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 amongst 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 burthensome enactments, there was but one fast appointed in the whole Mosaic ritual—
[This was on the great day of annual expiation [Note: Leviticus 23:27-32.]; and it was the only fast that was fully recognised in the Apostolic age [Note: Acts 27:9.]. Yet were there many fasts afterwards enjoined on particular occasions. Joshua, when repulsed by the men of Ai [Note: Joshua 7:6.]; the whole eleven tribes, after their repeated defeats by the tribe of Benjamin [Note: Judges 20:26.]; all Israel, when oppressed by the Philistines; and Jehoshaphat, when invaded by the united armies of Moab and Ammon [Note: 1 Samuel 7:6-8.]; all had recourse to fasting, as the means of obtaining favour from the Lord, and succour in the hour of their necessity [Note: 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 [Note: 2 Samuel 12:16. Psalms 119:24. Luke 2:37.]. In fact, the case of Esther alone will suffice to shew how important a measure this was esteemed, for the obtaining of relief from God in any great extremity [Note: 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 [Note: Luke 5:33-35.]; and he gave directions for the acceptable observance of them [Note: 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 [Note: 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. St. Paul, who was exposed to far more severe trials than any other of the Apostles, tells us, that he served God “in labours, and watchings, and fastings [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:4-5.]:” and therefore we cannot doubt the expediency of such observances, whilst 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 shew,
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 favour of the Lord [Note: 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 goeth not out but by prayer and fasting [Note: 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 St. Paul recommends to married persons a short occasional separation from each other, for the purpose of “giving themselves to fasting and prayer [Note: 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 amongst 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 favour. As for ostentation, however it prevailed amongst the Pharisees of old, or still abounds in the Romish Church, there is little danger of it amongst 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 salutary, 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 ye did fast, did ye fast unto me, even unto me? Was it not to yourselves rather that ye fasted [Note: Zechariah 7:5-6.],” ‘that ye might have in yourselves a ground of self-righteousness and self-complacency, 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 [Note: Isaiah 58:6-8.]. Any other than this will be despised by him [Note: 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 labour, 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 salutary 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 [Note: ver. 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 thy precepts and from thy judgments: neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 endeavoured 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 endeavoured to aid the labours 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 fervour 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 [Note: Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 9:32 and Deuteronomy 7:21.]: and well may he be addressed in such terms; for “who knoweth 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 Gomorrha; on the Egyptian first-born; on Pharaoh and his hosts; yea, 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 “shew 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 shewed 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 thy precepts, and from thy judgments; neither have we hearkened to thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy 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 belongeth unto thee; 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 Saviour’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 unfeignedly 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 fulfil 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, till 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 humbleth 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 [Note: ver. 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 vouchsafed unto us, or the judgments which we deprecated would be averted [Note: 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; yea, and special manifestations of God’s love to us by that same Spirit witnessing to our souls, “Thou art greatly beloved.” Did Daniel gain by prayer such discoveries of Christ [Note: ver. 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 ye 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 thy precepts, and from thy judgment: neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, 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 whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee. O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. 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 nigh at hand; since about sixty-nine years out of the seventy, which was the appointed duration of their bondage, had now elapsed [Note: Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10.]. Encouraged by this discovery, and well knowing that the deliverance was only to be obtained by prayer [Note: 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 [Note: Compare ver. 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 shew,
I. The concern which he manifested for the welfare of his own brethren—
Though himself placed in a situation of great honour, 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 shewed the sincerity of his heart, and the ardour 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 shewn 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 [Note: Deuteronomy 4:24.].” Yet “to those who should love him, and obey his commandments,” he would shew 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 thy precepts, and from thy judgments; neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” Now, in this he shewed 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, whilst 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 [Note: ver. 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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, yea, 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 any thing 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 ye think ye have, and in which assuredly ye 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, aye, 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 ye really are: and if your eyes be opened to discern your real character, I hesitate not to say that you will “lothe yourselves,” yea, and “abhor yourselves in dust and ashes.” Nor will ye 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 fulness 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 [Note: John 14:6.];” “but of those who come to God through him, not one shall ever be cast out [Note: 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 [Note: ver. 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 [Note: 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, yea, 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 [Note: 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 thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteous nesses, but for thy great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken, and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy 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; yea, 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 thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art 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 [Note: 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 [Note: ver. 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 [Note: ver. 4.];” his justice, in all the judgments that he inflicts on the disobedient [Note: ver. 7.];” his mercy, in pardoning those who have rebelled against him [Note: ver. 9.]; and his truth, in executing every word that he has ever spoken [Note: ver. 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 shew that he thought he could never sufficiently abase himself before his God [Note: ver. 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, yea, as if his spirit could brook no delay [Note: ver. 19.]. Every thing 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 [Note: ver. 15.]; a regard for his own honour, since they still bare the same relation to him as ever [Note: ver. 19.]; and a love to the promised Messiah, whose glory would ultimately be promoted by it [Note: ver. 17.]. All these pleas shew how earnest and importunate he was, even like Jacob when wrestling with the Angel, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”]
2. The answer given him—
[How marvellous 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 belongeth shame and confusion of face,” “O Daniel, thou art 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 thee 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 every thing 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 [Note: ver. 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; whilst, 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 [Note: 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 meanness 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 Saviour’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 [Note: Here the nature of real humiliation maybe more fully traced, in reference to that of Daniel.] — — —
Connected with our contrition there must be an earnest 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 [Note: 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 odour before God, when they are presented in his censer, and are perfumed with the incense of his prevailing intercession [Note: Here it may be shewn 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 ye 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 [Note: 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 shews 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 thy people and upon thy 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 [Note: 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 [Note: 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 shewed, 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 [Note: Hebrews 9:9-12; Hebrews 10:1-4.].”]
But what the law could not do, God sent his only dear Son to effect [Note: Romans 8:3.]—
[“The Messiah was to be cut off, but not for himself [Note: 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 for ever cancelled [Note: 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 for ever them that are sanctified [Note: Hebrews 10:11-14.]. All this has been done: through the blood of his cross, reconciliation is made between God and man [Note: 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 [Note: 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 favour and love of God: thus are all typical sacrifices abrogated and annulled [Note: 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 [Note: 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 fulfil 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 fulfil. Some parts of the inspired volume represented him as God, others as a man, yea, as “a worm and no man;” some as victorious, others as suffering; some as living for ever, 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 centre, 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 every thing respecting him had been fore-ordained in the Divine counsels. Accordingly when he came, he shewed himself to be that very Messiah, who, like a seal, engraven 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 [Note: Isaiah 61:1.]; and that lie received a further unction when the Spirit descended upon him in a bodily shape like a dove [Note: 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, “Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows [Note: Psalms 45:7.],” In another psalm he declares the same truth in still plainer terms; “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them [Note: Psalms 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 [Note: Ephesians 4:8; Ephesians 4:11-12.].” But the testimony of another Apostle is absolutely decisive on this point: while St. Peter was preaching on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost 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 Ghost, Jesus hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear [Note: 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 [Note: Psalms 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 wherewith he himself is “anointed without measure [Note: 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 [Note: Isaiah 25:6.]; but let us comply with the Saviour’s invitation, “Eat, O friends, drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved [Note: Song of Solomon 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, whither shall we go? Thou hast 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 [Note: Acts 4:12.].” In vain will be all our self-righteous endeavours to reconcile ourselves to God, or to renew our polluted hearts. “If Christ wash us not, we have no part with him [Note: John 13:8.]:” if he put not away our sins, they must abide upon us for ever: if he do not impart to us that “unction of the Holy One, whereby we know all things [Note: 1 John 2:20.],” and “can do all things [Note: 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 Saviour, and “perish for lack of knowledge,” when God is thus labouring 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.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Daniel 9". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany