Click here to learn more!
BELSHAZZAR WARNED OF HIS IMPENDING RUIN
Daniel 5:5-27.5.6. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister 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 for ever. 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, whilst we consider,
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 [Note: Acts 2:37; Acts 16:26-44.16.30.]. 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 [Note: 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; labour 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,
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: yea, 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 [Note: Acts 2:37-44.2.38; Acts 2:46-44.2.47; Acts 16:26-44.16.30; Acts 16:34.].]
The instruction given him was however unavailing: it had no effect on,
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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without a remedy.”]
In reading this account, we cannot but observe,
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 happeness 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 doeth it?” Yea, even in “laughter, the soul is often sorrowful; and the end of all such mirth is heaviness.”]
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.”]
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 [Note: 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 amongst 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 complacency [Note: 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, “Thy days are numbered; thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting; and all that thou hast shall now be divided by thy surviving relatives, thy 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 favour. 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 thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.
AMONGST the endowments of a pious minister, two of the most important are, disinterestedness 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 proffered rewards; and reproved, to his very face, the sovereign, whom no other person in the empire would have dared to offend: “Thy gifts be to thyself,” says he; “and give thy rewards to another.” ‘God has here written thy doom, because of thine impiety. He has borne with thee long, and given thee singular advantages for repentance, if thou hadst had a heart to improve them: he has made known to thee all his dispensations towards thy father, Nebuchadnezzar:’ “but thou, his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest 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 shew you,
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 vouchsafed unto him. God had in these dispensations clearly marked his indignation against sin, and his readiness to shew 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; yea, 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,
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 colours. 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 Gomorrha, 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 any thing 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 whomsoever it exists, is an object of God’s abhorrence, and has already stamped upon it the most unquestionable tokens of his displeasure.]
His mercy to repenting sinners—
[Here also we may go back to the period, when, unsolicited and unsought, God revealed a Saviour 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 Saviour 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 Saviour’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 amongst the most savage barbarians, one general sentiment—that the Being to whom they are responsible will shew mercy to those who, in a becoming manner, implore it at his hands. Amongst 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 shew mercy, he has no doubt. And of this persuasion all of us are conscious: yea, 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 favoured.]
But we have reason to be ashamed, when we reflect,
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, shewed 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: thy judgments are far above, out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them [Note: Psalms 10:4-19.10.5.].” 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 any thing 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: “Thou hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest 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 [Note: 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 feignedly.” Upon which, the Lord himself said concerning them, “The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah [Note: Jeremiah 3:6-24.3.11.]:” 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 [Note: Luke 12:47-42.12.48.].”]
That I may still adhere to the character of my text, let me address you, finally, in a few words,
[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 savour of life unto life, will be unto you a savour 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 unfeignedly 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 ye hear, that I may have you as “my joy, and crown of rejoicing, in that day.”]
[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 ye, my beloved Brethren, to obey the heavenly calling; lest death arrest you also, and it be too late. “To-day, whilst it is called to-day, harden not your hearts; but now that ye know all this, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and seek for mercy through him, as the propitiation for your sins.” “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin [Note: James 4:17.].” But, “if ye know these things, then happy are ye, and happy shall ye be, if ye do them [Note: John 13:17.].”]
BELSHAZZAR’S IMPIETY AND OURS COMPARED
Daniel 5:23. The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou 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, “Verily, there is a God that judgeth in the earth [Note: Psalms 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 plaister 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 shew,
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 [Note: Psalms 66:9.].” His times were altogether in God’s hands [Note: Psalms 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 [Note: ver. 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 dishonoured him.]
And we, too, like Belshazzar, are dependent on God—
[“In him we live and move and have our being [Note: Acts 17:28.].” “In his hand,” says Job, “is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind [Note: Job 12:10.]:” and, “if he take away our breath, we die, and return again to our dust [Note: Psalms 104:29.]. So jealous of his own honour is God, in this respect, that he characterizes himself as much by the preservation of all things, as by their first creation: “Thus saith the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein [Note: Isaiah 42:6.].” “He sees our ways, and counts all our steps [Note: Job 31:4.]” Nor does he leave man to walk at large without controul: “I know, O Lord,” saith the prophet, “that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps [Note: 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 [Note: Romans 1:21.]” We have not a “given him glory by repentance” — — — though that would have honoured him in a very especial manner [Note: Joshua 7:19. Jeremiah 13:15-24.13.16.]. Nor have we honoured him by the exercise of faith — — — though that also would have greatly redounded to his glory [Note: Romans 4:20.]. Nor have we endeavoured to honour 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 [Note: John 15:8.]” Had we acted, in any respect, as we ought to have done, we should have laboured that “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ might be glorified in us [Note: 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 shew,
How far our guilt has exceeded his—
“To whomsoever 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,
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 vouchsafed unto him [Note: ver. 20–22.]: and he knew it, from the testimony which that restored monarch had borne to the honour of Jehovah [Note: Daniel 4:34-27.4.37.]. 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 any thing 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 [Note: Job 22:21.].” The precise nature of Ins will, too, he has declared unto us; so that we are informed respecting every thing 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 [Note: Luke 12:47-42.12.48.].”]
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 “worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is God over all, blessed for evermore [Note: 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 [Note: Hebrews 10:28-58.10.29.]” much more must our guilt and punishment exceed that of the impious Belshazzar.]
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 nought our God and Judge, and, in defiance of his justice, have “treasured up for ourselves wrath against the day of wrath [Note: Romans 2:5.].]
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 [Note: Psalms 9:17.].” Will you not tremble at such a word as this? Know ye 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 amongst 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.”]
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 ingenuous, so as to feel like those of old: “We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God [Note: Jeremiah 3:25.];” and you need not fear but that “the handwriting that is against you shall be blotted out [Note: Colossians 2:14.],” and “your iniquities also be blotted out as a morning cloud [Note: 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 trembleth at my word [Note: Isaiah 66:2.].” Yes, God himself will look upon you with complacency, and “all the angels around his throne rejoice in your behalf.” Be of good comfort, then: and look to that Saviour “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 [Note: Acts 13:39.].]
Daniel 5:27. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art 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 shew you,
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,
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 neighbour, even every child of man, altogether as ourselves. It admits of no departure from this; no, not so much as in thought. Any thing 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 amongst us will not be found wanting? or rather I should say, who amongst us has ever, for one single moment, come up to it? The light of a glow-worm actually approaches nearer to the splendour 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. Verily, 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 [Note: Romans 3:19.].”]
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 subsists 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 [Note: James 4:9-59.4.10.].” In addition to this, it enjoins faith; even faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the appointed Saviour of the world. Of this the law spake nothing: it knew not of a Saviour for fallen man: it simply said, “Do this, and live.” But the Gospel reveals a Saviour, 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 vouchsafe to confer upon us a recompence of reward [Note: Hebrews 13:15-58.13.16.].
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 whilst we have desired “an heart of flesh?” — — — And how have we exercised faith? Have our souls gone forth to the Saviour, 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? — — —]
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 favourable 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 shew you,
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,
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, ere 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! Verily, 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 Saviour says, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth!” “Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden! and ye 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.]
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 lothe 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.”]
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 unfeignedly 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 [Note: 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,
The time of Belshazzar’s death—
In the words, “that night,” there is an emphasis which must not be overlooked. It was the night,
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 vouchsafed to be present at a feast. But the generality of “banquetings,” and “revellings, and such like” are among those works of the flesh, “which they who do, shall not inherit the kingdom of God [Note: 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 [Note: Matthew 24:37-40.24.39.]. “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; till sudden destruction cometh upon them as a thief in the night, or as travail on a woman with child [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:2-52.5.3.].” The Lord grant it may never be so with us!]
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, the vengeance of his temple [Note: Notea.]” 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 honour 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!]
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 occa-sion, 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,
The instruction to he gathered from it—
Surely we may learn from this,
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 [Note: Exodus 34:14.]:” and “his glory will he not give,” or allow to be given “to another.” Look then within your own bosoms, ye 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; ye whose feelings are quickly roused when your honour or your interest are at stake, and yet are unconcerned about the honour 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.]
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 [Note: 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, yea, 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 thine heart:” any thing short of this will be to no purpose. O that you would now “open unto Him that knocketh at the door of your hearts;” and that “the long-suffering of God might now at last lead you to repentance!”]
Not to delay the great work you have to do—
[Whilst you are living at your ease, and putting the thoughts of death far from you, God may be saying, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” 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, till 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 “to-day, while it is called to-day, harden not your heart;” lest like them you perish in impenitence and unbelief.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Daniel 5". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany