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Nebuchahnezzar Dreamed Dreams.
The Wise Men of Babylon
In the conclusion of last chapter, we are informed that Daniel “had understanding in all visions and dreams.” Events are now ordered so that he shall have an opportunity of exercising his skill on a more illustrious theatre. “And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar the king dreamed dreams.” Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was not of an ordinary kind. It was not caused by the ordinary working of a mind agitated by anxiety, or excited by ambition. It came immediately from that great and only God of whom Nebuchadnezzar was ignorant. It was so ordered, for reasons that will afterwards appear, that Nebuchadnezzar forgot what his dream was. But it was also ordained that he should not forget that he had a dream of a most wonderful kind. The impression made upon his mind was deep, and painful, and permanent. He could not forget it. It filled his whole soul. He was so troubled that he could neither compose himself to sleep nor be at rest when awake. Nebuchadnezzar,--the great, the terrible, the invincible,--who had already stormed so many towns, conquered so many countries, routed so many armies, and who, like the eagle in the tempest, seemed to exult in the storm of battle--Nebuchadnezzar troubled by a dream! How completely are the greatest of men in the hand of Jehovah. How easily can he make the stoutest among them to quail. And may we not reflect, if this transient glimpse into the invisible world--if this unveiling of a portion of time and space, so small when compared with eternity and infinity, produced such trouble of mind, what amazement and terror will seize upon the souls of the ungodly, when the gates of the invisible world shall be thrown wide open, and the spirit, disentangled from matter, shall enter, and feel itself encompassed on all sides, not with the vision, but with the reality of the spiritual world--encircled with what is infinite and eternal--and penetrated by the holiness of Him that sitteth upon the throne. Being greatly troubled by his dream, Nebuchadnezzar was anxious to regain his composure. He was an idolater, and, consequently, ignorant of those hidden sources of comfort that are opened up to a believer in his time of need. (J. White.)
The Lost Dream
And as to the sneering Infidel question, How could a forgotten dream trouble the king? it seems quite a sufficient answer to ask whether its propounders have common sense enough to dream? For every one must know from experience that the mind is often greatly agitated by visions of the night, which vanish, leaving only a general impression. It is easy to suppose cases where the agitation would be even increased by the very fact that the particulars were no longer remembered, and the relief that might be hoped for could not, therefore, be so readily obtained. The dimness, indistinctness, mysteriousness of the subject only increases the agitation. The king knew three things. He had had a dream. It was lost; but still it greatly troubled him. He, therefore, called for his wise men.
1. How poor and wretched a creature is a man left to the power of fierce and ungovernable passions! How contemptible a figure does the great King of Babylon make in demanding what was impossible! Hot-headed and furious men are generally without reason, and deaf to all remonstrances. How blessed are your privileges, that you live under constitutional laws, and are not subject to the arbitrary power of a tyrant! Magna Charta, Habeas Corpus, and trial by jury are blessings that cannot be too highly valued.
2. In the rise and fall of nations, shadowed forth in prophecy, and presented in history, it is of great importance to bear in mind the fact that the Supreme Being does rule over all the inhabitants of the world, and yet does no violence to the free agency of any rational creature. The mightiest planets in the highest heavens sweep round in their orbits at his bidding, and so arise and fall the mighty dynasties of our race, both in ancient and modern times, and in both the Old and New World. Not a few seem to think that God’s providence was concerned with ancient nations, but has ceased to take notice of modern nations. This is nothing but practical atheism. God is not less vigilant and supreme now, in the midst of our inventions and improvements, than He was in the days of Jerusalem and Babylon. The celebrated and pious Bogue was in the habit of saying, when he took up the papers in the time of Napoleon the Great, to read what was passing: “Let us see how God governs the world.”
3. In the history of nations there are always two classes of interests and facts very distinct, and yet exercising over each other a powerful influence. I mean political and religious events. The first relates to kings, emperors, rulers, cabinets, and forms of government; the second relates to the moral character, religious sentiment of the people, and pertains to the salvation of their souls and the condition of the Church of the living God. These interests must necessarily exercise over each other a powerful influence. The history of nations and the history of the Church of Christ reflect mutually the state of the other.
4. Finally, here you are taught where to go in all cases of difficulty. How did Daniel obtain the knowledge of the lost dream? By asking for it. He prayed to God. He sought help in the right direction. We do not, indeed, expect miracles now, yet we do expect answer to prayer. (W.A. Scott, D.D.)
Dreams and Dreamers
Dreams have played an important part in the history of the world. God seems to have made large use of the visions of the night and, of dreams to call men into His service, to commission them to do His will, execute His judgments, and to reveal His gracious purposes concerning the world. It was in a vision that God revealed to the patriarch Abraham that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for number. Nor is the New Testament without them. After our Lord Jesus Christ came and revealed God, life; immortality, salvation, and peace, the use of vision and dream did not cease. It was in a dream that Joseph was warned to flee into Egypt, and thus secure the safety of Christ. When the time had come that the Gospel of the grace of God should be preached to the Gentiles, God revealed His will in the matter to Peter in a vision on the housetop at Jaffa. But among all the dreams and visions of which we have read, there are but few more remarkable and important than this, which filled the slumbers of Nebuchadnezzar, and slipped from his memory afterwards.
I. We will consider THE DREAMER. The dreamer of the text was an Eastern monarch. There he is in secure possession of his throne. Famed as a skilful soldier and victor, he is the mightiest monarch on the face of the earth. Babylon, the seat of his empire, the place of his throne, is among the most imposing and great of the ancient cities of the world. This is the home of this royal dreamer. See him in the midst of it. Seated on his throne, around him stand his chief men of state, his eunuchs, priests, princes, and captains, all in their many-coloured and glittering garbs. He is troubled. What has gone wrong? Has some part of his kingdom broken out into rebellion? Has the death-plague seized upon his friends and chief councillors? Nay, he has had a dream, a simple dream. The world owes a great deal to its dreamers. Some have blessed the world by the great victories which they won. What a great and noble company the dreamers make. John Bunyan dreamed the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” a book which, next to the Bible, which it illustrates, has had a larger circulation than any other book in the world. That was a grand dream, and the world owes much to it. Columbus was a dreamer. He had visions of another and a great land across an unexplored and unknown ocean. Sir Christopher Wren was a dreamer. He had a vision of St. Paul’s, and it grew up in the city of London.
II. THE DREAM. The dreamer was a mighty monarch. The dream was worthy of the dreamer.. However great the dreamer, the dream was not less so. He Went to rest that night with his mind full of great and important thoughts. He thought of what wars had been, and wondered what wars would be. He knew himself secure on his throne then. But did he think that soon he would be gone? He wondered “what should come to pass hereafter.” It was a great dream. No idolater ever had a greater dream, and but few men any so great. He went out far beyond himself. The present did not satisfy him. He wanted to pull back the curtain and see what was beyond. Have we not all had dreams like this? Think you that this king was the only man who ever felt dissatisfied with the present? Have not we all tried to look beyond? I have had a vision of God; it may have been a dream, but I have thought about Him. I have looked around me in the world, and have seen traces of Him. The great mountains and the mighty ocean, which I have seen in the majesty of its fury, have said something to me of the greatness of God. I seem to have had visions of love, and mercy, and pity, but I can’t quite find out myself, I want some one to interpret. I can’t myself quite solve it all. “Canst thou by searching find out God?” asks one in ancient days who also had dreams about God. Then I have had dreams of the soul and its destiny. I have dreamed of “what shall come to pass hereafter.” Then I have had visions and dreams of a future in which justice and righteousness shall prevail, in which the glaring iniquities and wrongs of this present life shall all be set right. But have we not had dreams of another sort? Sometimes we have felt with sorrow and shame our own weakness and badness. We have become conscious that we were out of harmony with things around us. There is a something within us which speaks to us. Call it conscience or anything else--there it is. I have dreamed of forgiveness, how to get it, and where. Who can tell me? Who can interpret for me all these dreams of mine? Is there any Daniel whom I can call into court who shall reveal to me all these secrets?
III. THE INTERPRETATION of this dream. Daniel was able to tell the king his dream, and also to expound it. And what an exposition it was!
Kingdom succeeds kingdom, monarch follows monarch. The Babylonian head of gold, the Persian breast of silver, the Grecian thighs of brass, and the Roman legs of iron, all come and go as Daniel expounds the dream.. There are two things we must note in this interpretation.
1. The Christ kingdom symbolised by the stone cut from the mountain without hands.
2. The second thing I wish to note is that this Christ prefigured by the mountain stone is the interpreter of all my dreams of God, the soul, and a future state. In His school I get my answer. I have been to other schools and could not learn. Nebuchadnezzar summoned all his wise monk They were accustomed to interpret dreams, but they were perplexed now. When I come to Christ He interprets my dream. Be not only reveals God to me, but He tells me of His love and kindness. God is love. God is a Father. God cares for me. Jesus Christ tells me how I can be at peace with God through Himself. He tells me about things which are to come to pass. Jesus Christ is God’s answer to all my questions, and visions, and dreams. (C. Leach, D.D.)
Human Wisdom Tested and Found Wanting
I. THE DREAM. The first verse states that this vision occurred in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar; i.e., in the second year of his solo sovereignty. His father, Nabopolassar, being now dead, the empire devolved upon Nebuchadnezzar alone.
1. The dream reveals the nature of his ambitions. It shows that his mind was busy with projects of conquest, and the cares of government, and the hopes of secure power. How natural that these engrossing thoughts of his waking hours should pursue him in sleep and give complexion to the visions of the night.
2. But the dream was sent by Divine agency. It was not only natural, but also supernatural. This is not the first nor only time that God has vouchsafed to make his revelations to heathen minds. Balaam is a notable instance of prophetic gifts bestowed upon unworthy persons. All extraordinary channels of Divine communications were no doubt selected for a purpose; and while the light of revelation shines steadily upon his own chosen people, yet he vouchsafes occasional flashes upon other minds to illuminate some truth which may be best illuminated in that way.
3. The dream is forgotten. Strangely given, it was strangely recalled. The honour shall be God’s and God’s alone. God will show by an infallible sign that it is His revelation, and will not suffer the Chaldean sages to tinker with its interpretation. Nothing remained but the disturbing sense of having seen strange things, and an abiding conviction that these things were closely related to his destiny. To whom shall he turn in his perplexity?
II. THE DEMAND. We may well imagine the surprise and alarm of the sooth-sayers and magicians when they become acquainted with the nature of the king’s demand. Had they been quite sure that the king had indeed forgotten his dream they might have very easily invented one to satisfy him; but I suppose they were apprehensive lest this was only a snare cunningly placed by this intelligent monarch to expose their duplicity. It seemed to them the safer plan, then, not to hazard so dangerous an expedient, but to declare their inability to do more than interpret the dream when told. The king, however, reiterates his demand.
1. The Chaldeans maintain that this demand is unjust in that it was without precedent. There is a true and a false law of precedent. It is undoubtedly true that whoever demands or enacts a new thing, a thing counter to existing usages, must have strong and unquestionable reasons for such a course. There are always presumptions against novelties and innovations, and one who appeals to custom has an undeniably strong ground to rest upon. On the other hand, the law of precedent can create nothing more than presumption. It still leaves the reason of the thing to be inquired into. It is probable the imperious temper of this monarch would not be baulked by an appeal to customary usages.
2. They further maintain the injustice of this demand on the ground that it is beyond human power to comply with it. They say: “There is none other that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Some have supposed this declaration that the dwelling of the gods “is not with flesh” to be indicative of scepticism. It was the cardinal belief of the Babylonians that the gods were very near to men. Their temples, and sacrifices, and priestly rites proceeded upon that belief. These Chaldeans, then, are supposed, under the influence of their great peril, to betray here their utter disbelief in these hollow mockeries. And the lesson is drawn from it: “Alas, that this unbelief should so often, in Christian as well as in Pagan times, have found a nest for itself so near the altar!” But I would rather believe that these Chaldeans, whose studies brought them in contact with the mighty works of God, had more exalted conceptions of the deity than those which prevailed among the masses.
3. In this view the demand was not so unreasonable as the Chaldeans would make it appear. They had wilfully imposed upon both king and people, laying claim to mysterious arts by which they could read secret things; and had no doubt taken care that this faith in their powers should be implicit and well-nigh unlimited. They could scarcely complain, then, when they are taken at their word. Skilled in plausibility and ambiguity, they no doubt relied on these powers to cover up a failure when one occurred, and to impose successfully upon the credulity of the king.
4. It is a great gain to the cause of truth when impositions are detected. So, then, Nebuchadnezzar deserves praise for pressing this matter to a decisive issue. The cause of religion no doubt suffers a shock when priestly pretensions are thrown in the crucible and tested, but it rises from such shocks to greater stability, and usefulness, and power.
III. THE DECREE. Whatever may be said of his demand, certainly the decree of the king is indefensible. These wise men had done nothing worthy of death. Moreover, there were many among the Chaldeans who laid no claim to magic powers, but who contented themselves with the sciences, as patient and laborious students, and it was not only manifest injustice, but strange impolicy to include them in this sweeping condemnation. Yet more, why should Daniel and his friends, who had but just passed their novitiate and who had not been consulted at all, share their fate? But rage is blind and knows no discrimination. There are not wanting some, as an illustration of this spirit, who would obliterate Christianity because of unworthy Christians; and no one can estimate what man has suffered from this stupid lack of the power of rational discrimination.
IV. CONCLUSION. What a striking picture is here presented us of Nebuchadnezzar and his wise men trying, by human devices, to arrive at the mind of God! How we yearn for man when we behold his boundless aspirations confronted by his impotent nothingness! But it was well that human skill should first exhaust its resources in endeavouring to know the mind of God. It was a proper prelude to God’s revelation, this confession of impotence: “There is none other that can show it before the king, except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” It is a law of God’s providence that He will not intervene until man has discovered his own absolute inability, and felt his imperative need. (The Southern Pulpit.)
The Dream of Humanity
There is no function in life which can compare for one moment to that of him who can minister to the perplexities of his fellow-men. The story connected with these words is very simple and well known. The king had dreamed a dream, and when he woke in the morning he could not recall it to his mind. A vague sense of the splendour of that dream haunted his imagination and memory. He felt that there was bound up in it some deep and mysterious truth. He hardly liked to let the whole remembrance of it quite go. He had around him his Chaldeans and his wise men, and he turned to them for aid, and their answer was that their function was limited only to the interpretation of dreams; it was not their function to enter upon a process of thought-reading unless there were present in the mind of him who demanded the interpretation the subject matter of those thoughts. In the emergency the difficulty was solved by a Jewish exile; to him it was given to be the reviver and interpreter of the dream. And we, perhaps, may feel that that ancient story is not wholly lost to us when we cast oar mind upon our own lives, and remember how much we, too, have been haunted by some magnificent dream. When the vision of what life really was, with its deep and solemn significance, was granted to us, we, awaking with the impression of all life’s business, lost the vivid force of that dream--we could not recall it, and we turned to the seers about us. They are plentiful to seek, the wise and the unwise, the weak and the strong, the false and the true, and we, haunted by the remembrance of that vision of what life’s deep significance is, turn in vain to these. And yet the conditions may teach us what are the real features and the real capacities of the true prophet. If I am not mistaken, the story suggests to us that there are two great elements which are essential in order that a man may be a real helper of his fellow men, the true prophet of his age. The condition which the king insists upon supplies one of these--it is that he should have touch with human nature; and his interpretation of the dream suggests the other--he must have some knowledge of the law and order of life. These two were just those that were vouchsafed to Daniel.
1. The first is knowledge of human nature. Let me ask you to put yourselves for the moment in the position of those who had this somewhat unreasonable demand made upon them. Their answer to his demand was very simple and fair. “We are perfectly ready,” they said, “to interpret your dream, but our ministrations extend thus far; tell us the dream and we will tell the meaning.” But the king, whose vision was elevated, perhaps, by the dream which he had experienced, began to see that he was surrounded by those who were in a large measure but charlatans; and prompted by this, he perhaps insists all the more pertinaciously on the condition. “You profess to be able to interpret my dreams. How do I know that your interpretations are true? Tell me what the dream was, and I can verify your accuracy. In other words, vindicate your pretensions in a sphere where I can test them, and then I will be able to give you my faith in the sphere where I cannot test them. I cannot verify your interpretations, but I can verify your statement of what passed through my mind. You profess to explain my life to me, and all the destiny that awaits it; if it be in your power to do this, show, first, that you understand me, and then I will believe that you can unfold my destiny.” And that, in itself, when you come to study it, is no unfair condition. It may be unreasonable in the circumstances in which it was used, but there is a vein of reason, and there is a vein of fairness in it; for when you reflect upon it there is no power in a man to teach and to speak concerning the future, unless he has a certain knowledge of the present. The man who can read deepest into the circumstances and the situation of the present is the man who is far the more likely to be able to forecast the future. You would not entrust your case to the doctor who had no knowledge of your symptoms. You would believe that the man, and the man only, who could read into your symptoms, would be able to track the probable development of the disease. It is the same in nature. The naturalist cannot predict a harvest except he understands the nature of the seed, and it is just in proportion as he is possessed of the power of insight that he is possessed of the power of foresight. That is taught us in the pages of history. As long as men thought, as it were, to out-manoeuvre Nature, and to read her secrets by ignoring her face, they simply courted defeat. These were the astrologers, the charlatans of science; but the moment they took up the other attitude, and began to scan closely the features of nature, and sought earnestly to understand the meaning of her thoughts, they began to discover her laws, and discovering them they had the power by which they could predict what would be the evolution of those laws. And if that be true in the law and order of nature, has it its counterpart in the moral order also? Place ourselves for a moment in the position of the king. Daniel comes and unfolds to him the vision. That splendid vision, that noble and colossal figure, represented what had passed through the king’s mind, not that night only, but every night. It had been the dream of his life, the splendour and the magnificence of his position; the glorious headship which he held over the empire which he thought his own, from the high ‘vantage ground of which he looked down in proud contempt upon human kind. His thoughts were read. The man’s heart is read; his vision, and all the subtle play of his thoughts is unfolded to him. “The man that can toll me these secrets of my heart is the man into whose hand I will place my destiny and bid him point the way along the track of my life. He can understand what is the outcome of this career of mine who thus understands me.” And wherever men have been in the position of prophets of their age, their strength and power has depended upon their capacity to read the minds and the play of thought of the men of their age. If they are not familiar with this life they cannot have any power to deal with the life that lies beyond. The men who stood in their day foremost had an intimate knowledge of human nature. Take, for example, what, after all, is an illustration in the same direction. This Book of God has found its dominion over the minds and the lives of men because it has always displayed itself as a book well read in the deeps of human nature. “I say,” said one, rising from the perusal of it, “the person who wrote that Book knew me.” “I believe,” said one, who was cut off only too early in his splendid and promising career, “I believe it to be God’s Book because it is man’s Book;” that is to say, it has such a power to fit into the needs of human kind that it vindicates its divine strength because of the very humanity of its methods. And this is what we may call the divine key to the method which God Himself has adopted in the life and pattern of Jesus Christ. He comes into our midst to be the Divine Teacher. He understands men. “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree I saw thee--I knew the devout aspirations of thy life,” and that breaks down the thought. “This teacher understands me. Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the Judge of Israel.” Sometimes we feel ourselves a little disheartened. The cynic turns aside and says, “It is true your Christianity is played out, your religion effete.” I say it is an unwise thing for a man to echo these doleful plaints. May it not be the case that we have lost touch with humanity, that we have failed to understand human nature as it is before us in the century in which we live; that we have allowed, so to speak, our Christian teaching to grow fossilised, and the fossilised thing has lost its life and the hands and feet of its movement, and it cannot grasp upon the heart of humanity again?
2. But let us look at this second condition--the knowledge of a Divine order. What was the interpretation of the dream? Here stood this colossal figure, glittering with its varied metals. By-and-by, “without hands,” came the stone which smote upon it, and then, as in a moment, all the magnificence dropped into pieces, and these huge masses of metal, which had been the admiration of the world a moment ago, are lifted as things light, as “the char upon the summer threshing-floor,” and swept away, and the little stone begins to grow, and to take the place of this great image, and to fill the world itself. Of course, you may say the figure represented the empires which were existing and which were to follow--Persia, Greece, Rome, or, if you will have it so, the Egyptian or the Syrian kingdoms; but whatever the historical interpretation, the ethical interpretation is for you and me. That splendid dream, and that magnificent figure which appeared in the king’s dream, is the dream of man in all ages; it is the dream of self-realisation. He who dreams is king. He sees that grand figure bearing human form, dominating the plain; and this is the ambition of men in all ages; but as he beholds he sees it in its glory and in its weakness. He sees it in its splendour--there is the effort of man to realise himself. It was so with all those who endeavoured to establish any solid, single monarchy. From the days of Nebuchadnezzar or Nimrod, if you will, to the days of Napoleon, this has been the same dream, “I will take my idea, and I will impress it upon the world, and I will mould that earth and all the creatures that are in it to my will, and I shall dominate all.” That is the ambition; what I want you to notice is, that it is the effort of a man to realise self in some form or other. That is an instinct which does not simply breathe into the hearts of’ great conquerors, or great founders of monarchies; there is not a human being created with a soul or an intelligence that had not had the dream that he will realise himself. The artist who seeks to cast his ideas on the canvas so as to speak his thoughts in richness and detail to his follow men--he is seeking to realise himself--his own idea painted there. Even in the home life you can see it. Thisjoy of home life has largely its play and its beauty because it is the very thing in which we see that in our children we live again--we realise ourselves in them. This instinct of self-realisation is at the root of man’s best ambitions as well as his worst, and as it is at the root of them you can understand why it is, but the life and the form of that which was given him from God; for God Himself, if we may in reverence say it, has made His world but the picture of the same principle in Himself. The world is God realising Himself in material beauty; the page of history is God realising Himself in moral order, and this Christian revelation is God realising Himself in spiritual splendour to humanity; and I am not surprised if this, the very impulse of God, be self-realisation that He may manifest His greatness and His love, that therefore we, drawing our life from His hand, should be filled with a like instinct. But while this colossal figure in the vision is shown in its splendour, it is also shown in its weakness. This little stone, without hands, should demolish the whole; man’s best and noblest dreams, man’s most brilliant ambitions, are destined to be overthrown. And why? This stone represents precisely that unseen, that handless power which has not its origin in the conceptions of man, but in the nature of things; it is just the picture of what you see in nature. Man builds his noble shrines, he rears his sumptuous palaces, he spreads abroad the magnificent tokens of his power; but law, re-written deep down in the heart of nature, lays its hand upon all these creations of man’s genius, and overturns all that man creates. In the precincts of moral order the law will overturn also; under this condition, all that is up built disregarding God’s eternal law must perish. It is not merely because man made it that it must die, but it is that man made it in violation of eternal law. Three laws were violated in its erection--the law of time and growth, the law of righteousness, the law of solidarity. The law of time, because this is that which is built up, made--it does not grow in contradistinction to the stone “without hands.” Thatgrows, this is made. That which is made, as it were, is merely built and at variance with the law of growth. The things which are alive grow, and in those things in which there is any moral life there is the capacity of growing. All the best things of this world grow, but the impatience of man hastens them onward. God will make a kingdom, but men with their impatience say, “We will make it in our own time,” and therefore at all costs--at the cost of blood, at the cost of righteousness, the kingdoms are made. These empires have perished. Why? Because they violated eternal laws of God; and as surely as the power of natural law can overthrow every shrine of human erection, so surely must every kingdom, every monarch, every race, every nationality, every church die and perish, if it tries to construct itself out of God’s due time and out of God’s due order. And as it thus violated the law of growth, by the very impatience of its construction, you know that it violated the law of rectitude. Men often imagine that they can do the right thing, but that they can do it in any way they please. There are two sentinels that stand at the outgoing of the temple of God; the one is the sentinel of a right way and the other of a right thing, and you are not permitted to build where God builds for all eternity, unless you be directed by the right thing and also by the right way. The weakness of life, as we often see it, is that men are passionately devoted to some great and noble enterprise, but they undermine the very foundations of their own edifice, because, while they seek the right thing they miss the right way, and that is the secret of many a failure. It sinned also against the law of solidarity. If you look at the construction of this image, you will find that it is merely a piling together: there is no homogeneity about it, it is heterogeneous; I am of gold, and I will be the head of all; I am of silver, and I will be the strength of all; I am of brass and I will be power of fertility to all, and my iron heel shall be planted upon all. Christ has made all men to be of one blood upon the face of the earth, and the kingdom which He establishes shall be built up not with materials which shall represent the dignity, the glory, or the pre-eminence of one nation or one people over another, but that wider and better glory, which is the organisation of humanity unto a loving, living whole. “Then, if that be the doom, as it were, of this dream of humanity,” we begin to say, “is it not, then, a sad close to it all?” If the instinct to realise self, that is, to leave some impress of our own upon the world ere we die, be a great and a God-given impulse, and if what we see is the constant overthrow of all our schemes, are we, then, to settle down into a miserable pessimism and say, “It is vain ever to expect the realisation of human dreams?” Nay, not so. This little stone “without hands” takes the place of this overthrown image; it grows; it is the empire of heart, the kingdom which cannot be shaken; and, therefore, there has never passed through human mind a noble and a true dream that God does not see the way to realise. He breaks down our little efforts to realise it that He may substitute His own. Never let us think, then, that we are to be for ever disappointed by incessant and perpetual failures. The world grows old, but with it there grows, also, the everlasting and the ripening purposes of God. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
The thing is gone from me.
The “thing” is considered by many to be the dream, and so they also understand the same phrase in the eighth verse. There is nothing in the Chaldee (Aramaic) of this passage to forbid this understanding, for though millethath means “word,” yet, like the Greek rema (and even sometimes logos) it may also mean a thing or subject of which there is speech, as it seems to do in Daniel 2:15; Daniel 2:17 of this chapter. The other interpretation, however (“the word is gone forth from me”), which is given in the margin of the Revised Version, appears to have most probability. The reasons are these:
1. The king would scarcely call his dream a “thing.” He would have said, “the dream is gone from me” if he had meant that. “Thing” would have referred not to the dream, but to the whole matter connected with the dream, and that had not gone from him.
2. The sequences in both the fifth and eighth verses are not relevant with reference to “dream,” but are relevant with reference to “word” or “decree.” In the fifth verse there is no nexus between a the dream is gone from me “and “if ye will not make known unto me the dream,” etc. We should have expected a “therefore.” In the eighth verse the seeking to gain time would be a natural result of the terrible decree, but not a result of the dream being gone from the monarch.
3. The similar expression in Daniel 9:23 and in Isaiah 14:23 (yatza dkabhar “the commandment came forth,” “the word is gone out”) is a strong support for the meaning here, “the word or decree is gone forth from me.” Some have supposed (with this rendering) that Nebuchadnezzar well knew his own dream, but wished to test his wise men, and so insisted on their telling him what the dream was as well as its interpretation. It would certainly not be unlike an Oriental despot to do such a thing on pain of death if they failed. But there is one thing that forbids this theory. It is the terrible distress of soul which the monarch experienced regarding the dream. Such distress (verse 1) would not permit him to indulge in a grim play with his wise men. He would be quick enough to tell them the dream in order that his soul might have relief from the interpretation. He would be careful to tell them every feature of the dream which he could remember, and so help them every way to the result--the interpretation. He most certainly had forgotten every detail of the dream, and only remembered that it had impressed his spirit with care and perplexity, which is a common experience in dreams. There may have been beside this a spiritual intimation that the dream was of God, but Daniel’s marvellous telling of the dream (apart from his interpretation of it) and recalling every feature to his mind mus have been the conclusive proof to him that the dream was no ordinary and unmeaning one, but a divine revelation. (Howard Crosby, D.D.)
Things that are Most Remembered
The king, it would appear, had two dreams at different times. One passed clean out of his memory, the other hung about his memory so that he could not shake it off. The first dream caused a very slight uneasiness, and gave him very little concern, compared with the second dream. The first made but an evanescent impression, the second an enduring one. Look at the dreams, and we may discover the reason of all this. The first vision was about the coming of Christ’s Kingdom, its power and glory. The second vision reference to himself. Because of his pride, God ordered that he should become deranged for seven years, and all his power forsake him, and that he should be driven from his kingdom and be treated more like a beast than a man. At the end of those years he should recover his reason, and with it his power and majesty. The second vision was all about the king himself and his worldly prosperity. All that was revealed to him about Christ’s Kingdom he forgot directly. All that was revealed to him about his own fortunes he remembered well enough. The revelation of the future of Christ’s Kingdom gave him some anxiety. The revelation of the future of his own affairs filled him with lasting distress. The only vision that goes clear out of remembrance is that with reference to Christ’s Kingdom. Is it not so now? is it not so with you? is it not an old story repeated over and over again? Everything that has to do with your earthly fortunes, every scheme that has to do with worldly advancement, every dream of human prosperity, sticks firmly in the memory. Bad telegrams in the morning papers, what uneasiness do they not cause? The thoughts upon your bed and the visions of your head trouble you. Very foolish and improvident persons you would be if you did not feel anxious about your incomes, your speculations, your crops. But then if you remember these visions, do not forget those which belong to Christ’s Kingdom. I suppose there was a time with most of you when your mother, or father, spoke to you earnestly of your duties to God, and the care you must have for your soul. But time passes, and “the thing is gone from me.” Some sickness fails on you. On your bed you are brought near to the brink of the grave, pain and fear of death distress you, eternity assumes a more real aspect, God’s judgments appear more fearful, the service of God more obligatory. Oh, if you might recover, how you would walk in newness of life! You get well, all the business and care of this present life begin again to engross your attention, and as for the dream of God’s Kingdom--“the thing is gone from me.” There are solemn moments of solitude, when the heart is especially awake to spiritual influence, and when the soul sees God in an extraordinary, supernatural, manner. Does this last? Sometimes. But too often the clouds roll again over the horizon, “the thing is gone from me.” (Anon.)
I know of certainty that ye would gain the time.
A Meditation for the New Year
The magicians wished to gain time, hoping that the king might remember his dream, or that something might happen to extricate them from the dreadful dilemma. Notice the two main thoughts and the suggestions suitable to the season.
I. TIME IS ON MAN’S SIDE. We are often made to feel that Men of the world know how precious sometimes is an extension of credit for a month, a week, a day, even an hour. Give the perplexed man time, and he will know how to act. “It is all a question of time.” On the higher plane of things this is specially true. Morally speaking, time is of infinite consequence to us.
1. Time is another word for mercy. So long as we enjoy the shelter of time, we are safe from the judgments which our sins have provoked. All the retributive suffering of this life is light indeed compared with the retributions which await the transgressor farther on; it is but the spilling of the red vials. “Flee from the wrath to come.” The fulness of penalty is reserved.
2. Time is another word for opportunity. It is not bare duration that is granted us, but a period rich in influences, succours, instrumentalities, and inspirations. To say that time is lengthened out is to say that the Word of God is continued to us, the means of grace, the privilege of prayer, the influences of the Spirit, all the fulness of the blessing of the redeeming gospel. Life teems with chances of getting good and doing good.
3. Time is another word for hope. Whilst time is granted, wonderful changes are possible.
II. THE PERIOD APPROACHES WHEN TIME CAN NO LONGER BE ON OUR SIDE. It was thus with these Magi; they had nearly exhausted the king’s patience. An end comes necessarily to all respites. The business man in difficulties gains time, the bill is renewed, it is again and again renewed; but the inexorable day dawns. So a limit is fixed to the opportunities of the religious life. The dispensation of mercy and opportunity is soon past.
1. Most appropriate to the season is the spirit of thankfulness. All have reason to thank God for the past year. “Thy saints shall bless Thee.” They bless Thee for the sweet spring, the opulent summer, the mellow autumn, the stern winter, and for those larger, richer spaces of heavenly blessing which accompany the circling year. They bless Thee for three hundred and sixty-five days and nights burdened with spiritual benediction and hallowing influence. The unconverted also have reason to thank God for sparing mercy. Job asks, “Why do the wicked live, and become old?” There is but one answer: Because God delighteth in mercy.
2. The spirit of humiliation becomes us. How much more good we might have gained! Instead of ending the year with a bosom full of sheaves, too many of us with shamefacedness bring to God only a few blighted ears and withered leaves.
3. The season demands the spirit of consecration. New scenes and opportunities open to us; let us be faithful, and God shall restore unto us the years that the caterpillar has wasted. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The king was angry.
“Anger,” Dr. Cox observes, “is
(3) destructive of that just and useful influence to which we should aspire, and for which everyone is naturally capacitated by his position in society;
(4) usually makes a rapid progress;
(5) is productive of great unhappiness;
(6) is a most guilty passion.”
It is remarked by Robert Hall: “Vindictive passions surround the soul with a sort of turbulent atmosphere, than which nothing can be conceived more opposite to the calm and holy light in which the blessed Spirit loves to dwell.”
That they would desire mercies of the God of Heaven.
Companions in Prayer
Daniel and his companions were all equally concerned, every man of them for his life, and therefore ought everyone to pray; but, being companions in every other respect, it became them also to keep company in prayer. The necessity was urgent. In the land of Judah they might have gone up together to the house of God, and sought counsel of the Lord by Urim and Thummim. There they would have had the assistance of the priest, but here there was no priest and no oracle. Prayer, without ceremonial, was all that could be presented at the mercy seat, but it was quite enough. Time had come for the people of God to learn that the Mosaic ceremonial was not only interrupted for seventy years, but that, after frequent interruptions and woeful desecrations, even at Jerusalem, it was soon to pass away. A little party of faithful persons already proved that not in Jerusalem only, but even in a strange land, God could be worshipped in spirit and in truth; that prayer, more fragrant than the purest incense, would rise acceptable to God, without priest, or thurible, or altar; that, just as Jonah sent up his cry out of the depths of the sea, and gained an instant hearing, so at any time, and at any place, the poor man might cry, and God would hear him, and send present help for his necessity. Thus did Divine Providence prepare the way for a higher dispensation, when that meeting for prayer in the house of Daniel should be followed by many other such gatherings of the people of God in the lands of their dispersion. So was prayer made for imprisoned Peter by brethren assembled in the house of Mark. So did Roman Christians resort to the Catacombs, and Italian Christians to the Alpine valleys, and good men of every land to secret chambers. Daniel, be it noted, began his public life with prayer, and hence it came to pass that, as was said of the prophet Samuel, not a word of his ever fell to the ground. (W. H. Rule, D.D.)
Affliction Teaches Men to Pray
It was his yoke in his youth that first taught Daniel to pray. And Babylon taught Daniel and his three friends all to pray, and to pray together in their chamber, as we read. To be arrested in their father’s houses by Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers; to have Babylonian chains put on their hands and their feet; to see the towers of Zion for the last time; to be asked to sing some of the songs of Zion to amuse their masters as they toiled over the Assyrian sands--you would have been experts yourselves in a school of prayer like that. You would have held little prayer meetings yourselves with your class-fellows and your companions, if you had come through half that Daniel and his three companions came through. It is because you are not being emptied from vessel to vessel all the week that we never see you on Tuesday night. Jeremiah, a great authority on why some men pray, and why other men never pray, has this about you in his book: “Moab hath been at his ease from his youth up; he hath settled on his lees; he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel; neither hath he gone into captivity; and, therefore, his taste remaineth in him, and his scent is not changed.” The Cumulative
Power of Prayer
Manton says: “Single prayers are like the single hairs of Samson; but the prayers of the congregation are like the whole of his bushy locks, wherein his strength lay. Therefore, you should, in Tertullian’s phrase, quasi manu facta, with a holy conspiracy, besiege Heaven, and force out a blessing for your pastors.”
The Advantages of United Prayer
I often think of the negro woman who was once asked by the governor of Surinam why she and her fellows always prayed together. Could not they do it each one for himself? He happened to be standing at the time before a coal fire, and the woman answered: “Dear sir, separate these coals from each other, and the fire will go out; but see how brisk the flame when they burn together.” (Expository Times.)
Prayer Cultures Character
We may learn from this passage one principal means of Daniel’s excellence. Daniel was a great character: one of those illustrious men whom God raises up in His church, at distant intervals, when He has great works to accomplish. The excellencies of such men are the gift of God. Yet, while gifts, they are generally nourished to their perfection by appropriate culture; and it is of importance for all men to mark and consider the influence under which such characters were reared. Now there can be no doubt that Daniel’s prayerfulness, his habits of regular and frequent correspondence with God, had the greatest effect in fostering the excellencies of his character. Prayer did not give him his great intellect, for that was created with him; but prayer gave him wisdom, and self-denial, and fortitude, and true independence. We would, therefore, recommend prayer to all, and especially to the young, as a means of purifying, and elevating, and perfecting the character. It does this in a twofold way. It brings down the sanctifying influences of the Spirit into the mind. Frequent intercourse with God transforms the soul into His likeness. It fills the mind with a holy reverence that casteth out the fear of man. It begets confidence in all the Divine managements, which raises the soul above the fear of danger. It begets a sense of His favour, that sweetens the soul and keeps it in a healthful frame. All the great men of the church--prophets, reformers, martyrs--were brought up in the school of prayer. (William White.)
I. IN EVERY DIFFICULTY WE SHOULD APPEAL TO GOD. Very serious was the position in which Daniel and his friends were placed, as well as the native wise men of Babylon. The demand of the king was altogether unreasonable. Only a despot could have made such a demand, and issued such a sentence because of the non-accomplishment of his will. By any human power the thing wanted was impossible of attainment; but Daniel knew where to find help. Full often had he and his companions repaired to the throne of grace; and it was easy for them, with full confidence in the Almighty arm, to visit that throne in the day of their distress.
II. AND SINCE CHRIST JESUS IS TO REIGN OVER ALL, SHOULD WE NOT SEEK TO HAVE HIM AS OUR FRIEND? If we knew that some great earthly ruler was certain soon to be put in rightful possession of the kingdom in which we dwell, and if we had the means to acquire his favour, so that when his throne was erected amongst us, we should be his prime favourites, and during his life enjoy great riches and influence under him, I daresay we would earnestly employ these means to secure such a happy result. But Christ’s Kingdom is not for a lifetime merely, but for ever. Of His government there shall be no end. His friends are all to he raised to regal eminence and power, and their glory shall never fade away; but His foes shall be driven from His presence, and reap eternally the just recompense of their rebellion. Is it not, then, worth while to cast aside everything that would hinder us from securing the favour of this King, immortal and eternal--nay, to sacrifice even our earthly life, rather than not make certain of His friendship? (Original Secession Magazine.)
Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision.
Daniel’s Preparation for Prophetic Work
A prophecy does not fall from Heaven in the form of a book written and sealed. Prophecy is given through the spirit of a man. It comes first into the living soul. He afterwards declares it, and then records it, in a form adapted to the needs of living souls around. The situation of the prophet, then, must be favourable to the full reception of the prophecy in all its significance. “To qualify him for his work his historical position must be such that his whole situation may be, so to say, the human question to which revelation proclaims the Divine answer.” Accordingly, Daniel was carefully placed by the hand of God so that the prophecies with which he was favoured should have for him the fullest meaning. When we say that his watch-tower was in the palace of Babylon, hard by the very throne, we indicate how exactly God prepared him to be the prophet of this crisis in the history, not of Israel merely, but of the whole world. For more than seventy years he lived at the Babylonian and Medo-Persian court. He was a member of the government, high in position. His political preparation for successive revelations was very favourable. He gained an insight into the secular organisations of the kingdoms of this world, and became thus fitted to receive what we may be allowed to call political revelations. His spiritual preparation, too, was wisely and graciously ordered. The moral victory over the temptations of his state of pupilage, rendered it possible for God to communicate with humanity through him. He was well versed in previous revelations. Daniel knew the contents of preceding prophecies (9:2). Besides this preparation of knowledge and self-conquest, the experience of life at Babylon was likely to make his soul very susceptible to Divine impressions. (H. T. Robjohns, B.A.)
Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever.
Daniel’s Prayer of Thanksgiving
Such a prayer sheds a flood of light upon the character of the man who utters it. It was addressed to the “God of Heaven,” and that title has a peculiar significance when the facts of Daniel’s history are taken into account. He had been brought up among an idolatrous people, who worshipped “gods many and lords many,” the sun, moon, and planets, and a host of inferior deities. Despite these influences he had kept untainted the faith of his fathers, God was for him the God, the true, the only existing; and He was “the God of Heaven,” the Almighty Ruler who had fashioned that mighty host of stars which the Chaldeans adored, and had traced out those courses from which they professed to gain their knowledge of the future. As regards the prayer itself, it will be observed how an ascription of praise both begins and ends it, as with that prayer which the Saviour taught. He “changeth the times and seasons”--not conjunctions of the planets. He “removeth kings and setteth up kings”--not human ambitions and earthly armies. He “giveth wisdom to the wise “--not the exponents of Chaldean lore. He “revealeth the deep and secret things”--not the astrologers and diviners that call on heathen gods. There is a kind of subdued triumph in the prayer, a spirit of exultation in its language, without any alloy of mere mortal pride, but beseeming one who had trusted so fully and been rewarded so richly. (P. H. Hunter.)
The name of God is an Hebrew form of expression for God Himself. It is, therefore, the same as if He had said, “Blessed be God for ever and ever.” There is a great difference between the manner in which God blesses us and that in which we bless Him. God blesses us by showing us kindness, and bestowing on us such benefits as tend to promote our present and eternal well-being. In this manner we cannot bless God. To bless God is simply to ascribe to him the glory that is due unto His name, and not to give Him something which we have, and He has not. To be in the frame of mind which leads us to admire and adore the Divine excellency, is to be in the highest state of emotion of which our minds are susceptible. There is no region above this into which our faculties can ascend. To contemplate and adore the Divine character will be the sum of heavenly beatitude, “Blessed be the name of God.” Let Him be praised, extolled, and magnified. Let earth and Heaven, time and eternity, unite in this exercise. “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever!” This implies that God Would deserve to be praised for ever and ever. Human excellencies wither and decay. But the excellencies of the Divine character are everlasting and unchangeable. “Blessed be the name of God, for ever and ever, for wisdom and might are His.” Wisdom and might are God’s in every sense. He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in wisdom; infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in power. There is nothing which He does not know; nothing that He cannot do. He is so wonderful in counsel that no flaw deforms His plans; so excellent in working that no obstacle can frustrate the execution of them. Creation, in all its departments, proclaims these attributes. That, however, which called forth the exclamation from the prophet’s mind was the contemplation of Divine agency, as presented to him in the vision, over-ruling everything connected with the rise, progress, and ruin of the four monarchies, to prepare for the erection of Christ’s Kingdom over all the earth. We may learn from Daniel’s example, in reading history, which is just the unfolding of the vision, to look beyond the visible actors unto God. We should not rest content with knowing the exploits of warriors and the plans of statesmen. We should endeavour to see the wisdom and the power of Him “who ruleth among the kingdoms of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.” And if we would see God in history, we must compare causes and effects, events and their consequences. We must not be content with looking to what occurs; we must observe what comes out of occurrences; especially must we take in the whole range of this vision, and consider the effect which every general movement had upon the world, in the way of preparing it for the millennial glory. This is the end in which all the general movements are to issuer Looked upon in this light, history becomes one of the purest fountains of wisdom and devotion--one of the brightest mirrors reflecting the Divine attributes, every page of which may be inscribed, “blessed be the name of God, for ever and ever, for wisdom and might are His.” Contemplating the changes presented to him by this prophetic vision, that which most impressed itself upon the mind of Daniel was the supreme, universal, uncontrollable sovereignty of God. “He changeth the times and the seasons, He removeth kings and setteth up kings.” The seasons sometimes signify the marked times and periods of the natural year. In this sense God is the author of all the revolutions of the seasons. It is He who daily teacheth “the sun to rise and know his time of going down.” But the times and the seasons, in this passage, are to be understood in connection with the four monarchies, and denote the period appointed for the various revolutions they were to undergo. When He is said “to change the times and the seasons,” this implies that God hath appointed to each of these monarchies the time when it shall rise, the period of its duration, the revolutions through which it is to pass, end that, by His providence, He brings about each of these changes at His own appointed time. “He removeth kings and setteth up kings.” Kings, as in the following vision, may here be used for kingdoms. The meaning will then be, “The rise and fall of empires is from God.” While in the rise and fall of empire God is sovereign. His sovereignty in this, as in everything else, is not arbitrary. “He removeth kings and setteth up kings,” in infinite wisdom. Each of the four kingdoms answered a most important purpose in regard to the human race. This is a very glorious view of God. Independent Himself, all things depend on Him. Unchangeable, He is the author of all changes. The God of order, He is also the author of all revolutions. This is a very comfortable view of the world. It is proverbially said to be a world of change. Nothing in it is fixed--nothing stable. We never lie down and rise up in precisely the same world. But here is an anchor that may stay us in every storm, here is a polar star to steer by in safety, amid the teasings and the hearings of the tempestuous sea of time. All the changes that are in the world come from God, and God is unchangeable. The tide of revolution which at times sweeps with such terrific power across His footstool cannot reach His throne, and the lapse of ages cannot affect His nature. Having adored the Divine character as manifested in the dispensations connected with the four prophetical kingdoms, Daniel now renders thanks for Divine goodness shown in the revelation of the vision unto him. “He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding,” etc. While all knowledge comes from God, this is specially true of the knowledge of what is hidden and future. “He revealeth the deep and secret things.” Whatever glimpses men have gotten into the future, have come from God. And how consolatory is it to reflect that God sees into the darkness of futurity. The throne of providence is often encompassed with clouds and thick darkness. Let us remember that when Daniel disclosed the dream which baffled all the wisdom of Chaldea, he fell down before God in grateful adoration, and, instead of boasting over the wise men, as many of the expositors of prophecy have done over one another, his very first request, as we shall see in the following verses, was in these words, “Destroy not the wise men of Babylon.” And in all cases the study of prophecy is profitable only when it increases our admiration of the Deity, and our humanity to our fellow creatures. On the other hand, it is a sure proof that they have not studied prophecy aright, who, as the result of it, have increased in dogmatism, and not in devotion--who, as if inspired by misanthropy, become denouncers of wrath upon the world, and seem to exult in fancy over the downfall of nations, and hurl forth their anathemas against all who refuse to receive the wildest wanderings of their imagination as the infallible dictates of Divine truth. (J. White.)
Daniel About to Interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream
I cannot but think that the conduct of the prophet will impart, when carefully examined, practical lessons of the widest application. You will none of you be required, as Daniel was, to recall to the memory of another the details of a forgotten dream, and to interpret with accuracy any signification which might be supposed to attach to it; but, nevertheless, you must all of you be tried, as Daniel was, through occurrences the dealing with which will test at once your faith, your gratitude, and your love.
1. And I apprehend that the narrative ought to prove to you that under the pressure of even the very heaviest afflictions nothing, in a multitude of instances, can be less to the point than inaction or despair. There are, of course, numerous cases wherein the exhibition of a meek resignation involves the sole duty required; but those dispensations are frequent, concerning which it is the appointment of Providence, that men shall help themselves; entreating fervently, indeed, the bestowal of that gracious aid without which their most toilsome exertions must be futile; but still tasking their own energies to the utmost. In the instance before us, prompt action was the primary obligation of the prophet. He accordingly proceeds at once into the royal presence, and undertakes to set at rest, within a reasonable time, the monarch’s anxiety as to both of the points specified. But it does not, for a moment, occur to him that he could be competent, in his own strength, to fulfil his engagement; for, together with his three companions, he directly betakes himself to the Divine footstool; and they offer their joint supplications that it may please the Lord to disclose the nature and bearings of the secret. So then, it was no outburst of self-sufficiency which impelled the prophet to apprise the king that in due time he would discover to him all which he desired to know. A more striking illustration of the unlimited possession and of the unbounded influence of faith, than is supplied by the prophet’s course of action and its consequences, it were hardly possible to conceive. You recollect what strong terms our blessed Saviour employs as descriptive of the mighty effects which would be produced by the manifestation of such a spirit. Faith would even remove mountains, He declares. And you cannot but remark that Daniel seemed to entertain no doubts of the satisfactory accomplishment of the wondrous task undertaken by him; he, without a moment’s hesitation, assures the king of his ability to perform it. At the same time, I would again remind you that his confidence was strictly connected with his resolution to resort, with assiduity, to the right means of procuring success; and I repeat that the work of earnest supplication to which he betook himself was undeniably the strongest evidence of his faith. His, you see, was not that so-called faith which eventuates in nothing practical; his assurance of the result, unwavering as that was, was nothing else than an assurance that God’s blessing would rest upon the due employment of those fitting means which he was determined not to neglect. It rested with the Almighty to suggest to the mind of the prophet the dream and its interpretation, whilst it devolved upon His servants, with all earnestness, to entreat the bestowal of suggestions which He alone could impart. And may we not succeed in deriving hence a lesson for ourselves? Whilst it should at all times be the highest delight of the Christian to repose on the justifying merits of his Redeemer an unhesitating and a grateful confidence; whilst he should permit no floods to overwhelm, nor fire to consume, nor lapse of time to impair the vigour of his faith; oh! let him ever keep in remembrance the great truth, that the character of his works and his course of life will, after all, stand as the final tests of the genuineness of that faith; and that no mere consciousness or semblance of occasional spiritual fervour can compensate for the absence of all practical evidences of the sincerity of his profession. Like Daniel, he may feel perfectly assured, whilst adopting this course, that the requisite support will be given; and thus is he completely equipped for every enterprise.
2. But let me now more particularly call your attention to the circumstance that the prophet, when in quest of the inspiration which alone could enable him to perform his task, did not satisfy himself with merely presenting his own supplications, how impassioned soever, before the throne of grace, but desired his companions to mingle their entreaties with his; and thus may be considered to have taken every possible means of obtaining from his Maker a favourable response. And hereby also may we receive instruction--instruction having reference to the value of united prayer. But Daniel did not confine himself to entreaties that God would graciously enable him to disclose the details and import of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. His supplications having secured the accomplishment of his desire, he omitted not forthwith to tender to the Divine Being the unfeigned and reverential expression of his gratitude. “I thank Thee, and praise Thee, O Thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of Thee; for Thou hast made known unto us the king’s matter.” And it must at once be admitted that in pursuing the course which he did, the prophet set an example which should be copied even by ourselves, who enjoy the privilege of living under another and far higher dispensation. We complain, and justly, that men do not sufficiently betake themselves to prayer; and yet, after all, they far more frequently cultivate prayer than praise. How many are there who, when visited with afflictions, their deliverance from which appears to be almost hopeless, or when placed in some position of difficulty or danger, where special Divine assistance is absolutely required, will humble themselves in the dust before the Majesty on high--will confess unreservedly and earnestly their sins and shortcomings; and will almost “pray without ceasing” that they may be guided amid their perplexities or rescued from their perils! Yet let a kindly Providence but accede to their entreaties--let these perplexities be surmounted, or these perils be happily removed, and, in multiplied instances, the warmth and constancy of their devotions survive not the change; the period of distress and trial seems now to be passed; and alas! the very consideration which should call forth the loudest accents of thanksgiving and praise tends only to the renewal of that spiritual indifference which had for the time been parted with.
3. Let me ask you, in the next place, to observe the mode in which the prophet addresses the Great Being whom, in the words of the text, he was approaching with “the voice of thanksgiving.” His experience, doubtless, supplied him with many instances of Divine watchfulness, Divine care, and Divine support. That he cherished a most grateful sense of God’s mercies to him is quite undoubted; and we may rest assured that at all times he recognised in the Maker of heaven and earth his Guardian and his Guide. But, nevertheless, it is not as his own God that he addresses the High and Holy One in the passage under consideration. He addresses Him as the God of his fathers, thus showing that his memory was stored with incidents wherein, in former times, God had proved Himself a Shield and a Succour. His words tell that he must have felt, and have exulted in feeling, that--“the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever”--the eye of that mighty and uncreated Intelligence which had looked down with tenderness and affection upon the ancestry, would continue to beam brightly and benignantly upon the descendant. Oh! that there were more amongst ourselves of such simple but well-founded, beautiful, and heaven-born faith! Oh! that our hope, that our trust, that our joy, that our love, might be inspired, elevated, augmented, as well by the remembered history of the past as by personal and more recent experience! God is still, as in the days of David, “a very present Help,” a “Fortress,” and a “Deliverer!” But the declaration of Daniel that the “wisdom and might” which then belonged to him had been conferred by God, demands, in another point of view, our attention. I have already admitted that there were, in his case, peculiar circumstances which exist not in our own. But acknowledging that both in the mode of their communication and in the largeness of their amount, as well as in the direction which they took, his endowments differed very widely indeed from any which have ever been bestowed in modern times--throughout which, in fact, there has been no occasion for the exercise,to any extent, of supernatural powers by man--we may contend still for the desirableness of ever cherishing the recollection, that the human faculties have been imparted by a higher Power, as calculated to exert a most salutary influence. It will dispose us to dedicate these faculties to our Maker’s service, engaging in no pursuit which His statutes have condemned, and devoting ourselves to the practice of every virtue which He enjoins. It will tend to bring home to us the consciousness that “we are not our own.” It will beget a sense of responsibility to which otherwise we should be strangers. It will check pride, and will thus prepare the heart for profiting by progressive communications of Divine grace.
4. In conclusion, let me point out to you that the Almighty availed Himself of even the iniquitous decree of a selfish tyrant by producing a most striking display of His omniscience, by making an important addition to the prophetic announcements, and, farther, by promoting the temporal welfare of one of the most devoted and distinguished of His servants. Doubtless, indeed, His providence was at work, suggesting to the monarch’s mind the exciting dream. But assuredly the edict by which the dream was succeeded can be regarded as no dispensation of His providence. Yet mark how speedily that providence brought good out of evil! Then, under no circumstances, however apparently untoward or threatening, must the Christian give way to despair. (H. B. Moffat, M.A.)
The Workings of Gratitude
Turning to the practical improvement of this narrative, we have:
1. The value of united prayer. When Daniel undertook the solution of the difficulty, he engaged his three friends to pray earnestly on his behalf, and we may be sure he was fervent in supplication on his own account. He believed in God as the hearer of prayer. The issue showed that he acted wisely. There is a special promise to united prayer.
2. An illustration of the workings of gratitude. The moment he had received the revelation Daniel poured out his heart in thanksgiving to God. How many, when they have got the blessing for which they asked, forget to be grateful for it! We cry when we are in extremity, but when the terror passes we forget to give thanks to Him who has removed its cause.
3. An illustration of the devout humility of genuine piety. Daniel is careful to let the king understand that he has not received the secret from God for any excellence about himself. He fears to stand between the king and Jehovah. He gives all the glory to the Most High. There is always a modesty about true greatness, and you may know whether or not piety is genuine by inquiring if it be characterised by humility. The good man will never seek to hide God from the view of his fellow men.
4. An illustration of faithful friendship. When Daniel was exalted, he did not forget his companions. Knit to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah by congenial tastes, as well as by the ties of country and religion, he had become to them a friend indeed; and they had shown their deep interest in and attachment to him, not only in sharing his protest against the diet of the College, but also in praying for him at his special request. It was meet, therefore, that he should remember them in his prosperity. But this conduct is not common. (W. M. Taylor, D.D.)
But there is a God in Heaven that revealeth secrets.
A God in Heaven
I. THE ASSERTION. There is a God in Heaven. Daniel was not one of those who say in their hearts “there is no God”; he was well persuaded, both of His existence and of the perfections of His nature. Daniel’s God is a God of wisdom and knowledge; a just God; a powerful God; a great God; a good and merciful God; a faithful God; a holy God: a God of love.
II. WHAT IS SAID OF HIM. He revealeth secrets. He is capable of doing this because He knoweth all things. He makes known to men the pride, hypocrisy, unbelief, of their own hearts. He reveals to His people, who are called by grace, the secret of His love and favour. This secret is revealed in the work of regeneration. He reveals also His covenant to those who fear Him. He shows them the necessity, nature, and stability of the covenant, and their interest in it. He reveals His people a sense of their pardon and acceptance in Christ. And as the Lord will reveal these secrets for His people’s comfort in this world, so also He will reveal to them the secrets of that which is to come. (S. Barnard.)
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was sorely troubled by a vision of the night. The wise men of the age acknowledged that the secrets of the mind were beyond their ken. The whole narrative affords us an excellent illustration of the limits of human reason, and the necessity of a revelation from God; and in these days, when both science and philosophy are employed to cast doubts on revelation, when the “wise men” of our time would decry the Word of God, it is well for all lovers of the Gospel to give a clear and settled answer to these who question the hope that is in us.
I. THERE ARE SECRETS, THE REVELATION OF WHICH IS OF THE GREATEST IMPORTANCE TO HUMANITY. I, also, in common with all mortals, have dreamed a dream, ay, dreams of God, of responsibility, of happiness, of immortality; but they have gone from me; the pictures are blurred, the ideas are indistinct.
1. I dream of the existence of a God. I have a dim consciousness of a great First Cause, an innate conviction independent of creeds, and which defies the impious foot of Atheism to crush it, or the breath of a cold Materialism to wither it away. I see around me a thousand irresistible tokens of His creating power and wisdom. He is my Maker, hence my Master! the Creator and Maintainer of the Universe, hence the Universal King! My lot, my destiny, is in His hands. To Him I am responsible. On Him I depend. Who is He? How does He regard me? I would secure His favour. For the sake of my happiness, my life, it is essential to me to know my God. Who art Thou, Lord? What is Thy will, that I may do it? What are the conditions of Thine approval, that I may obtain it? I have faint dreams of God, of truth, and right, and duty. Tell me, ye wise men, “Who is the Ruler, and what is the rule of life?” I also have dreamed a dream, and, like the vision of the king, it has left an intermittent horror on my soul.
2. I am conscious of wrong-doing. I am sensible of the existence of a certain something, which condemns or approves, according to the nature of my deeds. This “conscience” which is native to my soul upbraids me with my guilt, and saddens me with the responsibility of my own “I will!” All peoples, all individuals, have this conscious wrong. God is angry with me, and justly. It defies argument What can I do? Must His justice take its course? How can a man be just before God? This guilt oppresses me, this sense of sin embitters my life and fills me with unspoken dread. Is there an interpreter, one among a thousand, who will deliver me from going down into the pit, saying, “I have found a ransom?” Like Nebuchadnezzar, I also have dreamed a dream, but it has gone from me.
3. I dream of a possible rest. Toiling and moiling amid the cares and anxieties of time, wrestling with ever-multiplying trials, my weary spirit gets fitful and broken glimpses of a state of quiet. I strive to bear my disappointment with a manly spirit, but I miserably fail. I hanker after contentment. I am a searcher after happiness, and my search is vain. All men seek it, but gold cannot buy it; honour cannot invest me with it; pleasure is a false and gilded substitute; I dream, and the world dreams of a one time golden age, but it has gone from me. I ask the “wise men” of the age, “Is there a possible happiness for my poor soul to-day?” Like the King of Babylon, I also dream a dream, and it fills me with anxiety and unrest.
4. I dream of an “after life.” My mind refuses the idea of dying like the beasts below me. I am repelled at the thought of annihilation. I shall live!--this is the innate instinct of every human mind. The conviction isuniversal. Then, what is there awaiting me in that unseen future? I submit to you that these are primal questions of man; and while these secrets are unrevealed, what good will my birthright do me? I cannot live by bread alone. I cannot subsist on theories and propositions. Who will recover and interpret my dreams and bring me satisfaction and repose! Oh, ye “wise men,” ye sages of to-day: I sit at your feet! I open my ears to your words. My anxious soul awaits your answer to these problems. But leave me ignorant of these vital matters and my life is chaos, existence is a riddle and a curse, death is a horror, and the mysterious afterward a terror and a woe!
II. THE REVELATION OF THESE SECRETS ALTOGETHER SURPASSES HUMAN WISDOM. Nebuchadnezzar called to his aid the “wise men” of his kingdom, the philosophers and scientists of the day, men who professed to read the secrets of the stars. To these the king stated his difficulty; they honestly confessed that the thing was beyond their skill. This, I submit, is the position occupied by the wise men of to-day as regards these solemn problems of the soul. In the presence of my questioning heart, Science is voiceless, Philosophy makes an effort to reply, flings a little border light upon the mystery, flounders in a sea of contradictions, then lapses into silence. The Astronomer talks with me on the composition of the sun, he tells the number of the stars, calculates their distances, and calls them by their names. He cannot tell me by what law my wandering soul may gravitate towards Deity, and circle in the orbit of truth and duty around the Eternal God. The geologist, who digs among the deep foundations of the earth, can read the wondrous scroll of the earth’s biography; can echo in mine ear the testimony of the rocks; but he finds no rock on which my restless soul can settle and build its hopes of Heaven! “The depth saith, it is not in me!” The Zoologist thrills me with his descriptions of animated nature. He discourses on all the winged denizens of air, from the eagle with the sweeping pinions to the sparrow chirping amid cottage eaves, but he hath found no single messenger who can bring to human hearts, fearsome and sorrowful, the true olive-branch of peace! The botanist, splendid sage, expounds the secrets of the vegetable kingdom, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop upon the wall, from the tropic palm to the lichen amid northern snows; but, tell me, glorious magician! canst thou tell me where the herb hearts-ease grows, to soothe the moral sores that run in the night of sorrow? The mathematician hath a marvellous power over numbers, and proudly calls his, par excellence, the exact and certain science; but can he calculate the unknown quantity of the price required to redeem a law-condemned life? The geographer’s eye ranges over the wide surface of the globe from China to Peru, from the scorching equator to the shivering poles. But he hath never found the river of life among the unknown hills! If we were to travel thus around all the circle of the sciences, if we questioned thus at the portals of every school and system of philosophy, the answer of the Babylonian astrologers must come alike from all: “There is not a man upon earth that can show the king’s matter, and there is none other that can show it except the gods whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Great and precious and important are all these in their legitimate domain. All honour to the men who patiently study the mysteries of nature, and explore the secrets of mind; but there are higher studies, there are grandar laws. Discarding all secondary illumination, we must go the the Fount of Light and utter our humble prayer to the Highest--“Teach me Thy statutes, even wondrous things out of Thy law.” Let human wisdom honestly avow its limits.
III. These great secrets, so important for humanity to understand, have been revealed by God himself! Daniel received the desired knowledge direct from Heaven. Even so hath God revealed these great mysteries to the human mind. He hath reproduced the dreams that had gone from us, hath showed the great necessities of our moral nature, and hath produced in His glorious Gospel an efficient satisfaction for every yearning of the human heart. Jesus Christ is God’s answer to man’s questions, and the answer is redemptive and complete. Come and hear Him, then! His lips are touched by an unkindled fire. He speaks as never man spake, for He is “the Power of God and the Wisdom of God”. He hath come to answer the cry of humanity. Sit at His feet and propound your heart-questions. Do you ask Him for rest and peace? He says, “Come unto Me, and ye shall find rest unto your soul.” Do you ask for power and guidance, comfort and aid? “I will send unto you the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, who shall guide you into all truth.” Afraid of death, do you ask for help and victory? “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoso liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.” Oh! surely these are glad tidings of great joy! Oh! my Saviour, I will trust Thee! I will listen and believe! My fears fade, my doubts vanish, my terrors die! Here, then, lies the key to unlock all secrets. We are, by the mediation of Christ, brought back to God--to God, the true home of the soul. Offended God and offending man atone and reconciled, and Jesus Christ the healer of the breach! From Nebuchadnezzar went forth the edict that, should the secret remain unrevealed, the men must die. “There is but one decree for you.” That edict was a cruel wrong, a strict injustice. But that decree has also gone out from God. There is but one decree for you if this divinely-interpreted secret is not made clear to you; and this decree is just. You have the dream and the interpretation; you have the statement of your need, and you have the Gospel that will meet it to the full. If you reject this great salvation, so adapted to your need, so attested as to its authority, so simple in its terms, so mighty in its transformations, so glorious in its results, so tremendous in its cost--there is but one decree for you--“He that believeth shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned!” Alas for us if the slope of natural religion, the ladder of science, were the only stair to lead us up to God! But where natural religion abandons us, where science at its highest leaves us, where philosophy in its purest form forsakes us--then revealed religion takes us up. (J. J. Wray.)
God as a Revealer of Secrets
Men have secrets, or what they consider secrets, for really there are no secrets in the universe, nor should there be such. Sin alone has secrets, virtue has none. With it, all is as open as the day. Looking at the Great One as the revealer of secrets, we observe:
I. HE MAKES NO OMISSIONS. When men reveal the secrets of others, from ignorance they omit something; but God knows the whole--the most hidden thought of the most obscure mind in the universe.
II. HE COMMITS NO MISTAKES. Men who reveal secrets, commit great errors; they either say too much or too little. Omniscience commits no blunders; the revelation will be severely faithful.
III. HE HAS NO UNKINDNESS. Men often tell the secrets of others maliciously, but not so with Him. God is constantly revealing the secrets of men now:
1. Through the dictates of human consciences.
2. Through the unguarded actions of human life. (Homilist.)
Thou, O King, sawest, and behold a great image.
The Aggregation of Evil
Look at evil as represented by this colossal image.
I. IT IS A COMPOUND THING. The image was made up of various substances: gold, silver, brass, iron, clay. Evil does not often appear here in its naked simplicity, it is mixed up with other things. Errors in combination with truths, selfishness with benevolence, superstition with religion, infidelity with science, injustice with law and evil, too, is in combination with customs, systems, institutions. It is a huge conglomeration. Unmixed naked evil could not, perhaps, exist. Worldly souls so compound it as to make evil seem good.
II. IT IS A BIG THING. This image was the biggest thing in the imagination of the monarch. Evil is the biggest thing in the world. The image represents here what Paul meant by the “world,” the mighty aggregation of evil. Alas, evil is the great image in the world’s mind.
III. IT IS AN IMPERIAL THING. The various substances that composed the image, Daniel tells us, represent kingdoms--Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. Evil here is imperial. The New Testament calls it “The kingdom of darkness.” It wears the purple, occupies the throne, and wields the sceptre of nations.
IV. IT IS A HUMAN THING. The colossal image was a human figure--human head, breast, arms, legs, feet; and of human manufacture. All the errors of the world are the fabrications of the human brain; all the had passions of the world are the lusts of the human heart; all the wrong institutions of the world are the productions of human power. Evil is human, it thinks with the human brain; it speaks with the human tongue; it works with the human hand. Man is at once its creator, organ, and victim.
V. IT IS A TOTTERING THING. On what does the figure stand? On marble, on iron, or brass? No, on clay; his feet part of iron and part of clay. Evil, big, grand, and imperial though it be, lacks standing power; it is not firm-footed. It has clay feet, and must one day tumble to pieces. (Homilist.)
The metals symbolical of the four kingdoms are placed after one another in the order of their value. First gold, then silver, then brass, then iron. There is a progressive deterioration in this arrangement of the metals. That which is accounted most precious is first; that which is of least value is last. To hold out the idea that the world is constantly growing worse, heathen fable represented it as passing through four ages, which were also named from these four metals, the golden age, the age of silver, the age of brass, and the iron age. In each succeeding period the world became worse than it had been during that which preceded. From the fact of the metals in this image following one another in the order of their value, the most precious being first, and the least valuable being last, we are not to suppose that Scripture countenances this idea of heathen fiction, and that the world is really in a state of constant deterioration--becoming more base and worthless by every succeeding revolution. This idea is not correct in point of fact. It is true that every nation, after reaching a certain stage, has decayed and been dissolved by the corruption of manners, as the human body, after reaching a certain stage, gradually decays and is at length dissolved by death. But while every particular nation has in course of time deteriorated, the human race has been steadily progressing in the knowledge of art, science, legislation, and everything that is most conducive to the individual and social advancement of mankind. National progression may be compared to the incoming of the sea. Almost every wave advances farther than that by which it was preceded, and then falls back, leaving the sand bare which once was covered; but another and another wave follows, each succeeding one advancing nearer to the shore, until the sea covers all its sands, having reached the point at which the voice of the Almighty said to it, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther.” In regard to the four monarchies, it is not a fact that the condition of mankind became worse under every succeeding monarchy than it had been during the reign of that by which it was preceded. On the contrary, it could easily be shown that the iron monarchy, which on the other supposition should have been the worst, was more conducive to the welfare of mankind than any of the other three. From these statements it appears that the metals are not prophetic of the relative condition of the world under these monarchies, but are descriptive of the character of the monarchies themselves. Each of the metals represents the principal feature of the monarchy of which it is the symbol. As regards the order of their succession, it ought to be remembered that these metals have a real and a nominal value, and that their real value is in the inverse ratio of the nominal. Gold and silver possess the greatest nominal value, because in exchange for them everything else can be procured; but in themselves they are of less value than brass and iron. Keeping this universally recognised distinction in view, the succession of metals in the image may intimate that in these monarchies there would be a declension in outward splendour, and a progression in those things which were useful to mankind. Gold, the symbol of the first monarchy, intimates that sumptuous splendour would be its most striking feature. (J. White.)
The Dream Recovered
The king’s inability to recollect the dream that caused him so much anxiety gave occasion to call for Daniel, and enabled him to prove the vast superiority of his God over the gods and magicians of Babylon. By being able to restore the lost dream, he proved at once that he was able to give its true interpretation. By restoring the dream and giving its interpretation, he revealed to the king two mysteries at once--a mystery from the past and a mystery of the future. A great image. It appears from ancient coins and medals that both cities and nations were represented by gigantic figures of men and women. The old writer Florus, in his history of Rome, represents the Roman empire under the form of a human being, in its different states from infancy to old age. The recently-discovered monuments of the Nile, and of Nineveh, and of Babylon, show that stupendous human figures were objects and emblems familiar to the ancients. Geographers, also, have used similar representations. The Germanic empire has been represented by a map in the form of a man, different parts being pointed out by the head, breast, arms, etc., according to their geographical and political relation to the empire in general. The various metals of which Nebuchadnezzar’s image was composed represented the various kingdoms which should arise subsequent to the fall of his own empire. Their position in the body of the image clearly denoted the order of their succession. The different metals and their position also expressed different degrees of strength, riches, power, and durability. Clay, earth, and dust, of course, mean weakness, instability. (W. A. Scott, D.D.)
The Dream Recovered
We see the hand of Providence in bringing Daniel and his friends forward at the Babylonish court at the time when it was the most proper they should be honoured. God never forsakes those that trust in Him.
I. THE DREAM, ITS PREDICTIONS, AND THEIR FULFILMENT PROVE THE SUPREME AND PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE OF GOD, AND THEREBY ALSO SHOW THE TRUTH OF THE BIBLE. Now this prediction of the future destinies of nations could not be without revelations from God, nor could it be unless God be both sovereign in providence and in nature. It is God only and alone who can foretell the distant changes of time and nations; and this He can do and has done as infallibly as He knows the revolutions of the heavenly bodies. God knows as perfectly and as certainly what the commotions of the people and the thousand passions of kings and statesmen will produce, as what the thousand attractions of the stars and their most distant courses will bring about in immensity. Astronomers give us beforehand the details of eclipses, because the Creator has impressed His will upon the universe as a code of physical laws. He rules mankind, who dwell on the earth, as well as the worlds which roll in infinite space. He stays the commotions of the people, as well as the billows of the sea. He holds in His hand the hearts of the rulers of the earth, as He counts the hosts of Heaven and calls them all by name.
II. THE HISTORY OF NATIONS PRESENTS TWO ELEMENTS IN THEMSELVES PERFECTLY DISTINCT, AND YET ALWAYS MORE OR LESS UNITED, AND ALWAYS MORE OR LESS SUBJECTED TO MUTUAL AND RECIPROCAL INFLUENCES. I mean the political and religious history of a country. The religious habitudes of a people do of necessity deeply affect their morals, and their social and national characteristics. So palpable is the influence of religion upon a nation, that it has long been received as a canon of philosophical history, that the religion of a country being known, all the rest of that country’s history can be easily known. It is not essential to mere physical existence that we have comfortable houses to live in, and that they are adorned with the products of industry and filled with the comforts of commerce. We could live in tents. But certainly those who have once tasted the elegances of refined life will not desire to go back to semi-barbarism. So it is not essential for all pious people to be politicians, yet all the members of Christ’s Church are interested in the political interests of the world; and Christian young men should prepare themselves to take a part in the civil affairs of their country. If the administration of our laws and the outwork of our great institutions are left wholly in the hands of ungodly or unprincipled men, we cannot expect God’s blessing to rest upon us.
III. Observe HOW CAREFUL DANIEL WAS TO REMEMBER HIS FRIENDS IN PROSPERITY. Like Joseph, when exalted, he was not ashamed of his poor kin. At his request his three friends were promoted to high employments in the department over which he presided.
IV. Throughout Daniel’s history we see in him, as in Joseph, A DISPOSITION TO HUMBLE HIMSELF AND EXALT HIS GOD. Without prevarication or hesitancy he shows his abhorrence of idolatry, and his deep and earnest conviction that the God whom he served was the only real and true God. He claims nothing for himself. When the king asks him if he is able to make known the dream and its interpretation, he reminds the king that there had been no power in the gods of his diviners which had enabled them to do this; but “there is a God in Heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days.” And in the whole affair we hear him ascribing everything to God. And his object was in part attained. The king’s mind became so powerfully impressed with Daniel’s arguments and demonstrations, that he made the remarkable declaration: “Of a truth it is that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings.” (W.A. Scott, D.D.)
The Inconsistent Image
“Behold this dreamer cometh” to us then, and says, “I saw in my dream” an image of a man, in which, whilst the head was of fine gold, the farther each part was from the head, the more inferior it appeared. And the least gifted of the wise men among us replies with modest demureness, for he has read the interpretation within himself a thousand times: Man’s knowledge may oft seem like fine gold, but his action is at best but silver, and often but iron and clay. It may even be that, in desire, he is of the noblest metal, yet in will and deed but of the baser sorts. The youth is fired by the electric spark of heroic emulation from the recital or vision of another’s glorious achievement, hope and noble ambition stir within him till he burns to be a hero in the strife; and in the absence of some great thing, he fails to fling his force so richly accumulated into the duty that is nearest to hand, and so to irradiate it as to make drudgery Divine. And as, at the day’s close, he recalls the longing that leaped that morning within his breast, and contrasts with it the cold commonplace achievement, life seems to him like a mocking travesty of a true man, with a head of fine gold, but its feet part of iron and part of clay; golden desires but deeds of clay. And the old man reads within himself the messages that tell of the coming dissolution. It is time, he says, that autumn touched my life to mellowness and maturity. Should not some of that excellent glory begin to be reflected from me, if so soon I am to enter those Everlasting Gates? And so there comes home to him the sense of space between his desire and his attainment, his ideal and his actual. What artist before his most finished work, what reformer after telling out all his scheme, what minister as he reviews his ministry, what child of God as he surveys his life, does not say to himself, softly and sorrowfully, “If the head was fine gold, the arms were but silver, the foot part of iron and part of clay?” Yes, and if any man rejoins that in his case achievement equalled, if it did not surpass, intention--the feet were equal to the head--we have no hesitation in replying, “Then the head was by no means ‘of fine gold.’” Full attainment means small attainments. Better a golden conception carried out by silver arms, incomplete as that must appear, than that both conception and execution be of no higher order than iron or clay, though it be then symmetrical. Better lofty standards and ideals imperfectly carried into action but honestly attempted, than low standards, though completely realised. Let nothing, then, delude us into debasing the “head.” Though it make our ears tingle and our cheeks flame scarlet daily, ever above us and beyond us must be the prize of our high calling. To be satisfied, to stop, is to perish at the core. We are saved by honestly hoping, and we can only hope for the uuattained. Let him only who is honestly striving to make his life of one substance throughout, and that “fine gold,” take to himself the encouragement we have educed from the image. Let all others beware’ lest their baser metal, or incongruous compound, melt utterly in that day when the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. But can we think long of the spiritual life under the figure of a body, with its head and members, without St. Paul’s vivid and effectively practical use of the metaphor coming before our view? “Jesus Christ the head,” and “Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ?” And then as if some such grotesque and inconsistent image as this of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream loomed before his vision as more than a possibility, with a keen sense of unfitness amounting to horror that neither the King of Babylon nor the inspired seer of old ever felt, he asked: “Shall I, then, take the members of Christ and make them members of the clay and mire of lust and sin?” “As He is, so are we in this world,” so be “conformed in all things to our Head.” This, then, is the unending royal road along which the saints are called to journey. Our “Head” is “of fine gold.” All the choice virtues and fair excellences of the Divine human nature dwell in Him. Lovely beyond comparison, the sum of all perfections, the essence of all that is flagrant and fair, is our Head. And one thing only is wanting, that the Church which is His body becomes as its Head, having attained “unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness” of its Head; a glorious body, “not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” And “because we are members of His body,” to us is this word sent. “Ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof,” or “members each in his part.” (Marg. R.V.) What is our contribution to the visible Body? “Ye are My witnesses.” Do they who see our works glorify our Head which is in Heaven. Or is there a shocking incongruity, as in this image? Do not multitudes to-day honestly think--yes, honestly believe--that Jesus’ day is over, that He was not the imperishable fine gold, but if not simply “clay” that served its passing purpose, at the best “iron” or “brass,” because they have seen His “members,” and have concluded (and how shall we blame them in many instances?) that since the “members,” the “feet” and the “legs” and the “hands,” were so palpably baser metal, the “head” must be also? Shall our Divine Head be thus baffled in us His members! Let us labour and pray so to be , “changed into the same image” that as His feet we may run swiftly at His bidding; as His arms and hands we may work out fully His will, and our whole being show itself a “vessel unto honour, meet for the Master’s use.” (R. B. Shepherd, M.A.)
Deterioration in Successive Nations
The prophecies of Daniel (feinting to “the times of the Gentiles”) are marked by evolution, but it is downward, and not upward; rather, it is devolution! They are marked by progress, but it is progress in corruption; by development, but it is inferiority. This outline is given us in two parts. One from the human standpoint in Daniel 2:1-49, where, under the figure of a man in stately proportion, they are seen in their succession by a man of the Gentiles; the other from the Divine standpoint in Daniel 7:1-28; Daniel 8:1-27, where, by a man of God, they are seen in their origin. The one, therefore, displays their outward appearance to the eye of a man of the world; the other reveals their moral character to the eye of the man of God. Nebuchadnezzar sees these nations and “times of the Gentiles” under the outward aspect of glittering gold, shining silver, brilliant brass, and irresistible iron. Daniel sees them as wild beasts, ferocious in their nature, cruel in their career. Nebuchadnezzar sees them in a dream, as a stately man, in his palace. Daniel sees them in a vision of God, as wild beasts arising out of the waters. For, “man being in honour abideth not, he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalms 49:12). And man apart from God, has ever gone, and must ever go down, down! Even the saint without Christ can do nothing. But man apart from God can do “only evil continually.” He goes down, as it is here shown, from gold to miry clay; and from the noble lion to the nondescript dragon! Yes, man has indeed a free will, but it is ever exercised in opposition to God’s will, it is “enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Man has ever destroyed himself, and his help is found only in God (Hosea 13:9). Now look at the image. Look first at its values. All tend downwards, first gold, then silver, brass, iron, and clay. Look at its weight, its specific gravity. Gold is equivalent to 19.3; silver, 10.51; brass, 8.5; iron, 7.6; clay,
1.9. Down, down front 19.3 to 1.9. The image is top-heavy, and the firstblow of the mighty stone upon the feet shall shatter its pottery, and bring it all down in pieces. So it is with the beasts, which are all emblazoned on the banners, and stamped on the coins of the Gentile nations. But they are wild beasts, and they run rapidly down from the lion to the bear, from the bear to the leopard, and from the leopard to the hybrid monstrosity. All is on the descending scale, all is seen to be growing worse and worse. Those who look for the world to improve and progress fill it developes into the Millennial kingdom, must account for this. We all agree that these things are figures, but they are figures of a reality, and that which is represented as an ever increasing descent, cannot possibly be the figure for a gradual ascent. At any rate, it was not so interpreted to Daniel by the Holy Ghost. He said to Nebuchadnezzar, “Thou art this head of gold, and after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee” (Daniel 2:38-39). Yet, with all this advancing deterioration, there is a seeming advance in apparent greatness, but it is in reality only weakness. The first empire, Babylon, is seen as one; the second, the Medo-Persian, is seen as two; the third, Greece, becomes four (Macedonia, Thrace, Syria, Egypt); and the fourth, Rome, becomes ten. So that there is less and less of that unity which is strength, and more and more of that division and separation which is weakness. And as the image thus declines in all that is great, noble, and precious, so the beasts become more wild and ferocious. Government runs down, down! The first (Babylon) was an autocracy, “whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive” (Daniel 5:19). The second was a parliament of princes, and the law of the Persian kingdom was stronger than the Persian king (Daniel 6:1-14). The third, Greece, was a government of oligarchies; while in the fourth, Rome, we see the mingling of princely iron with the communistic clay; until, in our day, we see more and more of the clay and less and less of the iron, till good government is the one great want of the age all over the world. Man has been tried and found wanting. He cannot govern himself as an individual, apart from God. How, then, can he do it nationally? No! the descent is from God to the devil, from Christ to anti-Christ. (J. Bullinger.)
The passage here brought to our attention is only the first of several visions recorded in the book of Daniel treating of the same events. The dream of the great image as given in this chapter, and the vision of the four beasts as recorded in the seventh chapter, unquestionably describe the same things. To a certain extent, the same thing is true of the vision of the ram and the he-goat in the eighth chapter, and of the statements in the eleventh chapter regarding the succession of kings. Daniel was first of all a devout worshipper of the true God; he was further a patriotic Few; and the combination of these peculiarities turned his thought intensely toward the promise of the coming Messiah. God uses men according to their fitness, and Daniel, by his predispositions, was eminently fitted for the Messianic prophecy. But Daniel had his speciality even in this. He was a statesman--the greatest of his age. From the beginning of manhood till the weight of years was heavy upon him he stood behind the throne, and in the reigns of four kings and during two dynasties he was the chief adviser of royalty, studying with the eye of a master the relation of nations and the development of history. His Messianic prophecies were shaped accordingly. He wrote, not as did Isaiah, of Christ the sufferer, but of Christ the king, and he viewed the future in its relations to the rise and fall of kingdoms, their influence on the coming kingdom of Christ, and the final triumph of that mysterious and mighty Messianic dominion which should cover the whole earth. The dream of Nebuchadnezzar, as interpreted by Daniel, describes the succession of four great world-kingdoms, each preparing the way for the kingdom which followed it, and the four leading to the last and most wonderful, a fifth, to fill the whole earth and last for ever. All interpreters agree that the last kingdom is that of Christ. The statement, also, is explicit that the first kingdom is the Babylonish. What are the three intervening? There is substantial agreement that the second and the third kingdoms are the Medo-Persian Empire and the Macedonian. The only serious division of interpretation is in regard to the fourth kingdom. What is meant by the legs of iron, with feet part of iron and part of clay? Until within about a hundred years there has been no question that by this was signified the Roman Empire. But after Luther’s day entered German rationalism, claiming that the book of Daniel was written by an uninspired pseudo-Daniel living in the times of the Maccabees. Such a man, of course, could write history, but would neither dare nor wish to prophesy another earthly dominion antagonistic to the Jews; and so these rationalists feel obliged to find some other kingdom than the Roman to represent the fourth. It is a similar prejudice against the supernatural which has led to much of the destructive criticism of the present day, and it was such prejudice which first suggested the substitution of the Syrian Empire for the Roman in the interpretation of this passage. It is enough for our present purpose that such scholars as Keil and Pusey advance satisfactory arguments that the fourth kingdom can be no other than the Roman. Why, then, are these great kingdoms introduced here? Because they prepared the way preeminently for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth. Each world-kingdom represented certain ideas, and the downfall of that kingdom showed their inability to meet the needs of man. Each world-kingdom did a certain work in shaping human life, so that when Christ came the world was in better shape to receive Him. Let us briefly examine these great empires to see what they accomplished in these directions.
1. In showing that certain prevailing ideas of excellence were inadequate to satisfy human wants, each one of these world-kingdoms played an important part. It has evidently been a part of God’s plan to let nations try, on a great scale, their theories of human advantage. Then, as one after another nations carrying out these theories have gone down into ignominy and ruin, the fallacy of their theories of happiness has been proved. Babylon represented the idea of sensuous and sensual pleasure. There money could purchase everything, and there the grossest delights of the flesh were indulged in to the full. Its luxury was boundless. The wild and wanton feast of Belshazzar and his lords, as described in the book of Daniel, is a mild picture of the drinking habits, the profligacy and licentiousness of the Babylonians. No other nation ever illustrated so fully as they the idea that man cannot find satisfaction in material enjoyments. An Oriental people, of warm blood, living in a hot climate, with the greatest abundance about them, their very religion ministering to their ideas of pleasure, surely, they, if any in the world could do it, might find the end of life in luxury. But in this they were grievously disappointed. Their pleasure-loving was utterly demoralizing, and ended in their ruin. The Medo-Persian Empire comes next into view. This people had higher ideas of life than the Babylonian. They were monotheists, or at least dualists. They were not a luxurious people. They despised silver and gold, and when they made war upon Babylon they could not be bought off as other attacking armies. Hence Isaiah says, “Behold, I will stir up the Medea against them,”--that is, against the Babylonians--“which shall not regard silver, and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.” The controlling idea of the Medo-Persian Empire was glory. What they sought above all else was military renown. To them vastness of numbers and vastness of territory had a peculiar charm. At one time the empire covered an immense stretch of country, from the river Indus and the Hindoo-Koosh Mountains on the east to the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Sahara on the west. This was the empire which delighted in the most immense armies the world has ever known. Xerxes brought together against Greece two million and a half of men. But glory failed to satisfy, as had pleasure in the preceding kingdom. Presently this great empire, with its twenty satrapies, fell to pieces. The Macedonian Empire followed, bringing into view a wonderful civilization. Its days exalted intellect. Philosophy and art were the prominent forms of delight. Men sought refuge from the ills of life in the spacious groves of the academy, where Socrates and Plato and other great thinkers elaborated schemes of thought to explain all that troubles man and to provide a remedy. The faculties of man were at their highest, and in no age of the world has there been a finer development of literature and art. But it failed to meet the cravings of man, or to defend him against evil. The Macedonian Empire went down into speedy decay. With the death of Alexander it broke into two great fragments, the empires of the Ptolemies and the Selucidae, and presently another and greater world-empire swallowed up both of these. The Roman Empire was the last of these great world-kingdoms, and this set forth the idea of power. Rome, as no other nation before it, was thoroughly organized. The controlling ambition of Rome in its highest prosperity was to rule. It emphasized the ideas of law, of order, of force. It drew up a legal code that became the model for subsequent ages. Its mighty legions swept all lands, and nothing could stand before them. Lacking the grace and delicacy of Grecian civilization, caring less for fame and show than the Medo-Persian civilization, scorning in its best days the sybaritism of the Babylonian civilization, its fitting symbol was not the gold of Babylon, nor the silver of Persia, nor the bronze of Greece, but iron--hard, destructive, invincible iron. But law, though organized most thoroughly, and force, though developed into its highest forms, gave no guaranty of national permanence and secured no national happiness. Rome lapsed into weakness. The magnificent nation became permeated with vice, and easily fell a prey to the barbarians of the north. Its iron was mingled with clay.
2. And as the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold were broken in pieces together and carried away by the wind, while the stone that smote them became a great mountain and filled the whole earth, it is well for us to see how these world-kingdoms all contributed toward the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth before they disappeared. Babylon destroyed the tendency of the Jews to idolatry. Before they were carried away into captivity they had repeatedly gone after the false gods of the nations around them. But Babylon established them in the firmest opposition to the sin. Even Rome trembled before the fierceness of their hostility to idolatry, and at their wish removed from Jerusalem its military ensigns on which were images of Caesar. This intense monotheism was a necessary preparation for the coming of Christ. The Babylonish captivity likewise scattered the Jews everywhere. But few of them returned to Jerusalem. This dispersion of the Jews served an important purpose in making ready for the kingdom of Christ. It caused a general expectation of His coming throughout the world. It provided places for the preaching of the Gospel, for wherever a synagogue stood there Jewish Christians were at first able to speak for Christ. It secured an early presentation of the Gospel in all lands. The Jews converted at Pentecost went back into every land with the story of the Cross. The Jews in foreign lands were obliged to modify largely the ritual of their fathers. The Medo-Persian Empire broke down the scandalous Babylonish idolatry and destroyed a pestiferous influence in the ruling forces of the world. By its wide conquests it broke up the fallow ground of human thought, destroyed prejudices, and so opened the way for the Gospel. It re-established the Jewish worship in Jerusalem, and so kept the Divine fire of religious truth burning till Christ should come. The religious efforts inaugurated in the time of Cyrus and Darius and other Medo-Persian kings were permanent in their results. Not simply was the temple rebuilt, but the Scriptures were collected and copied and familiarized. And what did the Macedonian Empire do for Christ? It diffused the Greek language with Greek literature and Greek modes of thought. Intellects were wonderfully quickened the world over. The Old Testament was translated by Alexandrian scholars into Greek. Thus the Scriptures were made known to the world, thus language was fitted to express the lofty thoughts of the Gospel, and thus men were lifted up on a higher plane of thought, where they could appreciate and receive the preaching of the apostles. And Rome? The great Roman Empire established a universal dominion which facilitated the spread of the Gospel. It built good roads to all lands and policed them. It secured a fair measure of good order. In consequence the apostles could carry their Divine message all over the world. The Roman Empire also had an important bearing on Christ’s atonement. It was the official authority which put Him to death. Thus it joined Gentile and Jew as alike guilty before God, and alike needing the benefits of the great sacrifice. It furnished a legal, and, therefore, peculiarly incontrovertible testimony to His death. It proved His resurrection by stationing guards at the tomb, who would assuredly have been put to death if His body had been stolen by His disciples. And it ended the Jewish ritual, for shortly after Christ’s death Roman legions destroyed the temple, scattered the Jews, and made impossible the temple service. Can we doubt, even after this review, that Christ’s empire is superior to all that went before it, and that on their pulverized and widely scattered fragments it is built up? (Addison P. Foster.)
The Great Image
I. ALL WORLD-KINGDOMS DESTITUTE OF GOODNESS WILL END IN DUST. This is the doom of the great kingdoms of the world who are destitute of sufficient morality to preserve themselves in existence.
II. THE OLDER THE WORLD BECOMES THE LESS ENDURING AND THE MORE WORTHLESS ARE THE MERE WORLD-KINGDOMS. The longer anything that is dying lives, the less valuable it is. Those who are dying morally become of less and less worth in the world the longer they continue in it. So with all kingdoms founded on a mere worldly basis. Mere physical power becomes of less worth in proportion to the progress of the world by the development of moral force.
III. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD AND THAT OF CHRIST, IN THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE IMAGE AND THE STONE. In relation to size, materials; in their origin, strength, place in human history, length of existence. Lessons:
1. God may instruct a saint through the brain of a sinner. Here Daniel is instructed by Nebuchadnezzar.
2. That all the materials of the world may be used, and so consecrated, as means of illustrating Divine truth. The most common-place things can be ennobled by being the vehicles of moral teaching.
3. We must judge, not according to appearances, but according to the inherent strength of things and persons.
4. Sin will not resign its dominion unless it be smitten. We cannot drive out the devil of evil habits by gentle persuasion or long speeches.
5. There can be no success against evil unless we are connected with the supernatural. There are virtuous people in the world who are not Christians. There have been some bright examples of such among heathen nations. But they could make no head against sin around them, even if they had no strong tendencies to gross or palpable sin within. Sin within us, or around us, can only be smitten through connection with a “stronger than the strong man armed,” who has himself smitten evil by a sinless life and an atoning death. (Outlines by a London Minister.)
The Church and the World
The general condition of the Church, in reference to the world, urges to the consideration of large and fundamental principles. There is in the prophetical image a very exact picture of the condition of the world in a Pagan state, and, to some extent, of what it is in every state, short of moral perfectness; and there is, in the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, an equally exact picture of the Christian Church working out the renovation of the world.
I. THE IMAGE. We are not left to conjecture the meaning, either of the whole or of its separate parts (v. 36-43). The head of gold meant the Babylonish empire, especially during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (v. 37, 38). The breast and arms, which were of silver, are understood to mean the Medo-Persian empire (v. 39); the belly and thighs of brass, the Grecian, particularly under Alexander the Great (v. 39); and the legs and feet, these last being divided into ten toes, the Roman, in the different conditions of an empire and of the ten kingdoms into which it was afterwards divided (v. 40-43); all of this is commonly understood, and so generally allowed, as to warrant our omitting any special or detailed proof. It will also be observed that these different empires are introduced as occurring in succession, and as bringing before us the condition of the world continuously, during a very long period. But there remaineth another characteristic of this vision. The object revealed is an image. The word translated image is indeed something employed to signify merely a figure or resemblance of something. But its more ordinary meaning, and that which the circumstances seem to require, is that of an idol. The object introduced is in the form of a man, the materials employed are like those of idols, and the greatness and strange mixture of the figure do also correspond. But the nations of the world, and especially those introduced, must in this way somehow or other be idolatrous; and the idolatry will require to be such as may be reached, as will afterwards appear, by the progress of Christianity. Thus far we are carried by the image itself; and now we are led to look around, and to ask whether the kingdoms of this world be really such as is here supposed--whether all Pagan nations are essentially idolatrous, and whether all others not yet perfect are in the sight of God chargeable with less or more of the same offence?
1. Now, first of all, it will be recollected that the same corruption which exists in the individual affects society. Speaking of man as an individual, sin was first introduced into his heart; but out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc.; and thus the whole man becomes defiled. Then families made up of such individuals must also be impure; and this not merely as regards the conduct of particular members, but as respects domestic habits, and the authority of those who are heads of families. But families grow into tribes, and tribes have laws and law-givers exercising authority over them. But again, tribes become nations, and nations, whether by conquest or federal union, become empires; and in this state the evil is still worse. The contagion is greater, and the laws and customs, if supported by public opinion, are almost irresistible; and what now would the world itself be, if left to its own corruption, but one common though varied mass of moral evil.
2. The reasoning employed in these remarks is fully borne out by facts. The sin originally introduced into the breasts of our first parents soon discovered itself in their offspring; Cain slew Abel, and because his own works were evil and his brother’s good. In the course of a few generations the Church had to be separated from the world on account of the prevalence of iniquity. The same thing again occurred after the flood. It occurred to such an extent that in the days of Abraham, who was only the tenth from Noah, special provision had again to be made for the preservation of religious truth. And we have, if possible, a still stronger proof in the description furnished by an Apostle, as applicable to the world at the fulness of time. This account contains an explanation also of the corrupting principles. In different countries there are different forms of superstition, different kinds of prevailing indulgences, and laws, and customs having different tendencies; but in all, the corruption of the human heart is seen festering in society, and pervading all its arrangements. It is not merely that there is the oozing forth of the corruption of the heart, and this as defiling all things, but that all the influence of power, all the authority of laws, and strong current of public opinion, are wholly impure, unrighteous, and irreligious. And what, in like manner, are the sympathies of such a people, but sympathies in favour of corruption, of immoral indulgences, and unrighteous laws.
3. But there is another view of this subject, necessary to the filling up of our prophetical delineation. We understand the image to be representative of idolatry, and in correspondence with this we believe the world, in its unbelieving state, to be essentially idolatrous. It will be generally admitted that Pagan nations are for the most part idolaters. The true history of man’s condition religiously is this: Religion is of God--is communicated by His Spirit to the individual inwardly; and to the world by the revelation of His will outwardly. It is itself pure in either way; but on coming into contact with the corruption of the human heart, and of a world lying in sin, it becomes impure, and if left alone would grow into corruption itself. Confining our illustration to the world collectively, the history of nations has only to be read that it may be seen. But this very tendency to corrupt, tends also to an ultimate annihilation of religion itself. The same alienation of mind from God, which veils in forms adapted to the human heart, leads to an utter forgetfulness of God, and distaste for everything proper to His worship. Even ancient Greece and Rome had almost reached this very condition, when Christianity stepped in and saved these nations from absolute infidelity. It will be observed that in all this we have spoken only of Paganism, but the same principle extends to corruptions of every form. The very same tendency of our corrupt nature, which converted the simple faith of the Patriarchs into Paganism, changed the doctrines and worship of the Apostles and first Christians into Mohammedanism, Popery, and other forms of error less generally known. In these residers, therefore, nearly all will admit that the nations of the world are for the must part idolaters. But there is another sense in which the nations of the world are fitly represented by the prophetical image; and although this is certainly the more abstract, it is nevertheless that which seems mainly intended. The head of gold directly pictured the King of Babylon and the glory of his reign (v. 37, 38), not the priests of Bel, or anything proper to the idolatry of Babylon; and so was it of the other parts of the image (v. 39-43). These were like the head, all severally descriptive of the nations they represented politically. And politically, therefore, must these nations be held as idolatrous. The principle arrived at in the other case will assist us. Idolatry is the giving of that honour and glory to any other which is due only to God. And so, when the flatterers of Herod shouted, “It is the voice of a god and not of a man, immediately the angel of the Lord smote him because he gave not God the glory!” (Acts 12:22-23). And this was the very sin of the King of Babylon, and no doubt that which rendered the head of gold a part of the image (v. 28-30 and 34-37). And this is the master sin, first of the human heart, then of each family, and lastly of kingdoms and empires, including their laws and customs, and whatever else may direct or control society. And curious enough it is, that here also the corrupting tendency diverges into two separate currents, the one ending in an entire absence of everything like an acknowledgment of God, and the other in the embodying of interested and corrupt ends under the cover of Divine authority. The latter, as in forms of worship, is greatly more common than the other. Most nations embody their faith in their constitution, and some even allege the authority of the State to be Divine; nevertheless that it is in all its leading features opposed to the will of God, and essentially an organized form of oppression, and thus instrumental in promoting rather than restraining wickedness. This alliance nevertheless gives stability to such governments, and, on the principle already referred to, namely, that the ends so served are natural to man, and are sought by him. And the analogy holds equally good in the other branch, for what is a government, simply expressive of a nation’s will, and without any acknowledgment of God, or any observance of His laws, but infidel? Now, both of these tendencies, it will be observed, manifest themselves in Christian as well as Pagan nations. They are the concomitants of moral corruption, the one generally in circumstances of popular ignorance and superstition, and the other in nations distinguished for intellectual attainments, or at least activity, with a less amount of practical religion. The rapid survey which we have thus taken of what may be called political idolatry, is perhaps enough to show the truth of the principle proceeded upon; and there is only one other element in this condition of the world which we shall stop to notice. It is the well ascertained fact that no nation has the power of reforming itself. No barbarous nation, for example, has ever been known to become civilized except through the interference of some other nation already in that state. All intellectual improvement originates with religion--with revealed truth. This at least may be proved, that the introduction of religion to any nation is ever followed by intellectual improvement. And it is all but proved that nothing but religion will so humanise the mind of any nation as to give it a taste for general knowledge. And so far as the lights of history guide us, we are farther induced to believe that the early improvement even of heathen nations, such as that of Greece, was brought about by the importation of knowledge from countries which had not yet wholly lost an acquaintance with Divine truth. The prophetical image was thus literally descriptive of the condition of the world. The head was of gold, and is passed downwards into silver, and brass, and iron mixed with clay; but still it was a piece of dead matter, undergoing indeed changes, but these were all downward. They were as nations themselves, still becoming more and more debased, and yet, in no stage of this progress, discovering aught of a redeeming tendency. This, be it observed, is the character under which all nations, unblessed with the Gospel, are to be seen, and in so far as any nation is wanting in moral and religious influence, it is under the same taint, and is subject to the same progress. This, therefore, is the aspect under which the world ought to be contemplated, apart from the effects of Gospel truths, or short of their full and transforming power.
II. THE STONE CUT OUT OF THE MOUNTAIN WITHOUT HANDS. The cutting of this stone out of the mountain was not coeval with the commencement of the succession of kingdoms set forth in the image. “Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out,” which is explained in the 44th verse thus: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom.” Then, as to the execution of the threatening that this stone should smite the image, it is said in the vision, “which smote the image upon his feet,” that is, during the continuance of the Roman empire; and yet, in doing this, it is added that not only the iron and clay, but also “the brass, the silver, and the gold” were to be broken to pieces together. This leads us at once to the time of the cutting out of the stone. It was to be looked forward to during the times of the Babylonish, the Medo-Persian, and the Grecian Empires; but it was to occur under the Roman. And how is it then possible for anyone to doubt as regards the fulfilment? The explanatory description is, “In the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.” The figure introduced is in many respects fitted to bring before us the leading characteristics of the Church as regards the world.
1. And first, as to its origin. Quarries were of old frequently in mountains, and there is nothing perhaps in this beyond a proper keeping with the imagery employed; but its being cut out of the mountain “without hands” was no doubt intended to point at the Divine origin of Christianity, and this as distinguishing, it from every other form of religion. It was literally of God. Its foundation stone was His own incarnate Son--its first propagaters were His inspired Apostles--the first Christian Church was born under the special power of Pentecostal influence. Such an institution is eminently of God, and must, from its very nature, endure for ever.
2. Another of its characteristics is set forth in the power of the stone to break the image. We all know that among the rude implements of ancient times employed in breaking any piece of carved work, a mass of stone was the most natural, and that which was most frequently used. Now, be it remembered, that the prophetical image has been explained as meaning not the abstract constitution and power of nations, but their idolatrous character--and this, whether it respects the moral condition of their superstitious and polluted worship, or their self-willed and unrighteous, if not also impious, governments. The thing to be broken, therefore, and reduced to powder, is not the ordinance of government, which is of God, but the idolatry of nations, which is wholly of man. And now it will be seen that Christianity, as taught by the Apostles, was eminently fitted to effect this--was so fitted as simply by its progress to carry out all that is here meant. But allow conscience to be once awakened--let the individual once feel himself restrained from wonted habits, and compelled to unwonted causes of conduct--and even he will be brought into collision with his fellow men. His own family will take offence, and his neighbours will eye him askance, and by and bye an arm of power will be lifted up against him. But allow the one to become a thousand, and the thousand to become many thousands, and now the cry will be raised of “turning the world upside down.” It will now become a matter of necessity, either that such parties shall be freed from sinful laws and customs, or that they shall be put down by the hand of power. What reason would thus pourtray, history narrates. The day of Pentecost was but as yesterday, when the doctrines of Peter and John gave offence, and they were called before the
Jewish Sanhedrim, and taught as they had been by the Master himself to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” they were nevertheless compelled to say to the High Priest and his Council, “whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God judge ye, for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20); and on another occasion, “we ought to obey God rather than men” Acts 5:29). This of itself affords proof as well as illustration; but the instructions of the Saviour, originally given to His Apostles, are more direct and certain. (Matthew 10:16-18; Matthew 10:34-36.) Nothing can more Clearly show that the Church was to be brought into collision with the idolatry of the world, and that it was in the first place to suffer.
3. It may, however, be well to rest here for a little, so as to look at what is said of this smiting of the image even on the feet, that the whole image was thereby reduced to powder. In this we have just another proof of the principle on which we are proceeding. Suppose mere idolatry, as known under some particular form, to be meant by the image, then would the stone require to have been applied to the head of gold, as well as to the feet of iron and clay. But if the idolatry meant, be as we have been alleging, that alienation from God, and substitution of the corrupt will of the creature for the unerring will of the Creator, then will the idolatry brought before us be one as the prophetical image, no matter that the head and the other parts are of diverse materials. It will be thus seen that the kingdom of Satan is one, though of many successive ages, and that it remained in power down to the time of the first planting of Christianity. And it conveys to us this farther idea, which is of some practical importance, namely, that whatever remains of national alienation from God, is in reality a part of the kingdom of Satan, and such as ought to be kept under the power of the stone. And what would you more? it will be said. Would you have her to do as she had been dealt by? Would you have her to persecute? By no means. And what would you then? Simply to carry forward the work in which she had been engaged, with all the advantages of her acquired power; not to rest, but to carry forward the work of Christ as regards Scriptural instruction, till, by the blessing of God, the remaining outfield be as the vineyard of the Lord; and not to rest as regards laws, and customs, and authority, till these be severally based on the Word, and imbued by a spirit of piety.
4. But this carries us forward to another and most important branch of this subject; we mean the stone becoming the mountain and filling the whole earth. It is altogether too large to be received merely as one characteristic; and, therefore, we shall speak of it in parts. It will be observed, then, from the vision, that the pounding of the image and the enlargement of the stone, so as to become a mountain and to fill the earth, were not strictly consecutive, that is, the stone did not first become a mountain filling the earth, and then smote the image, neither that the stone first broke to pieces the image, and that when this was quite done it became a mountain, for the co-existence of the stone and the image for some considerable time is clearly implied (v. 44). The thing meant was, that the stone, when first cut out of the mountain, and when still portable, was employed in pounding the image, and that as this went on, so it grew, till by a diminution of the image and an enlargement of the stone the one took the place of the other. The one disappeared and the other became a mountain, filling the whole earth. And this we have in part seen. As Christianity grew, Paganism and Pagan rule decayed, and nominally at least, Christianity is even now seen as some lofty mountain towering over all human institutions, and as it grows applying its weight--its influence--to the demolition of another and another position of the fabric of Paganism.
5. But we ought not, perhaps, to conclude this series of remarks without adverting to an interpretation of this and similar passages, which has, in different ages, been the cause of great social mischief, and which ought to be guarded against. When the Reformation in Germany had well-nigh reached a state of general diffusion, there broke out among the half-instructed people an opinion leading to revolution and bloodshed. Galled with the continuance of political grievances, they sought to obtain deliverance under the influence of religious motives. They fancied themselves entitled to revolutionise states and overturn governments, for the purpose of erecting in their room others more in accordance with what they believed to be the will of God. And the effect was, first a civil war, and afterwards the destruction of the parties engaged, and last of all the hindrance of religion, as regarded its progress and also its legitimate influence. On these accounts it may be well very distinctly to guard whatever is said on a subject of this kind. This is due to Society--it is due to as many as would be instructed and act on their belief; but it is due also to religion. And it is a matter of satisfaction that this may be done simply by pointing back to the doctrine of the vision. It is not, then, be it remarked, that the Church is to interfere with the affairs of the State, and far less that Church members are to draw the sword, and thus forcibly to alter the laws and constitution of kingdoms. The Church is spiritual, and it is to carry on its pounding process only by spiritual means. It is to shed abroad the light of the Gospel on society, and thus to dispose the nation to righteous laws and right government. (D. Macfarlan, D.D.)
The King’s Dream
What was its meaning?
I. THE GREAT EMBLEMED WORLD-EMPIRES.
1. The Babylonian monarchy was the head of gold. The head well emblemed it for its unity and intelligence. The sagacious and despotic will of the king bound the far-reaching kingdoms into one. Nebuchadnezzar’s victories were those of peace as well us of war.
2. The Medo-Persian Empire. Emblemed by the breast and arms of silver. For two centuries it was the universal empire. But it lacked the unity of the kingdom it overthrew and was as inferior to it as silver, for value and solidity, is inferior to gold. Cyrus was its greatest ruler.
3. The Empire of Greece was emblemed by the belly and thighs of brass. Its soldiers were known among the ancients as the brazen-coated Greeks. Its founder was Alexander, a swift, transcendent, military genius. He sought, with wise, philanthropic aim, to blend the nations of Asia and Europe into a brotherhood.
4. The Roman Empire was emblemed by the legs of iron, with the feet part of iron and part of clay. The stern, if not savage, valour of Rome was well pictured by iron. The Romans, the ironsides, the iron hearts, vanquished the world to their power. But their power was mixed with weakness, for they gathered nations into their citizenship without inspiring them with their own hardy virtues. So Rome ended in being divided into many kingdoms. All the four powers became embodied in the Roman, which was the world-power when our Saviour was upon earth, and thus may all be deemed as broken with it.
II. CHRIST’S EMBLEMED KINGDOM. The stone cut from the mountain.
1. Humble in its beginning was Christ’s kingdom.
2. Heavenly in its origin. “Without hands” was the stone cut. God set up this kingdom. His strength is in it. It is from God, for it makes men Godlike
3. It is destined to be universal. The stone grew till it filled the whole earth. So is Christ’s kingdom to grow. That kingdom is coming in the hearts and homes and lives of men.
4. This kingdom is eternal. When many kingdoms have passed, this has survived the treachery of friends and the fierce assaults of foes. Its glory cannot be extinguished. It shall “endure for ever.” (G. T. Coster.)
Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands.
The Dream Recovered and Interpreted
The vision suggests to us many interesting things concerning the Kingdom of Christ.
1. Its superhuman origin. The stone was “cut out” of the mountains without hands. There was no natural cause for its severance. So the foundation of Christ’s kingdom was the result of no development of human character, but rather of the bringing of a new spiritual and heavenly power into the world.
2. The comparative feebleness of its beginning. The language of the vision indicates that the stone grew from a small size until it became a huge mountain. Frequently earthly kingdoms have had very insignificant beginnings. So with this Kingdom of Christ, which began with the meeting of a few Galilean peasants in an upper room.
3. The gradualness of its progress. Not all at once was this development made. It was a work of time. And so in the kingdom which it symbolises advancement was by degrees. Beginning at Jerusalem, its first preachers sought their earliest converts among their fellow-countrymen; but, as the seed sloughs off its outer shell when it begins to grows the Christian Church very soon put off its Jewish restrictiveness and found a root in Gentile cities.
4. Its universal extent. The mountains “filled the whole earth.” “The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth.”
5. The perpetual duration of this kingdom. “ It shall never be destroyed,” and “it shall not be left to other people.” This perpetuity is intimately associated with its character, and that again with its origin. (W. M. Taylor, D.D.)
The Jewish people and kingdom, to all human appearance and judgment, was, at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, hopelessly destroyed; for in the history of the world a nation which has been broken up as the Jewish nation then was, never reformed itself, its people becoming absorbed and incorporate with succeeding nations. But it was not to be so with this nation, apostate and broken though it was--and is. We see in the story of Daniel and his three friends the germ out of which is to spring the nation’s regeneration. In these young men the true principles of the Theocratic Kingdom survived; faith, obedience, and the spirit of prophecy. The first chapter has to do with the fact of this remnant and God’s special protection thrown around it. In the second chapter we begin to see the Spirit of God working in the heart of the ruler of the great world-power, disturbing it with dreams of things to come; and also we see the spirit of prophecy working in the head and heart of Daniel, to interpret the dream of the great heathen king, and to set forth the course of history among the nations until God should re-establish His own Theocratic Kingdom and give the world to the saints according to His original and eternal purpose.
I. THE GREAT IMAGE. The general meaning of this dream is perfectly clear. It represents the succession of great world-powers which should rise in the world, to whom God had given, directly or indirectly, the sovereignty of the earth, until Christ himself should come and completely overthrown them, once for all, and take possession of the whole earth, and reign upon it for ever with and by His saints (Daniel 7:18-27; Revelation 5:9-10; Revelation 11:15-17; Revelation 19:6; Revelation 20:4-6; Revelation 22:5). In this image two things are particularly set forth: that the world-power tends to division, as seen in the legs, feet, and toes; and that it gradually deteriorates from the gold, down through silver, brass, and iron to potter’s clay. It is only when the world-power becomes a mixture of iron and clay, which cannot become permanently united, though having in it an element of strength, that it is finally overthrown. The attempt of Napoleon to establish a fifth universal monarchy was defeated and brought to naught by his two great reverses at Moscow and Waterloo. There shall be no other universal kingdom, that is, of a merely world-power. Man has come to the end of his strength in the matter of conquest. Russia may attempt to succeed to universal dominion, but will fail even as Napoleon.
II. THE STONE CUT OUT OF THE MOUNTAIN. The prophet having described to the king the progress of the successive world-powers, through four universal kingdoms, now takes up the interpretation of that mysterious event which he saw in his dream: A stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which first smote the colossal image on its feet of clay and brake it in pieces, alike the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold, and then itself increased more and more until it filled the whole earth. This he declares to be the establishment of a universal kingdom upon the ruins of the great world-powers. This kingdom, however, is not a successor to the former in the sense in which the four kingdoms succeeded one another. This kingdom had no part in the image, but was different in its origin and in its method of power.
1. The stone cut out of the mountain without hands. The expression “cut out of the mountain without hands” clearly indicates the supernatural origin and character of this omnipotent power, which was to break in pieces all these world-kingdoms, take possession of all things, and establish a kingdom for itself.
2. The universal and everlasting kingdom. The world-powers were never absolutely universal; but the Kingdom of Christ shall include and fill the whole earth.
3. The suddenness of the advent of the stone. There is no preliminary movement ascribed to the stone. It seems suddenly to rise up and smite the image with one mighty blow that shatters it to pieces. It is not a gradual, but an immediate conquest. There is no struggle for supremacy; no long conflict ending in final victory by the gradual rise of power and increase of might. This, therefore, cannot refer to the slow conquest of the world by the Gospel. The stone first smote the world-powers in pieces and scattered them like chaff from a summer threshing floor; then it went on and grew and filled the whole earth, and there was found no power to oppose it. This must refer to the sudden coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of man, in the clouds of Heaven (Daniel 7:13; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 1:13; Revelation 14:14; compare Matthew 24:30; Matthew 25:31; Matthew 26:64). When Jesus comes again in the clouds of Heaven he will destroy all the organized powers of this world.
III. THE EFFECT OF DANIEL’S INTERPRETATION. When Daniel had finished his interpretation of his dream, the king was so profoundly moved by its majestic truth that he fell upon his face, and having worshipped Daniel, caused that oblations should be offered to him. We have no record of what Daniel did when this act of worship was paid to him, but no doubt he rejected it, or at least fully understood that the act of worship was not meant for him, as it certainly was not, since he had already disclaimed any power of his own to interpret the dream or unfold the secrets of God (v. 27, 28). Moreover, the words of the king clearly intimated that he meant the worship to be for the God of Daniel, and not Daniel himself. “Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings.” This intimates a partial conversion of Nebuchadnezzar to the true God. The second result was that it brought to Daniel power and authority in the government of the kingdom, even as a similar revelation of secrets and interpretation of dreams brought to Joseph in Egypt great power, to be used in God’s service. Thus do we see how God takes possession, even in their day of power, of the kingdoms of the earth; so far at least as is necessary to carry out His purposes. The third effect was to lift the three friends of Daniel also into places of great eminence and usefulness. What a lesson is this for the encouragement of those who have purposed in their hearts to be true to God in the world where they are placed for a testimony! (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
The Evil and Good in Human History
Here is a remarkable fact--a Pagan ruler made the organ of a Divine revelation. The great Father of Spirits has access to the souls of every type. The deepest Paganism cannot exclude Him from contact with the spirits of men. There are two circumstances connected with the Divine communication to this monarch which in all likelihood are ever associated with “communications” from Heaven to depraved spirits. It came to the king entirely irrespective both of his choice and effort. And it had a most distressing influence upon his mind. Many great souls move about heathendom under the pressure of strange and soul-disturbing visions from eternity.
I. THE GREAT ATAGONISTIC PRINCIPLES IN HUMAN HISTORY--GOOD AND EVIL. The huge image is the symbolization of evil, as existing everywhere in the kingdoms of men. The four great dynasties of the ancient world are here represented in one colossal human form in order to symbolize in its totality the moral evil that sways mankind at large. The image stands for evil, the stone stands for good.
II. THE VERY INTERESTING SCENE OF THE GOOD ENTIRELY DESTROYING THE EVIL. To this day the great portion of the world is under the dark reign of evil. It is enthroned on the heart of humanity. To see the good, therefore, rising, growing, battling with it everywhere, and finally overwhelming it in ruin, is a sight deeply interesting and refreshing, both on account of its novelty and soul-inspiring character. This is the glorious scene before us. The evil is entirely destroyed in the vision.
1. The entire destruction of evil is effected by a supernatural manifestation of the good. There are circumstances connected with this stone which undoubtedly indicate its supernaturalness. Its origin, its self-motion, its world-wide expansion.
(1) Christianity is good in a supernatural form. Its founder had a supernatural history.
(2) The good in this supernatural form is the good to effect the entire destruction of evil. Good in its natural forms would never master evil. It tried for ages. Tried in the devotions of religion, the beauties of poetry, the enactments of law, the teachings of philosophy, But the “world by wisdom knew not God.” In its supernatural forms of Christianity good becomes “mighty through God to the pulling down of the strongholds of sin.” In this form it is truth in its mightiest force--moral truth, a force to move the affections, the conscience, the entire soul.
(3) The entire destruction of evil by the good is not what appearances would indicate. Evil, as a whole, stands before you as a vast Colossus. Every part of the figure is imperial. It stands from age to age on the vast field of human life the most commanding and the most splendid of objects. The supernatural form of good was to human eyes very mean. To the worldly there was nothing attractive or imposing about Jesus. Who would have thought that “the stone” would at the first touch shiver that huge figure? Yet it did so.
(4) The entire destruction of evil by good involves a thorough change in the character of the world. Here is the removal from the world of its most conspicuous object. How complete the destruction! A large thing is removed from the world’s horizon, but a larger takes its place. The image was great, but the mountain was greater. Great as evil is, good is greater. A human thing is removed from the world’s horizon, but a Divine thing takes its place, Evil in this world is a human production. The good that is to fill the world will be Divine.
This subject supplies:
1. A guide to a correct judgment. Judge not from appearances.
2. A test of moral character. In order to be a Christian indeed evil must not only be smitten, the Divine thing must fill up thy nature.
3. A warning to infidel opposition. All opposition is both useless and dangerous.
4. Encouragement to Christian labour. The stone has smitten evil. The stone will roll on--nothing can stop it. The kingdom will be an “everlasting kingdom.” (Homilist.)
The statue and the Stone
In primitive times dreams were often used as the mediums of Divine intimations. “In slumberings upon the bed,” says Elihu, “God openeth the ears of teen, and sealeth their instruction.”
I. The first point of contrast is the ENORMOUS BULK of the statue as compared with the SMALLNESS of the stone. Man estimates the importance of things by their size and appearance. Vast proportions produce a feeling of awe; and primitive races strove to minister to this feeling by building gigantic structures which would exalt the idea of human genius in contrast with man’s personal insignificance. The idol which the Babylonish monarch saw in his dream was in harmony with the huge monoliths, temples, and human-headed bulls which formed the architectural ornaments of his capital. Its colossal size admirably represented the material power and extent of his kingdom. Mere bulk and physical massiveness were the characteristics of the great empires of antiquity. But God’s thoughts are not as man’s thoughts. In nature He accomplishes His mightiest operations by the most insignificant agencies. Large islands are created by the labours of tiny coral polyps. And as in nature, so in grace. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which is the least of all the seeds that be in the earth. What was Palestine but a very little country among the mighty continents of the earth? And what was Israel but an insignificant people in comparison with the great nations of antiquity? And was not Bethlehem where Jesus was born one of the least cities of the land, and the house of Joseph among the poorest and most obscure families in it?
II. Another point of contrast is the HETEROGENEOUS CHARACTER of the statue as compared with the HOMOGENEOUS NATURE of the stone. The statue was composed of gold and silver, iron and clay; and these substances were moulded and held together in a human shape, not by a vital organisation, nor by chemical affinity, but by mere mechanical force. And in this respect the statue graphically represented the outward symmetry of the great world-kingdoms of antiquity, which was the result, not of a natural spontaneous association, but, of a forced union of discordant elements by human power. The might of the autocrats of Egypt, Assyria, and Rome blended together races and creeds that had no natural affinity or sympathy with each other into one form of government, one mode of political life, and one mould of religious profession. This hard mechanical uniformity was secured by crushing the instincts of human nature and the liberties of the individual. And hence there was a constant tendency in this compulsory unity towards disintegration. The kingdom of Satan is a kingdom divided against itself, and, therefore, cannot stand. Men who hate each other, and have nothing otherwise in common, will combine for some wicked purpose. But the unhallowed alliance has in it a principle of schism. But widely different was the stone, which symbolized the Kingdom of Heaven. It was a homogeneous substance. All its particles were of the same nature, and they were held together by the law of mutual cohesion and chemical affinity. The same force that united these particles into this compact form, changing the mud at the bottom of the ocean, or the sand on its shores, by pressure under massive rocks, or by the induration of volcanic outbursts into stone, still held these particles together because of their similarity, and resisted the processes of weathering to which they were exposed. The stone of the vision was no conglomerate or breccia in which pebbles or fragments of different minerals were held together by mechanical force, but in all likelihood, judging from the geological formation of the region where the vision occurred, a mass of limestone or marble, whose substance was homogeneous--composed of the same calcareous sediment, which fire and pressure had metamorphosed into this solid and enduring form. And how strikingly in this respect did it symbolize the City of God, which is compactly built together--the Kingdom of God, which is composed of those who are all one in Christ Jesus. Believers have a strong family resemblance. Notwithstanding their individual peculiarities, and their varieties of character, culture, and circumstance, they are all essentially one, after the image of God’s unity, and consequently of His eternity. Their unity is not legal, but spiritual; not of dull uniformity, but of bright unanimity.
III. Another point of contrast is the LIMITATION of the statue as compared with the ILLIMITABLE DEVELOPMENT of the stone. The statue was of gigantic size, but its human shape circumscribed its boundaries. Its outlines were rigidly determined. And this was the characteristic of the vast empires of antiquity, which, almost as soon as they were formed, became stereotyped and incapable of progress. Unassisted human nature had reached in the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Roman empires its utmost limits, and disclosed its fullest capacities; and we see how incapable it was of bringing anything to perfection--how stunted and stereotyped all its mightiest efforts were. China has lived for two thousand years upon the work of five centuries; it has never got beyond the doctrines of Confucius as explained and unfolded by Menucius. In striking contrast with the fixed limits and definite proportions of these human civilizations is the indefinite size and shape of the Kingdom of God. The stone is an appropriate symbol of it, the rough stone taken out of the quarry--the amorphous boulder lying on the moor, not the stone crystallized into the mathematical facets of the gem. The statue, moulded by human art, shares in the limitations of man’s own nature. Made by God, the stone shares in His infinitude. The mystic stone in the vision grew and expanded until it became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. The landscape consisted of itself and its shadow. It presented a different aspect from each new point of view. The uniform monotonous despotisms of antiquity were created by man for his own aggrandisement; they had, therefore, fixed bounds of space and duration beyond which they could not pass. But the Kingdom of god is the creation of Divine love and grace, and, therefore, it unfolds with the need of man, and develops new capacities of blessing him, and endures for ever. The image of the stone does not suitably convey this idea. Every stone, however rough, has a limit as fixed as the statue. But the idea of fixed shape is not so inherent in the stone as in the statue, A stone may be of any shape--may be weathered by the elements, or roughened by violent contact with other stones into the most varied forms; but a human statue must preserve the human shape and observe the fixed proportions of the human form. So, in like manner, the idea of development is not inherent in a stone. It is of a fixed size; it cannot become larger. But Scripture imparts the power of growth to it, and secures, by a combination of images, what one alone cannot effect. We see this in the union of ideas borrowed from the mineral and vegetable kingdoms--from architecture and plant life--in some of the images employed to designate the Christian Church and the Christian life. “In whom all the building framed together, groweth into an holy temple in the Lord”; “Rooted and grounded in love.” The grandeur of the Bible gives the grandeur of its own conceptions to every comparison it uses, expands its powers, and imparts to it qualities which it does not inherently possess, and thus makes it more elastic to represent the expansive force of the Kingdom of God. There is nothing fixed or stereotyped in this kingdom. It has a wonderful power of adjustment and assimilation. It expands its horizon as humanity progresses. It grows with human growth. The idea of growth is inherent in the Christian religion. It has created for itself a literature and an art in which progress is essential. The horizontalism and exact regularity of Greek and Assyrian architecture expressed the permanence and immutability of the religious system associated with it; while the verticalism and endless variety of the Gothic architecture embodied in a physical form the ideas of advancement, elevation, and progress contained in the Christian religion, which has chosen that style of art for its own. The religious of the heathen keep man as he is--confined to the earth, limited and bounded on every side by the restrictions and incapacities of his faith; the religion of Jesus raises man from the ground, lifts up his nature to another world, arouses his intellect and lightens his cares, bursts the fetters of his flesh, sublimes his affections, fills the whole sphere of his vision with grand and aspiring spectacles, and embodies itself in structures which exhibit a similar analogy. The religion that will satisfy the soul is a religion that makes provision for its growth and expansion, that shares in the infinitude and indefinite progressiveness of man. The stone must destroy the statue.
IV. Another point of contrast is the BRILLIANT APPEARANCE of the statue, and the VALUE of the materials of which it is composed, as compared with the MEANNESS and commonness of the stone, and the WORTHTLESSNESS of its substance. With the exception of the clay, out of which its extremities were partly moulded, all the other materials used in the composition of the statue were exceedingly valuable according to the human standard. These materials are the highest forms which the mineral kingdom assumes--the sublimation of the substance of the earth, and therefore they fitly represent all the pomp and circumstance of the proud kingdoms of the world--all that is strongest, most precious, and enduring in human sovereignty. On the other hand, the stone which smote the magnificent statue had no value or splendour. It was a rude aggregation and consolidation of the common sand or mud or dust of the earth. It was made up of the materials which are trodden under foot or employed only m the humblest uses. Who values a rough stone by the wayside? And in this respect it is a fit symbol of the Founder of the Heavenly Kingdom, who, while on earth, had no form or comeliness, and was despised and rejected of men. Christ in His life and death presents no attraction to the natural eye. His Church was the filth and offscouring of all things to the world. The subjects of His kingdom were the weak, the foolish, the ignorant, and the poor. The dream of the night has become the grandest fact of history; the vision of a heathen monarch has become the reality of Christendom; and every age will give the vision and the dream a grander and yet grander interpretation. (H. Macmillan, D.D.)
The Stone and the Image
Ordinarily there is nothing more unreal and flimsy than a dream. It is but a shadow, a freak of fancy, the effluence of a distempered body or an unquiet soul, the echo of sounds we heard, or the confused picture of sights we saw, on the previous day, a gossamer structure reared by the imagination, which the first breath of awaking reason will dissipate for ever. The great mass of dreams have all this unreality about them. They are as a shadow that declineth. They are more the creatures of the past than the prophets of the future. Their face is turned towards yesterday rather than to-morrow. And yet in the history of the world there can be no doubt they have played an important part, as they have been one of the ways in which God has communicated His will to man. And even the Apocalypse may not unfitly be viewed as a glorious dream. In fact, there is no dream recorded in Scripture which is destitute of meaning; and the meaning of the dream before us is fully expounded by Daniel. It was the dream of a pagan, of a wicked and cruel pagan. But all souls are God’s, and He has access to them all; and the narrative before us shows that, though Israel was God’s peculiar people, to whom He specially revealed Himself until the fulness of the times should come. He did not leave Himself without witness among the heathen. He was asleep upon his bed, when lo! the form of a stupendous image loomed before him and filled his soul. Some men forget their dreams, forget even that they have dreamed. So did Nebuchadnezzar. He knew only that he had had a dream which greatly troubled him. In vain he tried to recover his dream. What was to be done? He had men, however, about him whose business it was, among other things, to interpret dreams. Let them be summoned and try their skill. They were staggered at the claim. They reminded him that no king, lord, or ruler had ever asked for such an extravagant and impossible thing before; and told him that what they could not do, no one could do except the “gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” This was true. No one but God could tell the dream and the interpretation thereof. But there was one in his court whom God knew well. Let us look at the vision and the interpretation. The vision, then, consisted of an image, a majestic image, not like some of those which at times appear in our dreams, monstrous and distorted, but symmetrical. It was in the form of a man. But its material was not uniform. Its head was resplendent gold; and not merely gold, but fine gold, gold that had been purified. Then came the breast and the arms, and these were composed of the metal next in preciousness--they were of silver. Below these were the thighs, which were of inferior metal still; and then came the legs of iron; and last of all came the feet, which were part of iron and part of clay. This was the vision, and doubtless as soon as Daniel had finished the description it would be recognised by Nebuchadnezzar as true, just as memory promptly verifies what we had for a moment forgotten, as soon as it is brought to our mind by another. Then comes the interpretation. It promised well at the beginning. It seemed to be very flattering to the king, for he was the head of gold. But the cup of comfort was dashed from his lips at the next sentence, for it speaks of a kingdom that should rise after him. Startling intelligence for the proud and powerful king that he was to pass away. So much for the head. But what of the silver breast and arms? This was the Medo-Persian dynasty, which was established during the life of Cyrus, who marched through the earth with resistless armies, melting the nations as the sun melts structures of snow, and subduing them to his sway. It was touching him that the handwriting on the wall gleamed forth Belshazzar’s fatal doom, “Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” But was even this to last? No; a few years only should elapse, and then a brazen kingdom should arise under the victorious sway of Philip and his son Alexander the Groat, the latter of whom, at the close of his sanguinary battles, finding himself the conqueror of the world, sat down and wept that nothing more was left for his ambition. Surely that kingdom will endure. Look at it. It is so vast. It comprises Macedonia--it comprises Greece--it comprises Persia--it comprises Media--it comprises Asia Minor--it comprises Egypt--it comprises Afghanistan and the Punjaub. Surely such a kingdom will endure. There is not a power in the world to resist him, to fight with him. Alexander is emperor of the earth. But at length he died, and another power arose which is set forth in the iron legs of the great image. Before the prowess of Rome the Greece-Macedonian empire succumbed like a pigmy in the grasp of a giant, a giant which extended its sway more widely than any previous kingdom. Its empire was about two thousand miles in breadth. Its length extended three thousand miles, from the Western Ocean to the Euphrates. It razed Carthage to the ground--it subdued Spain and Gaul--it attacked England and Scotland--it triumphed in Judaea--and to this day may be seen, in Rome, the stone from which the miles were measured throughout the enormous extent of its dominion. But the iron which broke in pieces all else was itself mixed with clay in the toes of the feet, signifying that the Roman empire should be partly weak and partly strong. This wonderful prediction, uttered six hundred years before the birth of Christ, was accomplished with the most literal exactness. It was the forestalling of a series of events which no human sagacity could possibly infer from the condition of things at the time of Daniel. Nay, it was the declaration of what then seemed impossible. But the God to whom prophecy is history, who sees the end from the beginning, who causes weak things to confound the mighty, and things which are not to bring to nought things that are, displayed this wondrous succession of dynasties as in a panorama before the mind of Daniel. And there is one thing which we must very specially note. It is this--that the dream of Nebuchadnezzar did not represent the mere decay of one kingdom through successive stages of diminishing grandeur and power until it finally collapsed in its feet of clay and iron. This might have been in keeping with the general character of the image itself, and Daniel might have said, “Thy kingdom, which is now of gold, shall become at length silver, after that it shall degenerate into brass, then it shall be transformed into iron, and shall finish its course in iron mixed with clay.” This has been the history of some nations, but it was not to be the history of Babylon. It should perish in its grandeur. It should be smitten in its strength; so should the Persian, so should the Macedonian; while the Roman power, on the other hand, should, after centuries of imperial rule, sink Slowly into decay, being at length divided into ten minor monarchies. This was one part of the sublime and impressive vision by which the sleep of Nebuchadnezzar was troubled on that memorable night. Now we turn to look at another. The object at which we have been looking was an image at rest, a colossal monument standing, as it were, in solitary grandeur in the midst of an expanded plain. But yonder in the distance, on the edge of the horizon, is seen another object. It is not at rest. It moves. It moves, too, of its own accord: It comes nearer. And lo! it is a stone; a stone which bears no marks of the delver’s art and power. It does not bear the dint of hammer nor the scratch of crowbar. It has been out out of the mountain without hands. And this is not all. It grows as it rolls, unlike other stones, which, whether rolling in river or down the hill-side, lose something of their size from moment to moment, the very friction chipping them or wearing them away. This stone expanded as it moved, rose higher, spread wider, advanced with more terrible momentum. But what of the image? Was that left standing? No. Nebuchadnezzar saw the stone roll onwards in the direction of the image with silent and majestic force, like a very symbol of omnipotence, and it was not arrested by the colossal monument and driven back. The stone smote the image on the feet--that is, at its very foundations--and the heterogeneous mass fell down. But it did not lie prostrate in its completeness as when a hurricane wind upheaves a pine tree from its rooting and lays it like a giant on the ground. The stone rolled over it, and broke it in pieces, and ground it to dust, and the wind carried the particles away so that no place was found for them. And the stone ceased not, but rolled on, growing as it rolled, until it filled the whole earth.
I. We see in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar THE GREAT FACT THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST, THE KINGDOM OF TRUTH, IS AT LENGTH TO BE SUPREME OVER ALL OTHER KINGDOMS. Other kingdoms have always hitherto represented ideas and forces of evil. From the beginning, even down to the present moment, there has not yet been one kingdom which has aimed supremely at the well-being of the world. All of them, without exception, have been selfish and aggressive, aiming at the accession of territory and the augmentation of power and wealth. There have been men who have aimed at blessing others without dreaming of any blessing for themselves. But there has never been any nation which has been inspired with such noble aspirations. There is not one now. England, as one of the great dynasties of the world, is not contemplating any such purpose. She is seeking trade, wealth, territory, dominion, as other powers have done before her. Nations look at each other with jealousy and distrust and passion, as if they had only to fear danger from each other. But they do not take account of that invisible kingdom which is working behind and through them all, and which, by its secret and Divine power, can undermine their foundations. The image which Nebuchadnezzar saw did not fall of its own accord. It was not destroyed by a band of enemies. It did not crumble to pieces by natural decay. It was not upheaved by earthquake or consumed by fire. It was destroyed by miracle, by a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. The same Divine power formed it that made the world, and it rolled along under the same invisible impulse which wheels the planets in their courses. The gospel is always represented as an exotic--a plant brought from Heaven to earth. It is not the offspring of humangenius, of human culture, or of human virtue. The grapes of the Gospel could not grow on the thorns of human nature. How little man could do in the way of elaborating a saving system of truth may be seen by what man did actually do in the most enlightened nation of the world. In his wisdom he knew not God. For thousands of years the problem of human redemption through the power of unaided human genius and virtue had a fair trial. But how did it succeed? Men became warriors, statesmen, scholars, philosophers, poets--but redeemers, never. Here and there sprang up in a few hearts the conviction that man was, somehow, far beneath what he should be, but no help came--no help could come unless it came from above. And it came in the incarnation of our Lord. He was the stone cut out of the mountain without hands. Men have striven to account for Him without the acceptance of His Divine nature and mission. It is vain. They cannot account for Him. No man can rise above the essential conditions of the race to which be belongs. Christ was far above them--He was a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. All other men have been born in the ordinary way of succession. Christ was conceived of the Virgin Mary. He was a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. Of all the unnumbered millions that have trodden the earth there has not been one who, in virtue of his own power, could escape the stroke of death; but Christ possessed the prerogative of defying the assault of the universal foe, exclaiming, “No man taketh away My life from Me: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” He was the stone out out of the mountain without hands. We do not despise the stones which have been cut out of the mountain with hands; in other words, we despise no true thing, no human work which is beautiful, no human deed which is right, no human word which is noble, no human improvements which ameliorate the condition of the world. All hail inventions, laws, education, which enable the race to rise even by a single step out of its ignorance and degradation and misery; but the great image of evil will stand against them all, firm as the rocky headlands against wind and waves, and will fall only before the majestic movement, and the Divine force of the “stone which has been cut out of the mountain without hands.” Such is the origin of the stone. It is supernatural, and it is from Heaven.
II. We notice THE APPARENT CONTRAST BETWEEN THE AGENT WHICH DESTROYS EVIL AND THE EVIL WHICH IS TO BE DESTROYED. A stupendous image--that is the evil; a stone, quite small at first, cut out of the mountain without hands--that is the good. That which is to destroy evil is at first little and despised; and men laugh at it, and treat it with mockery, even as David was treated when he stood forth as the foe of, the Philistine giant. What was Christ to all appearance, that He should assume the part of the destroyer of evil? He was as a root out of a dry ground. He had no form nor comeliness. He was but a rod out of the stem of Jesse. His cradle was a manger at His birth, and He had no settled home when He had entered on His ministry. Look at Him--this Galilean peasant--with few friends, with no favour from the great, with the hostility of kings and priests and rulers of the people, with a face of sorrow and a heart of woe. He it is who claims to be the light of the world, and who, knowing that He would die on the accursed wood, said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” Is that the man who is destined to universal empire--an empire not won by force, but by love; not by wounding, but by healing; not by destruction, but by salvation? Ah! that stone cut out of the mountains without hands, does it not seem small, too small to smite anything, still less the kingdoms of this world? Look at Him when “He hangs lifeless on the cross, when He lies lifeless in the grave, dead as the stony sepulchre in which He is entombed! That stone seems harmless now against all evil, hemmed in by rock and seal and soldiery. From that day the stone has rolled on and on, and is rolling still. On the day that our Saviour rose from the dead there was not one man, perchance, in England who had ever heard of His name. Our fathers were then but savages, dwelling in trackless forests; now we are baptized in His name. This day is called after Him--the Lord’s day. Our monarchs are consecrated in His name. The symbol of that Cross on which He hung is seen surmounting our churches, and glittering on every side as an ornament of person and of home. The nations that believe in Him are rising, the nations that reject Him are sinking; for the kingdoms and the nations that will not serve Him shall perish. But why shall they perish? They shall perish because they have no life in them; because they lack that spiritual leaven which alone can preserve nations from their doom. But this is as true of men as of nations. Sadly should we fail to realise the full import of this dream if ere did not bring it home to our own hearts. (E. Mellor, D.D.)
The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain
What are we to understand by the stone? Many commentators expound it of Christ’s person. Others, with whom we agree, understand it not of Christ’s person, but of His Kingdom. We cannot conceive how it is possible, by any known law of exposition, to arrive at the conclusion that the stone means our Lord himself. How, for example, could our Lord be said to become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth? Christ himself cannot become more exalted. He has already ascended far above all heavens. The stone, therefore, must denote the visible Kingdom of Christ upon earth, which is inseparably connected with Christ, but which, at the same time, is neither His mediatorial person nor His mystical body. Let us ask the prophet himself what the stone means, and he gives us a plain, decisive answer. He tells us that the stone signifies a kingdom, which the God of Heaven was to set up, “In the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.” And what is the kingdom which the Cod of Heaven was to erect? It is just the church under the New Testament dispensation. Hence, both John the Baptist and our Lord came proclaiming “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is worthy of remark that the stone is altogether distinct and separate from the image. The metals in the image were all distinct from one another, but they were all parts of the same structure. Not so the stone. It was not only distinct from the various metals in the image, it was distinct from the image itself. It had a separate and independent existence. The stone and the image were contiguous to one another, they are represented as having comb into contact, but their contact was that of collision, and not of incorporation. In its nature, origin, and privileges, the Church of Christ is distinct from, and independent of, the kingdoms of this world. The existence of the church is contiguous to that of temporal states and kingdom They have many things in common. The same individuals may be the subjects of both. The glory of God, and the good of man, are the common ends of both. Conformity to the will of God is the common rule of both. Notwithstanding all those points of agreement, the Church of Christ and the kingdoms of this world are so distinct from one another that they never can be incorporated, never can be blended into one society, nor subjected to one legislative head, without imminent danger to the best interests of man, and a total disregard of the authority of God. They differ in their origin. Earthly kingdoms derive their origin from God as the Creator and Supreme Ruler of the world. The Kingdom of Christ derives its origin from God as the God of grace, having been instituted with the view of promoting the salvation of that chosen company whom Grid, from all eternity, purposed to call, justify, sanctify, and bring to eternal life. They differ in respect of their constitution. The supreme power of administration in earthly states is placed in human hands; the supreme power of administration in the church is placed in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no Divinely-given code of civil law, and, therefore, every temporal state possesses a power of legislation. It has authority to make, repeal, and modify its laws; and in so doing it is limited only by the obligation of making them in all moral respects conformable to the will of God, so far as known. Neither is there a Divinely-given form of civil government. While the constitutions of other societies originate in human wisdom, and may lawfully be altered by the sagacity or the taste of man, the constitution of the church, having emanated from Christ’s will, and bearing on all its parts the impress of His authority, is unchangeable by man. Every alteration is a defection; every change of doctrine is an error; every deviation from the simplicity of instituted worship is a step towards superstition; every change in government and discipline is a movement either towards anarchy or despotism. The Kingdom of Christ also differs from all earthly kingdoms in the end for which it was erected. The special end of civil government is to promote the temporal welfare of men; the special end of the church is to promote their spiritual welfare. A second thing deserving of notice respecting the stone is the statement that it was “cut out of the mountain without hands.” To understand the meaning of this let us reflect that there is no principle more deeply laid in the human intellect than this, that every effect must have a cause. When, therefore, it is said that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, this intimates that the kingdom which the stone symbolizes was to be erected in the world by supernatural influence. This is the meaning attached to the symbol by Daniel himself. “In the days of those kings the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom.” This does not mean that the kingdom prefigured by the stone would be set up in the world altogether without the use of outward instrumentality, but simply that the mode of its erection would be such as to demonstrate “that the excellency of the power was of God, and not of man.” Go back to the days of the apostles and contemplate the mighty fabric of ancient heathenism. It was congenial in itself to corrupt nature, it was hallowed by the veneration of ages, its roots were struck through all the framework of society, it was ramparted around by the terror of authority and the pride of erudition, by the emperor’s sword and the philosopher’s pen. From the experience of all the ages that had gone before, the inference might have appeared to be warranted that this system would continue until it was subverted by some great political convulsion. “For, pass over the isles of Chittim and see; and send to Kedar, and consider diligently and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods?” With Christianity, however, a new era dawned on the human race. The avowed design of it was to overthrow all the systems of religion then existing among mankind. Who that contemplated its apparent resources could have supposed that it would succeed. All power, all passions, all interests, all prejudices, all kindreds and classes of men, Jew and Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond and flee, were opposed to the spread of the gospel. To meet this formidable array it had nothing but seeming weakness. Its author was publicly crucified as a malefactor, its apostles were fishermen, its adherents were poor, its doctrines were humbling, its precepts were at war with human corruption, its privileges were purely spiritual, its rewards lay beyond the present life. The entrance to such a religion was by the gate of self-denial. In this triumph of weakness over power, of persecuted truth over fondly cherished errors, in the grandeur of the result compared with the unlikeliness of the original instrument, we discern an effect, to produce which the seeming cause is inadequate, and, therefore, we must admit of apostolic Christianity, that it was “a stone cut out of the mountain without hands.” In like manner it could be shown that all the living spiritual churches of Christ upon the earth are like stones cut out of the mountain without hands. They have been placed in the situation they presently occupy by the leadings of Providence rather than by any pro, conceived plan or voluntary choice of their own. The stone that was out out of the mountain without hands is farther represented as coming into collision with the images though it is here predicted that the image will be subverted by the stone, we are not warranted from this to infer that Christ’s Kingdom is hostile to the kingdoms of this world. Our Lord, when on earth, yielded obedience to the Roman government, and hath commanded His disciples, after His own example, to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” We ought also to remember that Christ’s Kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and that “the weapons of her warfare are not carnal but spiritual.” Far be it, therefore, from us to suppose that the church will have recourse to violent means for the subversion of the civil governments now existing. The stone, as we have already seen, signifies the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ under the New Testament dispensation. But before the erection of Christ’s Kingdom, the Babylonian, the Persian, and the Macedonian empires had been already destroyed. Seeing these empires were overturned before the stone was in existence, it could have no direct and positive agency in their subversion. It can, therefore, only be said of these empires that they were destroyed by the stone, in the sense that they were destroyed for the stone--that they were subverted by an all-wise Providence in order to prepare the world for the erection of the church. This interpretation is further confirmed by the fact that all these empires are represented as being destroyed at once--whereas, nearly a thousand years intervened between the overthrow of Babylon and the overthrow of Rome. This shows that the subversion of these empires, though accomplished by various instruments, and in ages remote from one another, was done for the same end, was part of the same work. It shows that they were all overthrown to make way for the kingdom of the stone. Their overthrow took place at different times, but it was for the same end. It was for the church that each of them rose, and for the church that each of them fell. It gives us a striking view of the unity and harmony of Divine providence. It shows us that the world does not move at random. It shows us that God has a definite end in view in His government of the human race. That end is the erection of Messiah’s Kingdom. This is the centre in which all the lines of Providence meet. Having destroyed the image, the stone is represented as becoming a great mountain that filled the whole earth. Some commentators make a distinction between the empire of the stone and the empire of the mountain. When the Kingdom of Christ is spoken of as first a stone and then a great mountain, this conveys the same idea as the Saviour did when He compared it to “a little leaven” that in due time leavened the whole lump. It is also the same as the idea conveyed by the parable of the mustard seed which, from the smallest of seeds, gradually expanded into the mightiest of trees. And when the stone is said to become a mountain, and fill the whole earth, this clearly intimates that Christianity will yet be universally disseminated. This, however, is not all If a mountain were to fill the whole earth, this would be like a new earth taking the place of the old. And Christianity will not only be universally diffused, she will become the predominating influence in our world. In no period, in no place, has Christianity been accounted the predominating power. Politics have always had the ascendancy of Christianity. We cannot point to an era in which the principles of the Bible were practically recognised as the supreme law of nations. But when the image of anti-Christian civil government has been destroyed, the stone will then take the place of the gold, the silver, the brass, and the iron. Christianity will then be the predominating power. Politics will be subordinated to religion. When we think of the subversion of the present civil governments, and that in all likelihood this will be by violence, the prospect is gloomy, but there is brightness beyond. If the image be destroyed, it is because the stone is to fill the earth. This will be a great benefit to mankind--first, because it will be the end of anti-Christian governments; secondly, because it will be the means of abolishing tyranny, oppression, slavery, and war, by which the world has been scourged since the dawn of time; thirdly, because the triumph of Christianity will be the ruin of superstition. And the believers of that time will towen in spiritual stature above those of every former age. Religion will have that place that the world has now, for the stone will occupy the place of the image. And what saints will they be who are as devoted to God as we are to mammon--who are as concerned about the soul as we are about the body. ButChristians are required to make efforts for the extension of the church. The stone is here spoken of as possessing an inward principle of vitality by virtue of which it grew and became a great mountain. This principle of vitality is nothing else than the grace of God in the hearts of the true members of the church. This is an aggressive principle. No sooner is it implanted in the soul than it begins to war with corruption, and it will carry on that conflict until innate depravity shall be completely subdued. Fed by gracious supplies from above, and transmitted from one generation of the faithful to another, it will never cease to strive till the whole world is Christianised, and civilised, and saved. The want of this aggressive spirit has been the great sin of the church in past ages. Concerning this kingdom, it is farther said that “it shall never be left to another people, but shall endure for ever.” Other thrones may fall, but “to the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” Other crowns may be cast to the ground, but Immanuel’s crown will flourish. (J. White.)
The Stone and the Image
The image was the type of great civilizations. The image has long since crumbled away, but the kingdom cut out by the God of Heaven shall stand for ever. The Divine must supplant the human. Christ supplants Satan; righteousness supplants sin. Christianity cannot be explained by pure reason. It is not the product of human thought and creation. It comes with the stamp of Divinity on it, a Divine, God-given religion. Notice the destructive and aggressive character of the religion of Christ. Christianity entered upon a spiritual warfare against giant errors. It met the world with new ideas of good, of morality, of purity, and political right. The history of the Christian Church is the history of the greatest miracle of the ages. Christianity reconstructed society. The final triumph of Christianity is prophesied in this text. To live in this age of grand opportunities is a most precious privilege. (Frank W. Bristol, D.D.)
The Stone that Smote the Image
Revolutions among nations are insignificant parts of the vast and wonderful scheme of Divine Providence by which the Almighty is carrying out His own gracious purposes and plans. According to Daniel’s prophecy, before the four kingdoms had all passed away the God of Heaven was to set up His throne on earth, which could never be shaken nor removed. As a fact of history, the first part of this prediction was exactly accomplished; and the remainder is now in course of fulfilment. Our Saviour appeared in Judaea as the Babe of Bethlehem while Augustus ruled the Roman empire, and within fifty years His Gospel had been preached in all the world then known. How was this new kingdom to gain a foothold in the world, and how keep its influence and power? Surely not by force of arms, as other empires had been built up. Not by dealing with philosophical subtleties. The Eternal Son returned to the throne of His glory in Heaven, and the Holy Spirit came down to guide and bless the church until the final judgment shall close her toils and trials. The work went on so silently and gradually that its advance was scarcely noticed. From Jerusalem, as a common centre, Christianity went forth into the heart of a polished and learned world, and laid the wholesome restraints of its righteous laws upon a corrupt and self-indulgent age. By its meek and peaceful doctrines it gloriously triumphed over the force of habit, the craft of an impure religion, the policy of legislators, the genius of poets and philosophers, the charm of oracles and prodigies, the shafts of ridicule, and the fierceness of bloody persecution. Not only did the religion of Jesus spread throughout Asia and Europe, but the midnight gloom of Africa was brightened by its silver beams, and apostolic hands unfurled its banner on the distant shores of Britain. The Almighty has made no covenant that any human institution shall endure; but He has pledged His own word for the perpetuity of His Church. (John N Norton.)
Here is movement; more, here is advance; here is human history epitomized. Each age is a product and a producer. The ancient geological periods built foundations on which the human age could build. So intellectually and morally.
1. Time past is a progressive revelation of God and right and duty. Divine truth comes in ever widening circles, In the earlier Scripture it is the physical attributes of God and the temporal blessings of obedience which are the more prominently presented, but, as the generations pass, this gradually passes, until in the time of Christ it is the spiritual attributes and the eternal rewards which occupy a larger place in Jewish thoughts. Here is advance. The Bible itself is a progressive development of Christian truth. Nor was the advance movement restricted to one nation. History, in the large view, is a record of the enlightening and bettering of men. The progress is along three lines: the unfolding of religious truth, the comprehension and reception of it, and the order and movement of events.
2. The cost of this progress. Every leader in a good cause has to suffer at the hands of those who have not accepted his advance ground. Heretics they are of yesterday, and canonized saints of to-day. But martyrdom means progress. (Martin Post.)
The Succession of Kingdoms
I. Daniel regarded the dream as a communication from God. It” was common for the Almighty to communicate with men in this way (Job 33:15-17; Numbers 12:6). Most frequently “a dream cometh through the multitude of business” (Ecclesiastes 5:3); yet there are instances in which we have reason to believe that God does still interpose to instruct, warn, and admonish people through the agency of dreams. We are not to look for illumination in this way where we have the Holy Scriptures to guide us; neither are we to believe or follow our dreams in anything contrary to God’s written word. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar the dream was special, and from the Lord. And it is not incongruous that a universal monarch, in the highest glory of the world’s original kingdom, should be the veer of the course and end of all secular dominion, particularly when earnestly concerned about the matter.
2. Daniel regarded this dream as very momentous. When it was made known to him he broke into exultant adoration, not so much because he was the honoured servant to whom it was revealed, as for what it signified. It showed such a majesty above all the majesty of earth, such a plan in the course of all human governments and dominions, and such a power to handle and order all the potencies of time, that his soul was ready to break away from him when the mighty showing flashed upon his understanding. It set every emotion and energy within him on fire.
3. The dream gives an outline of the history and destiny of all earthly dominion, from Nebuchadnezzar to the end of the present world, and for ever. The several metals of which the great image was composed designated a succession of universal empires. The head was “fine gold,” and Nebuchadnezzar was this head of gold. Babylon was the first and greatest of kingdoms. The breast and shoulders and arms of this image were of silver. This represents the comparatively inferior empire of the Medes and Persians, which stood for about two hundred years. It is chiefly interesting for the personality of Cyrus, its founder. The abdomen and thighs of the image were of brass; this represented the Graeco-Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great. The image had legs, feet, and toes. These were of iron, except the toes. This represents the Roman power. Since the Roman there has been no universal empire.
4. In this foreshowing of the succession of earthly administration there is a continuous deterioration from the beginning to the end. Political economists and statesmen claim that the world has been growing in wisdom and excellence through all the ages. And in some respects there has been growth. But with all, in God’s estimate, there has been a never-ceasing downwardness, depreciation, and tendency toward the earth out of which man was taken. It is the whole history of the world that is comprehended in this vision. When we find in this book the whole political and social history of our world grandly and truly sketched, just as it has turned out from that time to this living present, how can we construe it except upon the doctrine alleged by the prophet, that it was revealed to him from the Almighty and all-knowing One. Daniel tells us that God, the living God, the God who rules all kingdoms and all history, the God to whose omniscience all things are present, naked and open, the Almighty, revealed these things to him; and the seal to his assertion is inimitably stamped upon all the records of the succeeding ages. There is a God in history, and He hath prophets whom He hath sent to speak His word and will. These living oracles are verily from Him. (Joseph A. Seiss, D.D.)
But they shall not cleave one to another.
The Law of Unity
There is a law of unity, of brotherhood or consolidation. Mechanical association has nothing to do with true unity. Men may sit side by side in the same church and yet have a universe between them. Men may handle the same psalm-book and sing the same words without worshipping the same God. Brotherhood is a question of the soul. We are new creatures, and, therefore, we have new relationships in Christ Jesus. At first, of course, the only possible relationship was a relationship of blood; man and man stood together in a certain sequence; but Jesus Christ came to alter all that; it does not follow that your father according to the flesh is now your father at all, and as for your brothers, they may be the greatest strangers to you on the face of the earth; the great relationship now is a Christian one. We are in relation to one another what we are at the Cross of Christ. The man who is on the Cross is not one with the man who never was crucified with Christ. This is a great mystery, and it goes dead against the first instincts of nature, which must be killed one by one before we can understand the mystery of the new life, the blessed mystery of the new kinship. Thanks be unto God, it is not necessary that a man’s father should cease to occupy the paternal relationship; the father and the child may both be crucified with Christ, and thus belong doubly to each other. Nor are we to throw off old relationships frivolously and Pharisaically, saying, I am now a Christian, and, therefore, I can hold no consort with those of my own household who are not Christians. We must prove our Christianity by seeking to make other people Christians; we must evangelize at home. Compromise is never strong. Carry this law fearlessly through and through life. Do not marry into strange faiths, or into no faith. If you are a Christian soul, and shall wilfully marry one who is not a follower of Christ, do not be surprised if vengeance suffer you not to escape. It would be strange, indeed, beyond all reason and all calculation if in this line only law failed. If men could set up any compacts they pleased in life, and evade the law, why there would be one great province of creation left untended, unwatched, undirected by the God and Father of men. Apply the doctrine also to business. You, a Christian business man, cannot keep a partner to tell the lies of the business whilst you attend to all the religious ceremonies; ye cannot serve God and mammon. Clean the house, suffer loss, but let the morsel of bread that remains be sweet, because it is the bread of honesty. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)
Shall the God of Heaven set up a Kingdom.
The Establishment of the kingdom of Christ
The stone being cut out of the mountain without hands, is a phrase used in Scripture to convey to us the idea of spirituality; as, for instance, our present body represented as “the earthly house of this tabernacle,” it is material; but the house in the heavens is “a house not made with hands,” that is spiritual. The cutting out of the stone without hands marks, I apprehend, the spirituality of the kingdom. The material is very unpromising, when compared with the reality. Though the stone is represented here as possessing mighty power, it does not possess that from any inherent property which it possesses, but from the vigour of the arm by which it is employed. The material, too, is utterly contemptible when compared with the others; it is indeed contemptible in the eyes of those who are dazzled with the gold, the silver, the brass, and iron. It is intended by the idea coming under the figure of a stone to be contemptible and despicable; yet to be possessed of such a power as to break the image in pieces. You will look, in the first place, at the circumstances of the increase which is here predicted. The stone came from the mountain--either impelled through the air by an invisible hand or rolling along the plain--smiting the feet of the image, and destroying it; and then the stone gradually increased. Now, I think, the idea here is, gradual advancement. It did not suddenly start up and fill the whole earth; but I apprehend there is the idea of gradual increase. I do not know that in the dream that increase was represented as always advancing with the same rapidity. I do not know whether it was or was not, very likely it was not; and ere it filled the whole earth its increase might be sometimes gradual, and sometimes more rapid. But the idea presented to our attention is, the ultimate effect of the extent of that increase. Then there is its ultimate extent. It increased and increased until it filled the whole earth. I do not know how that was represented in the dream, but certainly the impression was conveyed to the mind of the man to whom God, by this figure, was setting forth what was to come to pass in the latter days. The ultimate extent of the kingdom was exhibited by the stone becoming a great mountain, and filling the whole earth, all other kingdoms and nations being destroyed and superseded, as it were, by it. I do not admit that there is to be such an alteration in the character and form of these kingdoms (God’s Kingdom is in the heart alone) as that there shall be no such things as nations and particular forms of government, or secular societies and confederacies; but, I apprehend, they will be very different sorts of nations to those represented by these metals. Men confederate together generally for the purpose of conquest, or tyranny, or selfishness; for their patriotism is selfishness, and the very profession of liberty among the ancients was the liberty of the few over the many, the liberty of the masters over the slaves. I apprehend, therefore, that though nations will exist to the end of time, yet this spiritual Kingdom of God will co-exist along with them; and it will be the unlimited spiritual reign of truth and piety conveyed to all hearts, operating upon all characters, regulating all movements, private, domestic, social, and public; and thus, while the confederacies of human beings will remain, this will be the grand universal reign of truth, godliness, and peace throughout the whole earth. Then the last idea is its perpetuity. It is to be continued for ever and ever. It is not to be left as these other nations successively were, to other people and other forms of government, or to other secular societies and confederacies; but it is to continue for ever and ever, never to be superseded. Now, I think, we should take this idea along with us; this kingdom that is to continue for ever and ever is to be coextensive with the present system of things, and will continue also throughout eternity. This kingdom which is to last for ever and ever is that very same kingdom which begins in the stone; the kingdom of the mountain is the kingdom of the stone. We learn that this dispensation of ours, the Gospel dispensation, and the Gospel church, as it now exists, is an ultimate dispensation. It is not a preparatory dispensation; it is not to be superseded; it is not introductory to anything else. It is this very kingdom of the stone that is to last for ever and ever. Two or three observations will suffice on the circumstance of its certainty. The dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. Wherever you find man’s heart and man’s nature, you find something which Christianity is just adapted to meet; adapted to meet its wants, its capacities, and its aspirings, and to satisfy, direct, and cultivate them aright. There is an adaptation to the mind of every individual, and there is an adaptation to their external affairs, an adaptation to men existing under any particular form of government that may be set up in the world, to any particular form of secular administration. There is, therefore, a propriety in our indulging the delightful thought that the interpretation of the dream is sure, and that the Gospel shall go on conquering and to conquer, increasing and increasing until it shall fill the whole earth. Then there is another thought which lies on the surface of Scripture, which meets us perpetually, and is of great practical advantage, that although we admit, most unequivocally, the work to be God’s, we also admit, unequivocally, the mysteriousness of the movement under, as it were, the omnipotence of God, by which the stone is increased. We admit most unequivocally, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.” We admit that God set up the kingdom, that God will carry it on, and that God will complete it; and we delight in thus referring everything to God. But we must never forget that God in his sovereignty, his condescension, and his benevolence, has determined that this shall be accomplished by human instrumentality. God could very easily do without us, He could convert the world without preachers; He could convert the world without Bibles; He could edify the church without the recurrence of Sabbaths and ordinances. God does not need to have His omnipotence aided (the very term is absurd) by your instrumentality. But God has chosen--and there is sovereignty, and condescension, and privilege, and kindness towards us in the very choice--to effect and fulfil His purposes by the instrumentality of His church. God is present, positively and personally present, in every scene of idolatry. God is positively present in every heathen temple; He is present at every idolatrous festival; He is actually present in the very midst of the worshippers of all man’s absurd and ridiculous superstitions. Aye, He is in the presence of His whole church; He is observing them, and His eye is upon them all; He is listening to their insults, observing their blasphemies, their fanaticism, their absurdity, and yet He does not put forth directly His power to enlighten, to convert, to sanctify, and to make them all that He could delight in. But He could do that, and why does He not do it? Let us remember always that human instrumentality is necessary in order that the little stone may become a mountain, and fill the whole earth. Now, why has not the stone grown larger? Why does it not fill the whole earth? A great many reasons may be found, some of which we have to refer to the Divine sovereignty, to the secret things that belong to God. But there are other things that belong to us, and causes to which we ought to give the most earnest hood. For my part, I have no hesitation at all about saying that I think the connection, alliance, and confederacy, unnatural and improper friendship of the church with the world has been a great obstacle in the past ages of Christianity, and in the present, to the going forth of God’s chariot in all its freedom and in all its power. Oh, no, the stone was cut out without hands. The Christian Church, before it was encumbered with wealth, went on with God in the midst of her, and the shout of a king accompanied her; and it will do so again! We exult in the thought--we feel confident in it. This great and delightful object has been impeded by the oblivion of the church. The church forgot both the duty and the privilege of the work; she soon forgot when she fell into luxury and ease the solemn obligation resting upon her from Christ, that so long as there was a corner of the earth in which there was not a preacher the command remained to be fulfilled--“Go into all the earth, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” We are not alive to the fulness and the intensity of this obligation yet. We want our sensibilities refined in order that we may perceive all the goodness of God towards us, in making the conversion of the world to rest upon the church. It will be well, then, to remember that the Gospel dispensation is here spoken of under the idea of a kingdom--the kingdom of God, setting up a kingdom. But if you and I are true Christians, as we profess to be, we are subjects of the Kingdom of God. A kingdom implies laws, authority, duty, respect, reverence for the government under which we live, under which we act, and by which we are protected. Let us feel that, and let us act as obedient, devoted, humble, faithful subjects of Him who is the Head and King of that government under which we live, and by which we are protected. There is something delightful both in thinking that we are under the government of God as subjects and that we have the Kingdom of God within us to give us vigour for the work of Christ. Then I think we may feel from this subject that we need have no fears about the ultimate realisation of the intentions of God, all our fear ought to be with respect to ourselves; our fear should be, whether we are faithful to our trust, faithful to our God, faithful to our country, faithful to our church, faithful to the world, faithful to posterity. (T. Binney, D.D.)
On the Nature and Extent of the Kingdom of Christ
I. We here observe THAT THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST NOT ONLY IS TO CONTINUE, BUT IS TO EXIST IN A STATE OF PROGRESS TO FARTHER DOMINION; STRUGGLING WITH ENEMIES, BUT STILL PREVAILING. It is in a progressive manner that the ordinary plans of Providence are, in most cases, unfolded and accomplished. Almost all the objects around us pass through various states before they arrive at their full maturity and perfection. The same rule of progress is also generally followed, not only in regard to the nature, but the extent of the blessings. The discoveries, for example, of science and learning are at first only known to a few individuals. They afterwards extend to neighbouring communities and nations. From one nation they are communicated to another, and at last, in various degrees of fulness and excellence, they spread throughout the world, and affect the general condition and character of mankind. The Kingdom of Heaven is represented as carrying on, in a similar manner, its operations, and accomplishing its grand designs. It exists in various states of power and extent. Its blessings are experienced in various degrees of fulness and excellence, in different quarters and ages of the world; and the number of its true subjects are seen varying even among the same people, in different periods, during its progress to full glory and universal dominion. We cannot explain all the reasons for this part of the Divine procedure. But whatever difficulties may seem to our short-sighted eyes attending it, you will observe they are not confined to the dispensation of the Gospel; they attend the whole plan of Providence in the communication of its blessings. We are very ignorant of the means which are best for securing most extensively, and most lastingly, the ends of the Divine government. And this method of procedure may be found at the termination of the mighty and complicated plan, to have been the most effectual in producing on the whole, and in the greatest extent and degree, that excellence, and that happiness, which are suited to rational and immortal beings. It is obvious, also, that the blessings of Christ’s kingdom, being of a spiritual order, the knowledge which it conveys, and subjection of the heart which it requires, necessarily suppose that it may be neglected, perverted, and abused. Nay, the nature and design of the gospel must lead to the expectation that for some period, and on many occasions, it must struggle with difficulties and meet with much opposition. The obstinacy of ignorance; the slavery and errors of superstition; and all the perverted passions, depraved habits, and predominant inclinations of our corrupted race--all of them are opposed to the doctrines, spirit, and precepts of Christianity. In this contest betwixt the empire of darkness and of light, trial is made of the spirits of all flesh. The subjects of the Kingdom of God are trained, and sanctified, and perfected under the Captain of their salvation. The Church of Christ is founded on a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The principle of renovation is infused into the corrupt mass; and by the direction and power of God it will spread throughout the world its heavenly influence. Amidst all the disorders and ragings of the nations, the Son of God is pursuing, with undeviating purpose, His mighty plans nor will He cease from His great undertaking till ignorance and error yield before Him. And thousands, and tens of thousands, are now standing before the throne, whom Jesus hath redeemed, out of every tongue, and kindred, and people.
II. But from this mixed scene of opposition and success, which we now contemplate, LET US TURN TO THE VIEW OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST, BRINGING ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD UNDER ITS POWER; and Gentile and Jew of every country acknowledging His sway, and experiencing the blessings of His reign. The Gospel has nothing in it of a local and temporary nature, and is fitted and destined for all nations, and for all ages. In the accomplishment of this great dispensation of grace, we thus contemplate the downfall of every system which exalteth itself against Christ, and the universal prevalence of that knowledge which is in Him. In the contemplation of this great renovation, the prophets break forth into strains of rapture, and in beautiful and affecting imagery, foretell its glory and its blessedness. “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break forth, and streams in the desert. As the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Were we to confine our attention to those effects of the Gospel and Kingdom of Christ, on the temporal condition of mankind, we should still see a prospect so sublime, a change and amelioration so great, as should awaken our gratitude and admiration. The depravity and vices of men are the chief causes of the disorders which disturb the world, and lay it waste in every quarter. They have ruined the happiness of our race; they have, in various ways, brought misery even on the inferior beings with whom we are connected. Every mean of amelioration ought to be valued and employed; but never, my brethren, let it be forgotten that no mean will avail for our behest which is not accompanied with a change and improvement in our moral and spiritual character--which does not tend to rescue us from the power of sinful passions and indulgencies. The Gospel presents the amelioration of mankind in connection with the only method by which that amelioration can be accomplished--the renovation and improvement of the character. The design of the Gospel and Kingdom of Christ is directed chiefly and ultimately to the salvation and eternal happiness of men. To these all other objects are subordinate and subservient; and faith in the Saviour is the great mean by which His power effectually operates for their accomplishment. In contemplating the progress and power of the Gospel, we contemplate the increasing numbers of our fallen race, delivered from their lost condition, received into the families of God, and raised to the privileges and joys of His children. How worthy are such views to engage your chief affections and your highest admiration! Again, the views which we have been considering should guard against security, and teach us that the progress and final triumph of the Messiah’s Kingdom do not prevent the apostasy and the rejection both of individuals and nations calling themselves Christians. But chiefly, and lastly, I observe that we learn from those views the way by which we shall promote most effectually the glory of God and happiness of man. It is by promoting the knowledge of the Gospel, and bringing the minds of men under the dominion of the Son of God. The source of misery is sin, and until Christian knowledge, and Christian holiness, be rendered prevalent among mankind, vain and ineffectual will be every mean to promote their happiness. Let every man do good as God has given him the opportunity--and in his own sphere, and among those over whom his influence extends, promote the cause of Christ’s Kingdom and oppose abounding iniquity. (S. MacGill, D.D.)
