniel himself Daniel 2:31-45. To Nebuchadnezzar it had appeared as a great image, the various materials of which denoted four successive kingdoms, which would yield at last to one universal empire established on their ruins. To Daniel it appeared as four wild beasts, which would successively prevail; until at last the kingdom of the Messiah should be erected, and reduce every adverse power to a state of complete subjection. To Nebuchadnezzar, who saw nothing but glory in the rise and fall of empires, the idea of a glorious image was most suited: but to Daniel, who viewed the malignant dispositions which produced such revolutions, and the miseries that were occasioned by them, they were more fitly represented under the notion of wild beasts, tearing and devouring one another. But in the vision of Daniel there were revealed many additional circumstances, which very greatly interested him, and which he earnestly desired to have explained. The last of the four kingdoms was to be broken into ten smaller kingdoms, represented by ten horns; among which "a little horn, that had eyes, and a mouth speaking very great things," grew up. This little horn (which seems evidently to denote the Papal power) was to make war with the saints; and, after grievously afflicting them for one thousand two hundred and sixty years, to be itself destroyed, and the kingdom to be given to the saints.
On that part of the subject that relates to the little horn, we shall be silent; because the stating of different opinions respecting it would be unprofitable to those who are hungering for the bread of life: but that part which is contained in our text will be edifying to us all: we shall proceed therefore to consider,
I. The event predicted—
The establishment of the Redeemer's empire upon earth is that which is foretold in the preceding verses verse 13, 14, and which in reality is meant in the passage now before us. But the kingdom is called the kingdom of the saints, because it will be entirely composed of saints, and altogether under their government verse 22, 27. That they shall possess it we can have no doubt; and when the time shall arrive, so universal will the reign of piety be, that it will appear as if all the saints who have ever lived upon the earth had risen again, and as if Christ himself had come down again from Heaven to reign over them Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:4. Some contend for a literal accomplishment of these predictions: but the view here given of them is greatly to be preferred. But respecting the saints there are two things which it will be proper to show,
1. How they will take possession of the kingdom—
They will not do this by force, unless indeed by the holy violence of faith and prayer: in that respect "the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force:" but in respect of any exertion on their part to usurp dominion, it will not so much as enter into their minds. Divine grace will have taught them to "be subject to the powers that be; and that not only for wrath, but for conscience sake." If they lived even under a Nero, they would, notwithstanding all his cruelty, regard him as God's minister, whom, by any other means than those which the law itself admits, they are bound not to resist Romans 13:1-5. No man can act as becomes a saint, if he be not found among those that are "quiet in the land."
It is through the intervention only of God's power that they are exalted to posts of honor, and invested with authority over their fellow-creatures. In the days of old, the enemies of God were overruled to execute his will, in the elevation of a Joseph and a Daniel to the command of mighty empires, and of the Hebrew youths to the government of extensive provinces: but at the time to which our text refers, the subjects, as well as the governors, shall all be converted to the faith of Christ; and kings, no less than others, shall submit to the authority of Christ; yes, "all kings shall fall down before him, all nations shall serve him." There will not need any human efforts to subvert the government of the ungodly: God himself will change, not the persons, but the principles, of those who are in the seat of judgment; and will press into his own service all their faculties and all their powers. Thus without any public commotions will the work be effected: "The stone that will break in pieces all adverse powers will be cut out without hands;" and the kingdom will be erected, "not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts."
2. How they will administer it—
In this they will differ widely from the monarchs of this world: they will consult, not their own will, but the will of their heavenly Father; and seek, not their own glory, but his. Every nation will have a theocracy, such as obtained in the days of Moses, and of the Judges. Men will be invested with authority indeed; but the Lord Jesus Christ will be the one Head over all: his laws will be the ground-work of every law that shall be enacted, and his glory the end of every ordinance that shall be administered. "Kings will be the nursing-fathers of the Church, and queens her nursing-mothers." Judges and magistrates will distribute justice with the utmost possible fidelity, all in their several places "fearing God and working righteousness." All the minor offices in the State shall be executed in like manner with the strictest integrity: "officers of every description will be peace, and exactors righteousness:" "no violence of any kind will be heard Isaiah 60:17-18." in any of the departments of civil government; nor will any interest be consulted but that of the whole community.
Such is the event which in God's own time we assuredly expect: and from the description already given it is easy to anticipate,
II. The advantages that will accrue from it—
Let us notice,
1. Those of a temporal nature—
The first that occurs to our minds is this, that there will be no more foreign wars. The history of the world for four thousand years has been little else than a recital of murderous and desolating wars: but in that day, we are told, that "swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not rise against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." What a blessing this will be, can scarcely be estimated by us, who have for so long a period been exempt from the horrors of war; but in those countries where its desolating progress has been felt, this will appear a blessing of no small moment. As "wars will cease among the nations of the earth," so in the different nations there will be no domestic feuds. "Judah will no more vex Ephraim, nor Ephraim envy Judah." "The wolf and the lamb shall dwell together" in perfect harmony: the noxious qualities of the human heart shall be universally restrained: love alone will reign in every circle: "they shall not hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain, because the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea Isaiah 11:6-9." We may further add, that in that day there will he no personal wants. Now a great portion of the human race are oppressed with want, so as scarcely to know how they shall provide bread for the morrow: but in that day it will be as on the day of Pentecost, not literally indeed, but in effect, all delighting to supply the necessities of their fellow-saints. As in the wilderness "he who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack," so in that day will "the abundance of some be a supply for the want of others, that, as far as will conduce to the welfare of the whole, there may be equality 2 Corinthians 8:13-15."
2. Those of a spiritual nature—
Vast will be the increase of light in that day: "the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days." Hitherto the greatest part of the world have sat in darkness and the shadow of death: but then "many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased;" and such shall be the fruit of their exertions, that "all men shall be made to know the Lord, from the least to the greatest." The diffusion of Divine knowledge will then be a national object: men shall not then be "put into the ministry to supply them with a piece of bread," but "to feed the flock of God, over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers:" and patrons will exercise their power for God, to provide the people with "pastors after God's heart." The people also, while flocking to the church "as doves to their windows," will so receive the word, that it will universally "have free course and be glorified among them."
Together with light, there will be among all classes a great augmentation of peace and joy. "The sun shall be no more their light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto them; but the Lord shall be unto them an everlasting light, and their God their glory." Nor shall their joy be so variable as at present: "their sun shall no more go down, neither shall their moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be unto them an everlasting light; and the days of their mourning shall be ended Isaiah 60:19-20." To this happy state of the Church shall the reign of the saints essentially contribute: for the zeal of the pastors, the spirituality of the people, and the more abundant effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the souls of men, will all conspire to "turn the wilderness into a garden, and to make the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose: yes, it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing Isaiah 35:1-6; Isaiah 35:10."
There will also be a far larger measure of holiness pervading the world. The Canaanite will then "be no more in the land." "The people will be all righteous Isaiah 60:21 and Zechariah 14:20-21;" and surprising will be the beauty and fertility of every plant which the Lord has planted Hosea 14:5-7. To this also will the reign of the saints greatly contribute. Sin of every kind will be discountenanced, and iniquity, if any still exist, will be constrained to hide its head.
1. Let none be ashamed of being accounted saints—
This name, which God so highly honors, is with many a term of reproach. But happy are they who are "counted worthy of this shame." The day will before long arrive, when they shall have far higher honors than man can bestow. We who are now alive may not live to see the day predicted in our text; but, if not, we shall see a happier day, when, "having suffered with Christ, we shall reign, and be glorified together with him." Truly for all the saints there is a kingdom provided; and they who look forward to it shall not be disappointed of their hope 2 Timothy 4:8. Revelation 3:21.
2. Let all endeavor to help forward the expected day—
God will make use of instruments, just as he did in the apostolic age: and we apprehend he is evidently preparing the way for the fuller diffusion of his Gospel by the various efforts which his people are now making in every quarter of the globe. He is causing his word to be translated into the different languages of the world, that all may be able to "read in their own tongue the wonderful works of God." He is sending forth missionaries into different and distant parts; and is uniting myriads of people in the blessed work of instructing the benighted heathens. Let all these works then be dear to you; and help them forward to the utmost of your power: so may we hope that before long "the crooked places may be made straight, and the rough places plain, and that all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
FASTING AND PRAYER
Daniel 9:3. I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.
THE season of Lent has been long observed in the Church, as a time for peculiar fasting and prayer. By our Church has the appointment of it been adopted, as well suited to promote the eternal interests of her members. But, in the present day, and among Protestants in particular, the subject of fasting is but rarely and lightly touched upon in our public addresses. Yet it ought to be considered: and I will therefore take occasion, at the present time, to state,
I. How far it is our duty to observe seasons of fasting and prayer—
Loaded as the Jewish Law was with burdensome enactments, there was but one fast appointed in the whole Mosaic ritual—
This was on the great day of annual expiation Leviticus 23:27-32; and it was the only fast that was fully recognized in the Apostolic age Acts 27:9. Yet were there many fasts afterwards enjoined on particular occasions. Joshua, when repulsed by the men of Ai Joshua 7:6; the whole eleven tribes, after their repeated defeats by the tribe of Benjamin Judges. 20:26; all Israel, when oppressed by the Philistines; and Jehoshaphat, when invaded by the united armies of Moab and Ammon 1 Samuel 7:6-8; all had recourse to fasting, as the means of obtaining favor from the Lord, and support in the hour of their necessity 2 Chronicles 20:3. Nor were these national fasts only observed; but, in private the most eminent saints adopted this measure, for the purpose of deepening their humiliation, and of quickening their devotion 2 Samuel 12:16. Psalm 119:24. Luke 2:37. In fact, the case of Esther alone will suffice to show how important a measure this was esteemed, for the obtaining of relief from God in any great extremity Esther 4:16.
Nor, under the Christian dispensation, was there any stated fast appointed by the Lord—
Our Lord indeed intimated, that there would arise occasions which would call for solemn fasts Luke 5:33-35; and he gave directions for the acceptable observance of them Matthew 6:16-18. We find, too, that on some particular occasions, such as the setting apart of Paul and Barnabas to a special work, and the ordaining of elders for the service of their God, fasts were observed in the Christian Church Acts 13:2-3; Acts 14:23.
Hence, then, I should say of such observances, that they are approved of the Lord, rather than absolutely ordained; and proper for seasons of peculiar emergency, rather than fixed to any precise time or measure. Paul, who was exposed to far more severe trials than any other of the Apostles, tells us, that he served God "in labors, and watchings, and fastings 2 Corinthians 6:4-5;" and therefore we cannot doubt the expediency of such observances, while we admit that they are not imposed on us as rites of indispensable necessity. Yet, indeed, considering all that has been said, we think that no person, who truly desires to attain any eminence in the divine life, will judge it either prudent or proper wholly to neglect them.
Having spoken thus candidly respecting the necessity of such observances, I proceed to show,
II. What benefit we may hope to derive from them—
Beyond all doubt, such seasons are truly beneficial to the soul—
In a man's first entrance on the divine life, he cannot do better than to address himself to God in fasting and prayer. At such a time, he has to humble himself for all the sins of his former life, and to implore pardon of God for all the guilt he has ever contracted. And can this be done too solemnly, too earnestly, too devoutly? It was in this way that Cornelius obtained favor of the Lord Acts 10:30; and he is a fit example to all who desire to find mercy at the hands of God.
But, in all his future progress through life, also, the Christian has need of the same means, in order to the preservation and advancement of his spiritual welfare. Who is not conscious of some particular propensity, of which it may be said, as of the spirit which the Apostles were not able to eject, "This kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting Matthew 17:21." In every living man there are corruptions, which may be greatly weakened and subdued by means of setting aside times for fasting and prayer. They who are united together in the bonds of wedlock, are of course exposed to feel the sad effects of human infirmity, each in their partner: and hence Paul recommends to married persons a short occasional separation from each other, for the purpose of "giving themselves to fasting and prayer 1 Corinthians 7:5;" nor can we doubt, but that, if that expedient were more frequently resorted to, incomparably greater happiness would be found in wedded life, and a far wider diffusion of blessedness among all the successive generations of mankind. In fact, a far higher standard of piety would be established in the world, if, like the holy Apostle, Christians of the present day were "in fastings often 2 Corinthians 11:27." If he, with all his high attainments, "kept his body under, and brought it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away 1 Corinthians 9:27," methinks no one of us can presume to think such a discipline either unnecessary for himself, or ineffectual for his good.
But the whole efficacy of them depends on the manner in which they are observed—
If men have recourse to fasting, under a superstitious notion that they can thereby expiate their sins or propitiate the Deity, they err most fatally, and rivet on their own souls the guilt of all their sins. In fact, what is this but to punish the body for the sin of the soul, and to substitute their own self-imposed sufferings for the atoning sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ? Yet this error, to a vast extent, obtains in the Church of Rome; which inculcates the observance of fasts and penances, and pilgrimages, as meritorious before God, and as the most effectual means of conciliating the Divine favor. As for ostentation, however it prevailed among the Pharisees of old, or still abounds in the Romish Church, there is little danger of it among us Protestants, who have ran into a contrary extreme, and despise these observances as much as the Papists idolize and abuse them. Yet, as a ground of confidence before God, we, no less than they, are in danger of founding our hopes upon them. But this error, I again say, will render them, not only not beneficial, but absolutely pernicious. Fasting is only a means to an end. We want to have the soul more deeply engaged in prayer, and more fixed in devotedness to God; and fasting greatly contributes to these ends. But if it be made itself a ground of hope before God, God will say to us, as to the hypocrites of old, "When you did fast, did you fast unto me, even unto me? Was it not to yourselves rather that you fasted Zechariah 7:5-6," 'that you might have in yourselves a ground of self-righteousness and self-delight, instead of relying solely on the obedience and sufferings of my dear Son?' To have our fasts accepted, they must be accompanied with a determined mortification of all sin, and an unreserved performance of every known duty. "Such is the fast that God chooses;" and such alone will ever bring his blessing on our souls Isaiah 58:6-8. Any other than this will be despised by him Jeremiah 14:12; nor will any other accord with the example set us in my text.
Let none of you, then, think this an unnecessary labor, or imagine that it will interfere with your other duties in life. Of all the holiest men recorded in the Old Testament, there was not one more eminent than Daniel; nor was there one who had a greater weight of business upon him than he; yet even he found time for solemn fasting and prayer. Let none, therefore, decline this service, either as unprofitable or needless. As for those who have ever set themselves like him to seek the Lord God by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes, I will ask whether they did not find the exercise truly beneficial to their souls? And, if they have afterwards laid aside that holy service, I will ask them whether they have not suffered loss in their souls? I can have no doubt what must be the testimony of every living man respecting this. To every man, therefore, I commend the practice as most beneficial and beneficial: nor have I any doubt but that those who, like Daniel, approach the Deity with fastings and prayer, shall, like him, receive speedy answers to their prayer, and signal manifestations to their souls, that they are "greatly beloved of their God verse 20–23.
Daniel 9:3-7. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from your precepts and from your judgments: neither have we hearkened unto your servants the prophets, which spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs unto you, but unto us, confusion of faces, as at this day.
FROM the earliest period, even from the time that God first had a visible Church in the world, there have been particular seasons set apart for humiliation, and fasting, and prayer. In the Christian Church, the appointment of forty days at this part of the year (Lent) for that purpose is of great antiquity The number of days for fasting was not always precisely the same as now: but the appointment itself may be traced almost to the times of the Apostles. The two days with which this season commenced were observed with peculiar solemnity: the one (Shrove Tuesday) was spent in recollecting and confessing The word "shrove" is from the old English word "shrive," which signifies, to confess. their sins; the other (Ash Wednesday) in fasting and supplication. That these institutions were carried to a very foolish excess, and that they degenerated into many absurd superstitions, under the reign of Popery, is readily acknowledged: but they were good in their origin; and our Church has wisely retained such a portion of them as might tend to the real edification of her members: and if we were more observant of them than we are, we should find substantial benefit to our souls. But, alas! we have run into an opposite extreme, insomuch that not only the observances are laid aside, but the very intention of them is almost forgotten: and instead of complying with the design which is intimated in the names given to the days, we render them perfectly ridiculous, by substituting a trifling change in our food for the most solemn acts of devotion before God.
Hoping however that on this day we are disposed to humble ourselves before God, we shall,
I. Illustrate this confession of Daniel—
The manner in which he made his supplications is deserving of particular attention—
He "set his face unto the Lord God:" he did not rush into the Divine presence without any previous meditation, but endeavored to have his mind impressed with reverence and godly fear, that he might "not offer to his God the sacrifice of fools."
He "sought God by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes." By mortifying the body, he endeavored to aid the labors of his soul. Both the one and the other had been defiled by sin; and therefore he strove to make them partners in humiliation before God. Nor can we doubt but that the fervor of his prayers was greatly assisted by the bodily privations which God himself has so often prescribed for this very end.
Nor must we overlook the remarkable representation which he gave of the Divine character on this occasion—
He mentions in very expressive terms both the majesty and the goodness of God; the one for the abasing, the other for the encouraging, of his soul.
What words can more strongly paint the majesty of God? In various other passages, God is called "the great and terrible" God Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 9:32 and Deuteronomy 7:21; and well may he be addressed in such terms; for "who knows the power of his anger?" Let us only call to mind the judgments he has executed on sinners; on the rebel angels; on the antediluvian world; on Sodom and Gomorrah; on the Egyptian first-born; on Pharaoh and his hosts; yes, on the Jews in Babylon, which was the point referred to in the text; and we shall confess that "God is very greatly to be feared."
Yet he was not unmindful of the Divine goodness. Notwithstanding God is angry with the wicked, he has "made a covenant" with his Son, wherein he engages to "show mercy unto all who love him and keep his commandments." Now this covenant he has never violated; this mercy he has never refused to one who by faith laid hold on that covenant, and showed forth his faith by his works. And Daniel mentions this, in his address to God, as the ground on which he presumed to approach him, and ventured to hope for acceptance with him.
His confession before him is also worthy of notice, as being expressive of the deepest humility and contrition—
So deeply did he bewail his own sins and the iniquities of his people, that he strove by the most diversified expressions to make known his hatred of them: "We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from your precepts, and from your judgments; neither have we hearkened to your servants the prophets, which spoke in your name."
Here he distinctly acknowledges to God their transgression of his commandments, and their contempt of his reproofs. These were indeed a just ground for his humiliation; since to no other nation had such a revelation of God's will been given, or such messages of mercy sent. Happy was it for him, and happy for the nation, that the reason of their chastisements was thus discovered; and that, by knowing wherein they had erred, they had learned wherein they were to amend their conduct!
There is yet one thing more on which we must make our remarks, namely, his justification of God in all his dealings with them—
Nothing but equity is ascribed to God; nothing but shame is taken to themselves: "O Lord! righteousness belongs unto you; but unto us confusion of face." He does not utter one word in extenuation of their guilt, or one complaint against the Divine judgments: he declares rather, that, to whatever extremities God might proceed, he could not but be righteous; and that, whatever mercies they might experience at his hands, nothing but the deepest self-abasement could ever become them. Thus he gives the most decisive evidence of true repentance, and exhibits an admirable pattern for penitents in all ages.
Having briefly illustrated this confession of Daniel, we shall,
II. Found upon it some suitable and appropriate observations—
1. We have the same sins to confess—
Without entering into any distinctions founded on the different terms which are hero accumulated, let us only take the general division before mentioned, and call to mind our transgression of God's commandments, and our contempt of his reproofs.
Which of the commandments have we not broken? We may perhaps imagine, that, though we may have violated some, we are guiltless respecting others. But, alas! if we take our Savior's exposition of them, and remember, that an angry word is murder, and an impure look adultery, we shall find reason to bemoan our transgression of them all.
Nor is it any small aggravation of our guilt that we have despised those warnings and invitations which he has sent us in the Gospel. The ministers of Christ have testified against our ways from Sabbath to Sabbath, and from year to year: yet how few have hearkened to their voice!" how few have turned from their evil ways! how few have heartily embraced his salvation, or devoted themselves sincerely to his service! Let us in particular enter into our own bosoms, and consider what improvement WE have made of the truths delivered to us: If we do this in sincerity, we shall be at no loss for matter of humiliation before God.
2. We have the same God to go unto—
We do not like to think of God's majesty; but he is, as much as ever, "a great and terrible God:" the Apostle justly observes, "Our God is a consuming fire." Let us not dream of a God all mercy: the Deity is just as well as merciful; and it will be found "a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God".
On the other hand, the goodness of God is unalterable. He is still merciful to all who lay hold on his covenant; and will assuredly fulfill to them all the promises of that covenant. Heaven and earth may fail; but not a jot or tittle of his word shall ever fail.
Let us entertain just conceptions of the Divine character; and we shall have a frame of mind suited to our condition; we shall be under the joint influence of hope and fear; of hope without presumption, and of fear without despondency.
3. We ought to approach him in the same manner—
We should carefully prepare our minds for communion with God. The neglect of this is the reason that we so seldom obtain real fellowship with him. We should not lay aside, as it is to be feared we do, the duty of fasting: we should set apart seasons for more than ordinary humiliation; and more especially improve those seasons which are set apart by public authority.
We should search out our iniquities with diligence: and, instead of leaning to the side of self-vindication, should learn to justify God and to condemn ourselves. Nor shall we ever have our hearts right with him, until we can say, 'God will be righteous, though he should cast me into Hell; and nothing but confusion of face will become me, even though I were as holy as Daniel himself.'
Let us then begin the employment this day, under a full assurance, that "he who thus humbles himself under the mighty hand of God, shall in due time be lifted up."
4. If we approach him in the same manner, we shall assuredly obtain the same success—
That which Daniel desired on this occasion was, to obtain an insight into the prophecy of Jeremiah relative to the return of the Jews from Babylon, and the mystery which was prefigured by it, the redemption of the world by the promised Messiah. And behold, here was the angel Gabriel sent to give him the desired information, and to inform him, that "at the very beginning of his supplication, God, in answer to his prayer, had sent him" this gracious message verse 20–23.
Now, if this nation at large engaged in the services of this day with any good measure of that spirit with which we profess to have approached our God, there can be no doubt but that a blessing would be poured out upon the whole land; and that the mercies we more immediately need would be given unto us, or the judgments which we deprecated would be averted This, of course, must be accommodated to existing circumstances.
But if only in our individual capacity we improved this season aright, I can have no hesitation in saying, that we should have the Scriptures more fully unfolded to us by the Spirit of God; yes, and special manifestations of God's love to us by that same Spirit witnessing to our souls, "You are greatly beloved." Did Daniel gain by prayer such discoveries of Christ verse 24–26, and shall not we? Yes assuredly; and, if we will dedicate this very day truly and diligently to its peculiar and appropriate use, we shall before the close of it add our testimony to that before us, that "God has not said to any, Seek you my face in vain."
HUMILIATION EXEMPLIFIED AND ENFORCED
Daniel 9:3-10. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes; and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have re-belled, even by departing from your precepts, and from your judgment: neither have we hearkened unto your servants the prophets, which spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs unto you, bat unto us confusion of faces, as at this day: to the men of Judah, and. to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries where you have driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against you. O Lord, to us belongs confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him; neither have ice obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before its by his servants the prophets.
THE time for the captivity of the Jews in Babylon was fixed in the prophetic writings: yet, through the incredulity of all who had any influence among them, it was not known. Daniel, however, who at an early age had been carried captive, and who believed the word of God, studied the prophecies of Jeremiah, and understood from them, that the time of deliverance was near at hand; since about sixty-nine years out of the seventy, which was the appointed duration of their bondage, had now elapsed Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10. Encouraged by this discovery, and well knowing that the deliverance was only to be obtained by prayer Jeremiah 29:12-14 with 1 Kings 8:46-50, he set himself with all humility and earnestness to seek the Lord. To himself, at all events, this solemn exercise of fasting and prayer was of great service: for, beyond all doubt, it was the means of strengthening his soul for the trial which he speedily afterwards sustained, when cast into the den of lions Compare verse 1 with Daniel 6:1; Daniel 6:4; Daniel 6:16. There is reason to suppose, too, that it prevailed in no small degree to bring down upon the whole nation the promised blessing.
The account here given us, will lead me to show,
I. The concern which he manifested for the welfare of his own brethren—
Though himself placed in a situation of great honor, he was not unmindful of his Jewish brethren. He longed for their deliverance from their sore bondage; and he sought help for them from Him who alone was able to turn the hearts of kings. Let us mark,
1. The way in which he sought the Lord—
"He set his face unto the Lord his God;" doubtless turning towards Jerusalem, according to the direction given by Solomon at the dedication of the temple. In this we see his faith in the Lord Jehovah, whom, by this very act, he acknowledged, in the most appropriate manner, as Israel's God. To him he turned "in fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes." Though exalted to the highest station in the court of Darius, and though now at an advanced period of life, considerably above eighty years of age, he not only sought the Lord in prayer, but imposed on himself these austerities, for the purpose of deepening his humiliation before God, and of obtaining a nearer access to him in his supplications. In this he showed the sincerity of his heart, and the ardor of his soul; and has set an example to all future generations, of the way in which God is to be sought in behalf of a suffering people, and of the way in which national blessings are to be obtained.
2. The views which he had of the Deity whom he addressed—
He contemplated the Deity in all his diversified perfections, as a God of infinite majesty and holiness, and at the same time of unchanging mercy and truth. "O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments!" God had shown himself "great and terrible" in the judgments he had executed upon them; and to all who shall continue to offend him he will prove "a consuming fire Deuteronomy 4:24." Yet "to those who should love him, and obey his commandments," he would show mercy, according to the full extent of his covenant which he had made with them in Horeb. It must however be remembered, that the attainment of this character was necessary to justify their claim on him for any one of these mercies: nor did he ever venture to implore these blessings for his people on any other condition than that which God had imposed, and which it became his Divine majesty to require.
3. The particulars of the prayer which he presented before him—
Here we notice his humble confession, and his penitential acknowledgment. In his confession, he reiterates the same idea, in a great diversity of terms: "We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled." He goes on to recapitulate particulars: "We have rebelled, even by departing from your precepts, and from your judgments; neither have we hearkened unto your servants the prophets, which spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land." Now, in this he showed how deeply he laid to heart the iniquities of the nation. Had his sense of it been light, a single expression of it would have sufficed: but it is of the very nature of deep contrition to abase ourselves, and to feel as if no words could ever express the enormity of our guilt. In like manner, while he fully justifies God in all the judgments he had inflicted, be takes to himself all imaginable shame, as the proper portion to every individual of his nation, from the highest to the lowest. And, this also he repeats verse 7, 8, as from the fullest conviction of his soul.
4. The grounds on which alone he ventured to hope for mercy—
It was from God's mercy alone that he could entertain a hope. In himself, or in his people, he could find nothing wherein to ground a plea: but in God he saw every tiling that could justify an assurance of acceptance for all who should come to him aright. "To God belonged mercy and forgiveness," as being essential to his nature, and the very delight of his soul Micah 7:18. And, though the greatness of their guilt might seem to preclude them from a hope of mercy, and the severity of God's judgments might appear to indicate that he was implacably offended with them, he particularly declares, that on neither of these grounds had they any reason to despond; for that mercies and forgiveness, to the utmost extent of their necessities, still belonged to him, notwithstanding they had so grievously rebelled against him."
In all of this we see, with most unquestionable evidence,
II. The concern which we should manifest for our own souls—
For our nation we ought most assuredly to feel as Daniel felt, and to act in their behalf as he acted This idea should be opened at some length on a Fast-day, in reference to the particular state of the nation at the time; And now that the time for the restoration and conversion of the Jews is so near approaching, ought not we to make our supplication to God for them in the very way that Daniel did?: I hesitate not to say, that our obligation to seek their spiritual and eternal welfare is not a whit inferior to that by which Daniel was impelled to seek their temporal deliverance This, if it were preached on the subject of the Jews, must, of course, be greatly amplified; if not, it may be altogether omitted.
The salvation of our souls is at all times, and under all circumstances, an object worthy to be sought with our whole hearts. Let me then urge upon you,
1. The study of the Scriptures in reference to the great work of redemption—
Daniel, though immersed in business of the most important nature, found time, yes, made time, for the study of God's blessed word; and by study he ascertained the period fixed for the Jews' deliverance from bondage. And should not we, however occupied, find time for the study of the Scriptures, that we may know all that God has spoken respecting that infinitely greater deliverance, the redemption of our souls? The object of his inquiry was nothing in comparison of that to which our attention should be turned. Shall we, then, plead as an excuse, that we have not time? Shall anything under Heaven be suffered to stand in competition with that in which all the glory of God is displayed, and on which the everlasting salvation of our souls depends? I say, it is a shame that the sacred volume, which contains all these mysteries, is so neglected by us, or so superficially and negligently perused. And I call on all of you to lay this matter to heart; and now with all diligence to "search the Scriptures," in which you think you have, and in which assuredly you have, eternal life revealed to you.
2. An application to God for mercy with all humility and earnestness—
Daniel was considerably above eighty years of age when he arrayed himself "in sackcloth and ashes," and betook himself, in the most solemn manner, to fasting and prayer. Shall we then account this service too self-denying for us? Did he mourn so deeply for the sins of others, and shall we not mourn for our own? Shall a short ejaculation be thought sufficient for us, when scarcely invention itself could furnish terms sufficient to express his sense of their guilt? Shall we offer excuses for ourselves, when he, the holiest man that day on earth, was filled with shame and confusion of face? Think with yourselves, what would be your feeling, if God now, by revelation, made known to tins assembly all that had ever passed in your hearts? Would you not be filled with contusion? Would you not be glad to hide your heads, yes, and to spend the remainder of your days in solitude, unknowing and unknown? Why then do you not abase yourselves before God? He views you, not as we do, but as you really are: and if your eyes be opened to discern your real character, I hesitate not to say that you will "loath yourselves," yes, and "abhor yourselves in dust and ashes." Nor will you account a whole life of prayer and supplication too much to obtain the mercy of your God.
3. An entire casting of yourselves upon the mercy of God in Christ Jesus—
Remember, that God must be sought as he is revealed to us in Christ Jesus. The temple, towards which Daniel turned his face, was a type of Christ, "in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells," and through whom alone the Father is accessible to sinful man. "There is no way to the Father, but through Christ John 14:6;" "but of those who come to God through him, not one shall ever be cast out John 6:37."
You must be especially careful to renounce every other plea. It you rely in any measure whatever on your own righteousness, you never can find acceptance with him verse 18. If Daniel relied entirely on the mercy of his God, so must you. The Apostle Paul "desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, hut the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ Philippians 3:9." Be assured that you must do the same: and if you resemble him in this, you shall, like him, experience the mercy of your God abounding towards you, yes, and super-abounding in proportion as your iniquities have abounded. In particular, guard against limiting the mercy of your God, or accounting the greatness of your sins any ground for despondency: for "mercy belongs to God, notwithstanding you have rebelled against him 1 Timothy 1:16. Romans 5:20-21, and notwithstanding you have so long slighted the offers of mercy which he has "sent you by his servants the prophets." This is, indeed, a great aggravation of your guilt: but still, in the view of all the guilt you have ever contracted, I declare to you this day, that, provided only you will believe in Christ, and give yourselves up to him, "though your sins have been as scarlet, or of a crimson dye, they shall become white as wool, and white as the spotless snow."
THE ANSWER TO DANIEL'S PRAYER
Daniel 9:17-23. O our God, hear the prayer of your servant, and his supplications, and cause your face to shine upon your sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord's sake. O my God, incline your ear, and hear; open your eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by your name: for we do not present our supplications before you for our righteous nesses, but for your great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken, and do; defer not, for your own sake, O my God: for your city and your people are called by your name. And whiles I was speaking, and. praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yes, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give you skill and understanding. At the beginning of your supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show you; for you are greatly beloved; therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.
AN inquiry into prophecy is highly commendable; and more especially now that so many prophecies are on the very eve of their accomplishment. But it is not by study alone that we shall be able to attain the true interpretation of the prophetic writings. We must pray to God to reflect the true light upon them, and to enable us by his good Spirit rightly to apprehend them. This was the way which Daniel took, when he saw, by the writings of Jeremiah, that the seventy years of captivity were drawing to a close Jeremiah 29:10; he could not tell the precise time from which they should be numbered; and consequently could not ascertain the period for their termination: but he was anxious to know when the happy time was to commence. He set himself therefore to study the prophecies of Jeremiah, and to seek instructions from God in a way of humiliation, and fasting, and prayer verse 2, 3. The success which he met with deserves particular attention, inasmuch as it affords an encouragement to all to follow his example. Let us consider,
I. The record here given—
In this are two things to be noticed;
1. The prayer of Daniel—
To enter into this aright, the whole chapter should be attentively perused. The first thing that strikes us in this prayer is, his just view of the Deity; of his majesty, as a "great and dreadful" God; his unchanging faithfulness, in "keeping covenant and mercy to his loving and obedient people verse 4;" his justice, in all the judgments that he inflicts on the disobedient verse 7;" his mercy, in pardoning those who have rebelled against him verse 9; and his truth, in executing every word that he has ever spoken verse 11, 12. From this comprehensive view of the Divine perfections arose that just mixture of humility and confidence which is visible throughout the whole of his address.
The next thing to be observed in Daniel's prayer is, his deep humiliation before God. On the subject of his own and his people's sins, he so accumulates expressions as to show that he thought he could never sufficiently abase himself before his God verse 5, 6. In a Word, nothing but shame and "confusion of face" seemed to him to be suited to his condition as a sinner; though of all the saints in the Old Testament he seems to have been the most perfect; not one thing during the course of a long, and public, and laborious life being laid to his charge, either by God or man.
His earnest pleadings with God are vet further deserving of especial regard. He seems as if he would take no denial, yes, as if his spirit could brook no delay verse 19. Everything that might be supposed to influence the Deity is brought forward as a plea, to incline him to have mercy on his afflicted people: the consideration of God's former mercies to them in Egypt verse 15; a regard for his own honor, since they still bare the same relation to him as ever verse 19; and a love to the promised Messiah, whose glory would ultimately be promoted by it verse 17. All these pleas show how earnest and importunate he was, even like Jacob when wrestling with the Angel, "I will not let you go, except you bless me."
2. The answer given him—
How marvelous was the condescension of God, in sending the angel Gabriel to give unto his servant an answer of peace! But here it will be peculiarly profitable to compare the answer with the prayer:—"O Lord, hear! O Lord, defer not!"—' Go Gabriel; fly with all possible expedition: do not so much as look back to behold my glory: mind nothing but your errand: tell him, in answer to what he is saying, "To me belongs shame and confusion of face," "O Daniel, you are greatly beloved." In answer to his request, that "I would not defer," tell him that at the very beginning of his supplications the commandment was given you to go and answer them from me: and, whereas he has only prayed for information respecting the redemption of my people from Babylon, which Jeremiah predicted to be wrought in the space of seventy years from the time of his prophecy; tell him of that infinitely greater redemption which that typifies, and which is now to be accomplished in seventy weeks of years; explain to him everything relating to the vicarious sufferings of the Messiah, and the righteousness which He will bring in thereby for the deliverance and salvation of a ruined world verse 24–27. And let this answer be to all the future generations of mankind a memorial of my grace, and a pledge of my condescension to all my praying people.'
Instead of dilating much on the circumstances of this instructive history, we have merely glanced at them, that we may more largely dwell upon,
II. The instruction to be gathered from it—
Behold then here,
1. The nature of prayer—
Prayer is an application of the soul to God for some desired blessing. But it will be proper distinctly to notice its constituent parts.
There must be, in the first place, a just apprehension of the Divine perfections. If we view not God as a Being of infinite majesty, and holiness and power, we shall not approach him with that reverential fear that becomes us: and if his goodness, and mercy, and truth, and faithfulness be not borne in mind, we shall be destitute of all those encouragements that are necessary for the support of our souls. The greatest of men must never for a moment forget the former, nor the vilest of men the latter. Abraham, Moses, Job, Isaiah, were all abased, as it were, in dust and ashes, by their discoveries of God; while, on the other hand, the very murderers of the Lord of Glory had in one moment their terrors dissipated, and their souls revived, by a single glimpse of God, as reconciled to them in Christ Jesus. A partial view of God will lead either to despondency or presumption; but a just view of him will call into exercise all the best feelings of the heart, combining activity with confidence, and fear with love Here a distinct view may be taken of all the perfections before mentioned.
Next, there must be a contrite sense of our own extreme tin unworthiness. No prayer can come up with acceptance before God, which docs not proceed from a broken and contrite spirit, Angels who have never fallen may offer praises without any other kind of humiliation than that which proceeds from a sense of their utter baseness and insignificance; but a sinner, though redeemed, must never forget that he is a sinner, or neglect to blend contrition even with his most exalted services. In Heaven itself the redeemed cast their crowns before the Savior's feet, in acknowledgment that they receive them altogether from him, and that they desire to wear them only for the advancement of his glory Here the nature of real humiliation maybe more fully traced, in reference to that of Daniel.
Connected with our contrition there must be a pledge pleading with God. This is the very soul of prayer. True it is, that God does not need to be prevailed upon by our importunity, as though he were of his own nature backward to assist us; for to exercise mercy is his delight: but he requires importunity in us, as the means of exciting in our hearts, and of evidencing in our prayers, a deep sense of our need of mercy This also may be briefly illustrated.
But that which gives to prayer its chief efficacy is, a humble affiance in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our blessed Lord tells us, that "whatever we ask in his name we shall receive." It is his mediation alone that procures acceptance for our prayers: and then only do they come up with a sweet odor before God, when they are presented in his censer, and are perfumed with the incense of his prevailing intercession Here it may be shown what attention is paid to this throughout our whole Liturgy.
2. Its efficacy when duly offered—
God will not cast out the prayer of faith: hut his answers to it shall be sure, speedy, and effectual. "Never said he to any, Seek you my face, in vain:" and the accumulation of promises which he has given us on this subject, leaves us no room to doubt, but that he will grant us, in answer to our prayers, such blessings as he knows to be best for us Matthew 7:7-8. If he give us not the thing we asked for, he will give us that which on the whole is far better, and which, if we had known what was best for us as he does, we should have asked. The time previous to his answer may appear to our impatient minds long: but his answers shall not be protracted beyond the fittest season. The parable of the unjust judge shows us how the importunate widow prevailed at last: and the instruction which God founds upon it is this: "Shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily," I. e. as speedily as will conduce to their greatest benefit. Moreover, his answers shall be commensurate with all our necessities. However "wide we open our mouth, he will fill it." David says, "I cried to the Lord; and the Lord heard me at large:" thus will he hear us at large, "supplying all our wants according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus," and "giving us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think."
Let every one in his place and station be as Daniel, a man of prayer. Others besides Daniel have had immediate answers to prayer Acts 10:30-31; and God promises that we also shall be answered as speedily as ever Daniel was, if it will really be for our good Isaiah 65:24. If any one be discouraged for want of an answer to his prayers, let him remember that God may have answered them already, though unperceived, and in a way not contemplated by the suppliant himself. An angel is mentioned by the prophet Zechariah as answered, not in the way that lie had desired, but "with good and comfortable words Zechariah 1:12-13." And Paul, when praying for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, had it not removed, but sanctified, and grace given to him to improve it aright 2 Corinthians 12:9. Know then, whether you see it or not, that God both does, and will, answer your petitions. Only let them be humble, and believing, and they shall never go forth in vain.
THE TIME AND ENDS OF CHRIST'S ADVENT
Daniel 9:24. Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
IT has pleased God on many occasions to manifest his regard to prayer; and to give such speedy and gracious answers to it as should encourage all his people to pour out their hearts before him. Daniel, having understood by books that the seventy years' captivity in Babylon were drawing to a close, set himself by fasting and prayer to implore mercy for himself and his captive nation: and God instantly sent an angel to testify the acceptance of his prayers, and to reveal to him the period fixed for that far greater deliverance, which should in due time be effected by the Messiah. "Seventy weeks," according to the prophetic language, mean seventy weeks of years, that is, four hundred and ninety years, a day for a year Ezekiel 4:6. There is a remarkable coincidence between the seventy years at the end of which this temporal deliverance was to take place, and the seventy weeks of years when the great Deliverer was to come. That space of time (four hundred and ninety years) includes ten Jubilees; at the last of which, not one nation only, but all the nations of the world should hear the sound of the gospel-trumpet, and be restored to their forfeited inheritance. Commentators are not agreed respecting the precise year from which the numeration of them begins The more approved calculations are those which are dated from the seventh, or from the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, and the latter by lunar years; but, according to any calculation, the Messiah must have long since come into the world; and the Jews are inexcusable in rejecting so decisive a testimony. The ends of the Messiah's advent, which are here set forth in a rich variety of expression, will form the subject of our present discourse.
God sent him,
I. To open a way for our salvation—
There were two great obstacles to the salvation of man, namely, guilt and corruption: And
For the removal of these the law made no adequate provision—
There were sacrifices and various other services appointed for the removal of guilt: and the person who complied with the ordinances prescribed, was considered as absolved from his sin. But in the nature of things "it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin." Indeed the annual repetition of the same offerings on the great day of atonement showed, that the transgressions, which had been before atoned for, were not fully and finally forgiven: these repeated sacrifices were so many "remembrances of sins," intended to lead the minds of men to that greater sacrifice, which alone could "make them perfect as pertaining to the conscience," or procure to them a complete and "eternal redemption Hebrews 9:9-12; Hebrews 10:1-4."
But what the law could not do, God sent his only dear Son to effect Romans 8:3.—
"The Messiah was to be cut off, but not for himself Daniel 9:27;" by him Divine justice was to be satisfied, and the hand-writing that was against us, being nailed to his cross, was to be forever cancelled Colossians 2:14; he was so to "finish transgression, and make an end of sin" that no further sacrifice for it should ever be necessary: by his one offering he was to perfect forever them that are sanctified Hebrews 10:11-14. All this has been done: through the blood of his cross, reconciliation is made between God and man Colossians 1:21-22; God no more abhors the sinner, seeing that he is cleansed from sin in the Redeemer's blood, and is clothed in that spotless righteousness which Jesus has brought in 2 Corinthians 5:21; nor does the sinner any longer hate God, because he is enabled to behold him as his God and Father in Christ. Thus is the breach completely closed: thus is man restored to the favor and love of God: thus are all typical sacrifices abrogated and annulled Daniel 9:27; and thus are men delivered, no less from the love and practice of sin than from the curse and condemnation due to it Titus 2:14. Sin is no more remembered on the part of God, nor any more practiced on the part of man.
Thus far the subject is plain. What remains of our text is more difficult to be understood. But I conceive that the true sense of it will be marked, if we consider it as exhibiting yet farther the way devised for our salvation, and the sending of the Messiah,
II. To complete all that was necessary for its full accomplishment—
Two things were necessary to be effected by him:
1. He was to fulfill for us all that had been predicted—
There were a great variety of types and prophecies which designated the Messiah's work and character. The first promise, given immediately after the fall, represented him as "the seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent's head." In process of time other prophecies declared the family from which he should spring, the time and place of his birth, the minutest circumstances of his life and death, together with his subsequent exaltation and glory: moreover the whole nature of his undertaking, the various offices he was to sustain, with all the effects of his mission, were exactly delineated. Besides these, there were also many figurative representations instituted of God for the purpose of exhibiting to the world, as in a shadow, those things which were afterwards to be realized and substantially effected. Our first parents were clothed by God himself with the skins of beasts, which they had before been directed to otter in sacrifice; that, in that type, they might see the only true way of atoning for their sin, or covering their shame from the eyes of God. The various ordinances that were appointed under the Mosaic dispensation, the paschal lamb, whose sprinkled blood averted from the Israelites the sword of the destroying angel, while its flesh, eaten with bitter herbs, nourished their bodies; the daily and annual sacrifices, with all the sprinklings and other ceremonies; the habits and services of the priests, the form and furniture of the tabernacle, with many other things, which it would be tedious to enumerate, declared in ten thousand forms the work and offices of the promised Messiah.
All of these Christ was in the exactest manner to fulfill. Some parts of the inspired volume represented him as God, others as a man, yes, as "a worm and no man;" some as victorious, others as suffering; some as living forever, others as dying; some as the priest, others as the sacrifice; some as a sanctuary, and others as a stumbling-block: all manner of opposites were to unite in him as lines in their center, in order that, when he should appear, there should not exist a doubt in any unprejudiced mind, but that he was the person foretold; and that everything respecting him had been fore-ordained in the Divine counsels. Accordingly when he came, he showed himself to be that very Messiah, who, like a seal, engraved with strokes infinitely diversified, corresponded exactly with the impression which had been given of it to the Church two thousand years before. Thus did he "seal up the vision and prophecy," completing it in all its parts, and leaving no further occasion for such methods of instruction.
2. He was to impart to us all that had been promised—
"The anointing of the most Holy" is generally thought to import, that Christ himself should receive the Spirit; but we apprehend that it imports also his communicating of the Spirit to his Church.
Christ is certainly "the Holy One and the Just," to whom the character of "The Most Holy" eminently belongs. It is certain also that he was anointed with the Spirit from his very first designation to preach the glad tidings of salvation Isaiah 61:1; and that lie received a further unction when the Spirit descended upon him in a bodily shape like a dove Matthew 3:16. But these do not appear to be the seasons alluded to in the text: the unction there spoken of seems to follow the other ends of his mission; and consequently to relate to something which took place after his ascension to Heaven. The Psalmist speaks of Christ after his ascension, and consequent inauguration, when lie says, "You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows Psalm 45:7," In another psalm he declares the same truth in still plainer terms; "You have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive; you have received gifts for men, yes, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them Psalm 68:18." By consulting the Apostle Paul, we shall find that this gift which Jesus then received, was the Holy Spirit; and that he received it in order that he might communicate it to his Church; for, quoting this very passage, he alters one word in it, and says, "he gave gifts unto men;" and then adds, that he gave these "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for the edifying of the body of Christ Ephesians 4:8; Ephesians 4:11-12." But the testimony of another Apostle is absolutely decisive on this point: while Peter was preaching on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down upon all the Apostles, and abode on each of them in the shape of cloven tongues of fire: the Apostle then declared that this was an accomplishment of Joel's prophecy respecting "the pouring out of God's Spirit;" and referred them to Jesus as the author of it, and as having received, at this time, the gift of the Spirit for this very end; "therefore," says he, "being exalted by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has shed forth this which you now see and hear Acts 2:3; Acts 2:16; Acts 2:33." Thus was this holy oil poured out upon the head of our great High Priest, that it might flow down to the skirts of his garments, and reach to the meanest of his members Psalm 133:2.
The ends of the Messiah's advent being so clearly and so fully declared, I wish you to observe—
1. What abundant provision God has made for our salvation—
What can we conceive either as necessary or desirable beyond what our blessed Redeemer has done for us? What could the most guilty and abandoned sinner upon earth desire more of Christ, than that he should "finish transgression, make an end of sin, make reconciliation for iniquity, bring in for him an everlasting righteousness, and anoint him" with that same Spirit with which he himself is "anointed without measure John 3:34." Or what evidence of his ability and willingness to do these things would any man have, beyond what the accomplishment of so many types and prophecies affords him? And shall God freely offer us this glorious salvation, and we not deign to receive it? O let us open our eyes, and behold our truest interest: let us not perish in the midst of mercy: let us not be famished when so rich a feast is set before us Isaiah 25:6; but let us comply with the Savior's invitation, "Eat, O friends, drink, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved Son. 5:1."
2. How deeply we are interested in obtaining the knowledge of Christ—
When the Apostles were asked by our Lord whether they also intended to forsake him, Peter well replied, "Lord, where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Thus must we say; for assuredly "there is salvation in no other; there is no other name given under Heaven whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ Acts 4:12." In vain will be all our self-righteous endeavors to reconcile ourselves to God, or to renew our polluted hearts. "If Christ wash us not, we have no part with him John 13:8;" if he put not away our sins, they must abide upon us forever: if he do not impart to us that "unction of the Holy One, whereby we know all things 1 John 2:20," and "can do all things Philippians 4:13," we must perish in our impotency, even as new-born infants that are left to themselves. Shall we then be regardless of the Savior, and "perish for lack of knowledge," when God is thus laboring to instruct us? Shall we not rather, like Daniel, pray day and night that we may obtain a clearer knowledge of his will? Our neglect of this is the true reason why, with the Bible in our hands, we understand so little of this subject, and feel so little its sanctifying and saving efficacy. Would to God there were more Daniels in the midst of us! O let us henceforth "give more earnest heed to the things that are spoken;" and treasure up in our minds that truth of God, which alone can sanctify us, which alone can save us.
DIFFERENT STATES OF MEN IN THE LAST JUDGMENT
Daniel 12:2-3. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever.
THE immediate connection of the text would lead us to expect something which shall take place when the Lord Jesus Christ shall come to destroy all anti-Christian powers, and to establish his kingdom throughout the world. Of that period John speaks, as "the first resurrection Revelation 20:5-6." But at that time the saints alone shall rise (whether really or mystically, we stop not to inquire): but at the time of which my text speaks, the wicked shall rise to shame and everlasting contempt. The prophet, therefore, must be understood as passing over the intermediate space between the destruction of Antichrist and the final judgment; and as speaking of what shall take place at that awful day, when Christ shall come to judge the world. In this way our blessed Lord introduces his description of the same awful period. He predicts the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, and then almost blends with that the general judgment; so that it is not easy to determine with accuracy the precise point of his transition from the one event to the other. In truth, he seems in one place to quote the words of my text as referring to the last day; saying, "The hour is coming, when all that are in the grave shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation John 5:28-29." Nor can we doubt but that the Jews in general understood Daniel as speaking of that period; and grounded chiefly upon his authority the belief, that "there should be a resurrection both of the just and unjust Acts 24:15."
Assuming this, then, to be the import of my text, I shall proceed to consider,
1. The different states of men in that great decisive day—
It cannot be, that all should receive the same doom at the hands of a righteous Judge—
Some will awake to everlasting life and honor—
To the souls of men there is no death. The very instant they are separated from the body, they are transmitted to a place of happiness or misery, and receive a portion at least of that recompense which awaits them at the final judgment. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus this is strongly intimated. It appears also, from the promise made to the penitent thief, that on the very day of his crucifixion he should be with his Lord in Paradise. The body, in the mean time, will sleep in the dust. But at the sound of the trumpet in the last day, that also shall be raised; and, in a state of union with the soul, be made a partaker of the doom which the soul had before experienced. It once bore its part on all that was transacted by the soul: and all its powers shall at that day be so strengthened, that it shall be able to sustain its part also in all the blessedness or misery to which the soul has previously been consigned. The body will then be a spiritual body: and in it, no less than in his soul, shall every saint enjoy an eternity of bliss.
Some, on the other hand, will arise to everlasting shame and contempt—
The wicked, while in this world, so resembled the righteous, that there could not be a separation made between them. But at the last day, the tares and the wheat will be as easily distinguished from each other as goats from the sheep; and no longer will they grow together. "The ungodly will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous." The wicked will then be disowned by all. The Savior, who once laid down his life for them, and, during a long course of years, followed them with invitations and entreaties to accept of mercy, will then turn from them with disgust, and say, "Depart from me: I never knew you, you workers of iniquity." The angels too, those benevolent spirits who once would have been glad to minister unto them as their attendants, will engage in dragging them from their retreats, and will "bind them up in bundles, to burn them." To all their former friends also, who once labored for their welfare, will they be objects of abhorrence Isaiah 66:24; yes, to the devils themselves will they be objects of malignant triumph and reproachful exultation, as doubtless our first parents were after their fall; in that they were so foolish as to believe the lies of Satan, in preference to the truth of God.
But let us mark especially what is spoken of,
II. The peculiar felicity of the saints—
They are here characterized as wise in their conduct, and as useful in their generation—
"They were once perhaps derided and despised as fools." But "they chose the better part," and therein approved themselves truly wise. "The fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom:" and all are wise in proportion as they are regulated by it. But those who are "wise for themselves" will not be content to leave others in their folly, or to go to Heaven alone. They say to God, "Draw me, and we will run after you:" that is, Draw me, and I will bring all I can along with me. This will be the endeavor of every soul that truly turns to God; and God will bless these labors of love, in whoever they may be found. If all are not called to speak in public, all have a sphere in which they may exert themselves to advantage: and all who are upright before God will employ their talents, whether in visiting the sick, or in the education of children, or at all events in instructing their own households and their more immediate friends. Activity in the cause of God is inseparable from true piety.
And inconceivable will be their bliss—
Perhaps the idea of our Lord's transfiguration may assist us a little in forming some faint conception of the appearance of the righteous in that day. We know that "their bodies shall then be changed like unto Christ's glorious body;" and in their souls also "they shall be like him:" and in all their powers, whether of soul or body, shall they be "filled with all the fullness of their God." The souls also, to whom in their day and generation they were useful, shall then be as jewels in their crown, and sources of augmented bliss and honor to all eternity.
1. Those who are regardless of that day—
Think, I pray you, what your feelings would now be, if all the evil that has ever passed in your hearts were made known to your fellow-creatures, I fear there would be very few of us that would not veil our faces with conscious shame, and be glad to hide ourselves in any distant retreat where we might escape the eyes of those who knew our guilt. What then will be your feelings in that day, when every abomination, with all its attendant aggravations, shall be exposed before the whole assembled universe? Now you may be able to glory in your shame; or may possibly be hardened into utter insensibility: but it will not be so then. Your sensibilities will be as quick and vivid, after millions of years, as at the first moment of your exposure; and your conscious desert of all the shame and contempt be as pungent as ever: Oh that I could prevail on you now to humble yourselves Jeremiah 3:25, that then you may be exalted; and now to clothe yourselves in the robe of Christ's righteousness, that then "the shame of your nakedness may not appear Revelation 3:18."
2. Those who are living in a state of preparation for it—
Possibly at this time you are objects of reproach to an ungodly world. But this, methinks, should be a small matter in your eyes. O, think what a change will take place in that day, and how the very people who now pour contempt upon you will envy your state! Think how God is now glorified in you; and how he will be glorified in you in that day, when all your sins, "if sought for, will not be found;" and glory, and honor, and immortality will be awarded to you, as your portion in the immediate presence of your God. Be daily preparing for that day; and in the full expectation of all this blessedness yourselves, be laboring with all your might to bring as many as possible to a participation of it.