Christianity as a World-Power
“A dream, only a dream,” is likely to be the mocking language of the so-called practical men of the world, who regard it as an evidence of superior sanity to trust only facts and figures, when this immortal declaration is read in their hearing. True, in the visions of night royal Nebuchadnezzar had seen a gleaming colossus of different metals, not unlike the huge colossi guarding his own palace gates, which had been smitten by the mysterious fragment of rock cut from a mountain without hands, and which Daniel had interpreted in the passage before us. And what then? Are all such disclosures necessarily unworthy of credence? Was not Abimelech Divinely guided through a dream? Was not the immediate future of Egypt accurately foreshown to Pharaoh through the same means? Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions relate the accomplishment of various events that were anticipated in sleep. Thus Gyges, King of Lydia, had been admonished to enter on an alliance with Assurbanipal; and by this method Egypt had been encouraged to unite against the Assyrians. Likewise in Persian history, rulers, such as Afrasiab and Xerxes, were warned and directed when their senses were wrapped in slumber, and the scenes uncurtained were faithful counterparts of approaching realities. And what are all the successes of our modern era, all the conquests over nature, all the triumphs over tyranny, all the vindications of human rights, but the fulfilment of dreams dreamed by saints and sages, poets and philosophers, for the announcement of which they were derided and cursed, were shut up in prison and thrust out of life? My own opinion is, as far as chronology is concerned, that we are taught that during the rise and fall of ancient nations God was cutting out of the mountains a stone, was setting up a kingdom, and is still setting up a kingdom, which, in the fulness of time, shall prevail over all empires and shall fill the entire earth. But I am inclined to believe that the prime intention of the writer was not so much to fix times and seasons as to bring into relief the eternal antagonisms that exist between what the mighty image represents and what the stone denotes; and to create a just conception of the nature and history of Christianity as a world-power. The originality of Christianity as a world-power is worthy of serious thought.
1. This originality appears in the source of its inspiration. Whoever reads carefully the New Testament must have observed the prominence assigned the Holy Spirit. His presence and potency constitute likewise the distinguishing excellency of our faith. With the day of Pentecost came His advent and His incarnation in the church. Revivals of religion are not fresh processions of the Comforter from the Unseen. They are distinct manifestations of what is the perennial possession of God’s people, There are times when the tides of the sea rise higher, but we are not to suppose that there has been a new or larger supply of water, only a peculiar concentration and elevation. So revivals are only higher tides, more overmastering demonstrations of power, and greater exhibitions of fervency; they are not a new descent or coming of the Paraclete. They are often needed, and are needed now, to recall the church to the source of her inspiration. Political world-powers are impelled onward, sometimes by lust of conquest, sometimes by desire for gain, sometimes by glory, or by what they vaguely term, “manifest destiny.” They are at times governed by the spirit of the Chauvinist, of the French soldier, who could not conceive of anything wrong in the great Napoleon; and thus become fatuous idolaters of country and party. Frequently they are dominated by a Machiavelianism, which seeks, as Richelieu stated, to preserve the unofficial conscience separated from the state conscience, and which forms the habit of acting indirectly and crookedly so that nothing can be done without deception. Their statesmen are often incapable of the great thoughts which are necessary to precede great actions, and listen with ear to the ground for the whisperings of the crowd; or they are unpardonably indifferent to the needs of the people, and betray them when concentrated wealth demands the sacrifice and offers its dirty thirty pieces of silver. And whenever churches, in the remotest degree, approximate to such motives and methods, they lose their unique character. Then their originality is obscured, and the world treats them as they deserve, as mere lath and plaster. The Kingdom of Christ should always be moved from within, from the impulses of the Spirit who hath descended from above. Throughout the New Testament, from the birth of Christ to the separating of Paul and Barnabas to the ministry of missions, the Holy Spirit is the chief actor. Nothing is more impressive in the post-resurrection life of our Lord than His constant breathing of the Spirit on His followers. Without Him Pentecost would have been impossible, and without Him there would have been no adequate momentum toward the evangelisation of Samaria and the regions beyond. Almost every departure in new and aggressive work has been preceded by a spiritual quickening somewhere. It was so when the great missionary organisations came into being. They were not called into existence by human ingenuity to serve as organs for the work of the Holy Spirit; they were themselves begotten by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, I fear, we forget this. Sometimes we approach the work of the kingdom as though it were identical with that of the world. And soon we are tempted to boast that we administer churches and missions as leading business men manage business. In a sense this is very well; but after all, the kingdom cannot be administered merely as a vast corporation. Indeed, were this ideal paramount, corporations being what they are to-day in fact and in the popular estimate, the sympathies and prayers of the Christian masses would speedily be detached from the cause of Christ. No; it must seek to be guided by the Holy Spirit, to follow His leadings, yield to His inspirations, and become more and more a pliant instrument in His hand; and where this is done, the unique glory by which its Founder designed it to be for evermore distinguished will be displayed and recognised.
2. The originality of Christianity also appears in the power of its assimilation. Usually national types are fixed and definite. It is not an easy thing to overcome them, and after generations of intermarriages they are not always obliterated. What has been accomplished to render homogeneous this heterogeneous mass has been largely the work of the evangelical faith. That faith is like a magnificent furnace in which the representatives of various nationalities are melted down, fused, and are made capable of being moulded. What it has wrought in Fiji, in Polynesia, in Burma, in China, and Japan would have been impossible if Christianity were not wonderfully adapted to all races and tribes, the lowest and the highest. If the day ever comes when differences shall disappear and humanity be as one, it will be in consequence of the transforming grace of the Spirit. This religion alone seems to be gifted with the universal quality. It is broad enough, it is wide enough, it is deep enough. It knows the needs of the common heart of man. In it kings and princes find comfort, and in it barbarians and outcasts find hope. To confer its blessings it asks no man of what house, family, or clime he comes. His needs are recognised, and the provision is Sufficient and abundant. This cannot be said of Hinduism, Brahmanism, Buddhism, and the rest. However numerous their adherents, these creeds nevertheless are provincial and narrow in their scope. They are only accepted by kindred peoples; and the more they are known the less charm they have for the European and American. By this test, if their claims are judged, they must yield to the superior merit of Christianity.
3. The Originality of Christianity appears in the benevolence of its aspirations. This cannot be alarmed of worldly empires of the Babylonian or Roman type. Doubtless some among them in our day justify their interference in the affairs of inferior races on the ground that they would do them good. But every competent judge perceives that all this is reversed in the case of Christianity. Wherever she goes she blesses, and in pagan lands it is only her spirit and influence which mitigate the evils of foreign occupation. Sir Herbert Edwardes testified years since, as the result of his observations in the East: “That secular education and civilization will ever regenerate a nation I do not believe; as an able missionary once said, ‘He alone can make a new nation who can form a new man.’” In the same direction I quote Mr. Hawthorne: “The only salvation of India, even from an economic point of view . . . is its Christianisation.” And with him the Hon. Mr. Bryce evidently agrees, for he is quoted as saying that the Indian Empire could not last unless it were Christianised, and that nothing else can hold it together. Captain Mahan likewise perceives a peril in bringing together the East and the West on the basis of common material advantages without a correspondence in spiritual ideals. Men like Schwartz, Livingstone, Carey, and Ashmore are the saviours of pagan lands. When their disinterested labours are understood, a new and regenerating idea begins to dawn and an uplift is experienced. Here lies the secret of Christian power. Religion asks for no man’s silver and gold, attempts not to rob him of his wealth, brings to bear on him no violence, does not shoot down his children or burn his villages; and the method is so novel, the intent so unselfish, that the hearts of multitudes are moved to repentance and faith. Sovereignty means right, authority, chieftaincy; the right to subdue, overcome, and sweep away whatever wrongfully is arrayed against it. But Christianity has no authority to fall on, to crash and annihilate by sheer force what she may regard as antagonistic to her reign. She is not permitted to appeal to the sword. Christ Himself decreed that the servants of the kingdom should not fight. They were not authorised to invoke the weapons of war for the advancement of the Cross. This inhibition likewise forbids them to encourage others, the secular powers, for instance, to invade distant lands, seizing them and occupying them for the sake of Christian evangelisation. Then the paucity of language appears again in the dream when the idea is suggested that these various empires are so blotted out as to obliterate their inhabitants, and that all human governments are to be supplanted by the church. Interpreting Scripture by Scripture, and symbols by common sense, I understand the action of the stone in falling on the huge form to denote the right of the church to efface and expunge everything in the State that is ungodly, unrighteous, and unjust, so that the actual administration of affairs will come to harmonise with her ideals. In other words, she is to incarnate herself in human society and in all of its mechanism, whether it be the machinery of government, of education, of commerce, or industry. She is not to remain for ever outside, a something distinct from the secular; but she is to take possession of it, transform it, become its very soul, and direct all of its movements from within. As Christianity is not to take the sword, the expression and action of her sovereignty must be moral; and we are to learn from the scene before us that this exceeds all other weapons in potency. We are all slow to learn this truth. And yet not an age passes without being demonstrated anew. A nation rushes into speculations which imperil industry, and encourages business methods which are pernicious, and dazzled by her successes sneers at the conservatives and the moralists. But the day of judgment comes. Some stone--the hard, inexorable law of rectitude asserts itself falls on the entire mass of chicane and deceit, and collapse fallows. It ought also to be noted that these indications which are making for the final triumph of Christianity are usually characterised by suddenness and occasionally even by violence. This violence is the natural overflow of the moral principles which have been generated through religion in the volcanic soul of humanity. The humiliation of Spain is a case in point. The Reformation under Luther was another illustration of what we should learn from this theme. What a crash it was? How unexpected though inevitable? What cruelty and horror it occasioned. And yet what marvellous progress it inspired. It was blowing up the barrier that impeded freedom of thought and the advance of civilization. Thus Christianity goes on demonstrating the sovereignty of the ethical and spiritual over the political and the commercial, developing moral crises in which her own influence comes to be recognised as potent. And it is questionable whether any vast upheaval has occurred since the birth of Christ which has not been in some real sense the result of His teachings and has not contributed to their wider dissemination. This I hold to be alike true of the convulsions that crushed the Roman Empire, of the agitations and struggles that wrecked the dominance of feudalism, of the catastrophies that characterised the French Revolution, and of all the strange and violent antagonisms which have led to the unity of Italy and to the conquest of the Soudan. But it may be asked, Is there to be a final and widespread crisis involving, not isolated nations, but the existing civil order everywhere, both east and west, among civilized and barbarous people alike? The probabilities point in that direction; and the Scriptures seem to be decisively on its side. “Sun and moon are to be darkened, the stars of heaven are to fall before the great and notable day of the Lord.” Armageddon precedes the millennium. Scenes of conflict and anguish are announced as opening the way to the final Gospel triumph. Anyone can see the utter impossibility of realising the reign of righteousness under present social and political conditions, whether in America or Europe, in lands civilized or lands blighted by heathenism. And there seems to be a growing consciousness that something critical is about to take place, because it ought to take place; and governments and leaders are apprehensive lest they should go down in the crash. They are voting more cannon, new explosives, fresh levies, stronger fortifications, and are encouraging inventors to devise novel means of destruction; but they are not adopting the true defence--“righteousness exalteth a nation”; “God is our refuge, a present help in time of trouble.” And yet with all their expenditures and preparations they are not at ease. “The hearts of the nations are failing them for fear.” Moreover, in all these lands, grave solicitude is felt regarding social inequalities. The control of business is rapidly passing through trusts into the hands of relatively a few chieftains in America, and the result is that opportunities for employment are diminishing, not increasing. Anyone can see that things cannot continue as they are. The social Vesuvius is already in a turmoil, and its fires and lava cannot be eternally suppressed. A crisis is inevitable. Some of the most passionless students of our times perceive the imminence of the danger. They work out this result as coolly and scientifically as a mariner works out his reckoning, and as deliberately as the weather bureau forecasts the atmospheric changes. With them it is not a question of feeling and sentiment, but of strict reasoning and logic. Given rapaciousness, heartlessness, and cold-blooded selfishness on the part of employers as the major premise in the social syllogism, and discontent, discouragement, and the ever-increasing sense of wrong on the part of the employed as the minor, and the outcome can hardly be anything else than chaos, though it may be chaos leading to a new industrial creation. I know that the taunt will not be lacking that I am preaching pessimism. No, I am an optimist and proclaiming optimism. Were I a pessimist, I should now be declaring that the image seen by Daniel’s sovereign never could be destroyed; and that it would go on trampling beneath its feet of iron and clay--a mixture of militarism and materialism--the best hopes of humanity. But I have no such doleful message to deliver. My song is that of the lark; I herald the flay, not the night; but I dare not hide from myself the fact that night precedes the day. “The stone which the builders rejected,” aye, “the stone cut out of the mountains,” shall finally bring to an end all of these mischievous evils, aged shall “fill the whole earth.” But not without a scene of conflict and experiences of sharp agony. Let us hope and pray that it may be without anarchical riots, incendiary outbreaks, and bloodshed, and may accomplish itself in one of those wonderful upheavals wrought by the patient determination of free peoples, who, enlightened by the Gospel, by their principles and convictions expressed at the polls, will bring down the lofty and exalt the lowly. Thus it may be; but however the result shall be accomplished, the spirit that shall compass it, that antagonises everything wrong at home or abroad has been engendered by Christ’s Kingdom, and the ultimate deliverance will furnish the crowning evidence of its victorious sovereignty. The responsibility of Christianity as a world-power must now claim our attention, or this discussion would fail of its purpose. The prophet tells us that in the days of the ancient kings God set up a kingdom. To me the beginnings of this creation antedate the appearance of Christ. Every prediction that announced it, every psalm that chanted its glories, and every providence that prepared the world for its manifestations, were as the digging of foundations; or, better still, as the felling of timber in the forests, and the disinterring of reeks in the quarry for the construction of this everlasting sanctuary. And I believe that still the God of Heaven is setting up a kingdom. Generals and soldiers are lauded and rewarded as the builders of empires; but the missionaries and evangelists, with all the lowly souls that are helping in their enterprise, are usually ignored or are misunderstood by society that still walks by the light of its carnal vision. And yet these obscure labourers are building up a kingdom that shall not be moved, and are establishing a world-power whose beneficence and beauty transcends the highest excellencies of all earthly imperialisms. May I not remind you by what God has already wrought through His people that there is a responsibility resting on the kingdom to yet further fall in with His plans, and to co-ordinate itself to His Spirit? If the claims of humanity can appropriately be pressed home on the conscience of a secular power, how much more are they entitled to weight by the spiritual. Responsibility is an attribute of sovereignty. Do we, as Christians, realise ours? What we need to-day is a quickened conscience in our churches. An aroused conscience would solve all difficulties; provide adequate missionary income, supply the brightest type of workers, and provoke an activity at home and abroad which would speedily bring to an end the reign of darkness.
1. This responsibility can only be met by liberality, and not by retrenchment. The church should be as wise as the state. Alas! her financiers have too frequently been given, when financial emergencies have arisen, to talk approvingly of retrenchment. If there is a spectacle offensive to Heaven and contemptible before men, it is that of professed disciples living like Dives and begrudging the crumbs which fall from their affluence into the missionary collection for poor Lazarus. Let us recognise the truth. The truth is, the church has money enough to fulfil her responsibilities at home and abroad. She has not enough for wastefulness or extravagance, or even for sentimental experimenting; but she has ample resources for the evangelisation of the entire world. But this wealth was not bestowed that it might shut God out; and yet it will assuredly do so if it is not expended as He has planned and directed. Its accumulation ought once and for all to teach that the church is bound to prosecute her work, not by the measure of her offerings, but by the measure of her possessions.
2. But more than this, our responsibility can only be honoured by combination, and not by isolation. The unsocial communities have been violently disturbed of late. China’s great wall has fallen; Japan has emerged from her solitude; and it is claimed that the United States can no longer refrain from joining the European Powers in their confederate activities. The progress of this race is wonderful. It controls ever one-third of the earth’s surface. Prof. Marsh has said: “More than one-half of the letters mailed and carried by the universal postal system are written, mailed, and read by the English-speaking populations”; and they distribute more than two-thirds of all Bibles and Testaments published; and in literature and general intelligence they excel all that is found among other people. But it must not be supposed that every aspect of this great branch of the human family is attractive or promising. Far from it. Even now, after centuries of training, it displays much of the spirit of the Vikings and of the Heligoland pirates, and it is constantly in danger of defying force. For the history of its progress and aggrandisement is in no small measure the history of violence and aggression. If isolation is fast becoming impossible between nations, and particularly between Great Britain and the United States, it ought to be equally impossible between denominations. Fast is it becoming so. Missionary congresses and federation of churches are helping to draw into one holy alliance the diverse and separated forces of the living God. Something more than independency of action and enthusiasm of spirit is demanded, if the claims of Christianity as a world-power are to be substantiated. But while I speak thus, I realise that organisations, however complete and indispensable, can never supersede the zeal and personal endeavour of the individual. Man is grander than a machine, and the religious machine is, after all, only a supplement to the man. What we need to-day is, that while we sustain our missionary societies we likewise develop all the resources of the individual. Obligations cannot be vicariously met. The hour has arrived for personal decision and consecration. Two tendencies are observable to-day. The one is toward secular imperialism. It is the dream of nationalities in the old world, and is not without charm for ourselves in the new. Success along this line apart from religion is freighted with ultimate mischief and peril. But the other trend is more encouraging and more ennobling; it is toward the triumphant imperialism of Christianity. For which shall we labour? I am not saying that they are necessarily inconsistent with each other; but so far as grandeur and sublimity are concerned, I would rather devote myself to the second than to the first. Would not you? As for me, I would rather stand with Livingstone, Carey, Marshman, Judson, than I would with Clive, Hastings, and Lawrence; and I would rather in the end be associated with Christ and His apostles than I would with Caesar and the legions thundering at his heels. (J. G. Lorimer, D.D.)
The Kingdom of Christ
This image, then, represents to us the kingdoms of the earth, such as they are without the fear of God, in all their pride and stateliness. You see them, in it, condensed and combined into one vast body, glittering, as we behold them with our eyes, with silver and gold, and lifting up their heads to Heaven itself, with the insolence of a giant strength and the godlessness of an unrebuked security. The eye of flesh and blood, obedient to its instincts, and, ignoble, like them, is dazzled at their looks; and the heart of man, like that of the Babylonish king, is not only moved with a momentary awe, but crouches down with a real servile terror at their outward grandeur. But all this has nothing substantial in it, notwithstanding--no more than the show of solidity which you see in the summer clouds--how suddenly, like them, do they dissolve, nay, consume, perish, and come to a fearful end! The reason is that, being unbased on that reality of power which belongs to God alone, they have no essential and true strength; they stand on feet of iron and clay, unharmonizing materials, ill mixed, and uncompacted. And they break away into a thousand fragments the moment they come into collision with the Almighty’s purposes, and the smiting of His avenging rod. “But,” you say, “it is difficult to draw a practical lesson from so mystic a warning”; true, but the whole Bible is full of such warnings, as well as its great interpreter, the history of the world. When, therefore, learned and worldly men talk of this great kingdom and of that, as being ruined by a mistake in policy, or a mismanagement in war, and so on, and puzzle themselves and others in the vain attempt to unfold, by external and secondary events, what they are pleased to call the real causes of this great ruin; the humblest Christian man, with the Bible in his hand, may say, “I cannot deny what you tell me, nor can I, indeed, understand the difficult operation of those fine-sounding things on which you make the adversity or prosperity of kingdoms to depend; but I know this, which is far better than all your science and philosophy put together, that nations, like individual men, only prosper while they love and obey God; and that when they refuse or cease to do so, He punishes and destroys them for their sins. And if you ask me why I dare contradict one so much more learned than myself, and am so sure of this conclusion, touching, as it does, the very mysteries of politics, I have but one reason to give, though that is the best of all--God says so--I find it plainly written in the Bible.” Well, then, all the kingdoms of theworld are represented by the prophet Daniel as finally crushed beneath the weight of that everlasting kingdom which God shall set up among the nations, and which they shall resist--not recognising as Divine a power so unlike their own, nor discerning that penal ruin, which, by ways beyond the scan and compass of the carnal politician, its rejection necessarily involves, even during this earthly dispensation. But is not God love, and the Gospel merciful, and Christ,. the Saviour, meek and gentle beyond the meekness of man, not so much as quenching the smoking flax, or breaking the bruised reed? it is not to be denied, so He is; yet He shall tread out, notwithstanding, in His wrath, the wine-press of Almighty God. And, if you will think for a moment of God’s goodness and of man’s wickedness, and the exceeding guilt of rejecting such great salvation, you will no longer marvel that the Gospel, with its revelations of unspeakable love, and the blood of the cross, whoso sprinkling cleanseth from all sin, should be presented to us under an aspect so tremendous, or should exercise in the world at large, in its final development, a condemnation so awful, and a ruin so sweeping! And I say a ruin so sweeping, because the words of the prophet seem to indicate that all nations, from the empire of the Chaldees downwards, shall, in their turn, share the same fate; and that our native land, therefore, with all its privileges, may ultimately be added to the catalogue of nations blotted out or tormented in fire for incorrigible wickedness. Our Lord himself, perhaps in intended allusion to these very words of the prophet, describes thus the result of resistance to His eternal kingdom: “Whosoever shall fall upon this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.” “A stone cut out without hands”; that is, without human and visible agency, any power mensurable by carnal calculation, but by the power of Almighty God himself, operating when and where He wills, with or without the instrumentality of subordinate agents; a stone so guarded and so blessed by all Heavenly graces, as to lay a meet foundation for an everlasting church. Such, then, is the Christian kingdom, coming out from God, and of God; it goes forth, from age to age, in spite of evil spirits and evil men, conquering and to conquer. What though the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? Nay, but I put it to yourselves; have not the prophet’s words been gloriously fulfilled? Has not the stone become a mountain, and filled the whole earth? it is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Who would have ventured to pronounce that the crucified Jesus, hanging between two thieves, on the accursed tree, the despised and rejected of men, would, after a few years had passed, have been worshipped as a God and a Saviour from one end of Heaven to another? “O the depth of the riches both of the power and the wisdom of God; how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” Now, all that I have been laying before you of God’s eternal purpose to raise the Kingdom of His Son on the ruins of an unbelieving world, is the clear word of God; so clear that they who run may road, confirmed, too, in the history of the world, by many infallible and terrible proofs; and, therefore, it is as certain to be fulfilled in what is to come, as it has been in all that is past. Moreover, there is not an attribute of Almighty God which is not pledged, and actively engaged in the issue of it. There are His unchangeableness and truth--for, from all eternity He has planned this spiritual kingdom to be carried on in the midst of the kingdom of the prince of this world; and, by no less an oath than His immutable self, hath He sworn to preserve it unto the end. There is His justice, for by the same solemn engagement, He has announced in the oars of Heaven and earth, that He will punish all the guilty, and cast out from that presence, in which alone is light and life, the enemies of Him who reigneth on His hill of Zion. There is His love, and with it, Hid abhorrence of sin; for with such incredible earnestness, and love for man, has He wrought for the establishment of this kingdom that He has given His blessed Son to die for us, and by His death, to open the gates of life. (J. Garbett.)
The Kingdom of the Saints
Daniel’s interpretation is: “In the days of these kings, shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces, and consume all those kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” This prophecy is fulfilled among us at this day. Look into the details of this great providence, the history of the Gospel dispensation.
1. Observe what it was that took place. Many kingdoms have boon set up and extended by the sword. This, indeed, is the only way in which earthly power grows. But the propagation of the Gospel was the internal development of one and the same principle in various countries at once, and, therefore, may be suitably called invisible, and not of this world. Apostolic efforts do not provide adequate explanation. See what really happened. In the midst of a great empire, such as the world had never seen, powerful and crafty beyond all former empires, more extensive, and better organised, suddenly a new kingdom arose. Suddenly, in every part of this well-cemented empire, ten thousand orderly societies, professing one and the same doctrine, and disciplined upon the same polity, sprang up as from the earth. This was a new thing, unprecedented in the history of the world before or since, and calculated to excite the deepest interest and amazement in any really philosophical mind. When men began to interrogate this enemy of Roman greatness, they found no vague profession among them, no varying account of themselves, no irregular and uncertain plan of action or conduct. They were all members of strictly and similarly organised societies. They all refused to obey the laws of Rome, so far as religion was concerned. At the same time they professed a singular patience and submission to the civil powers. They did not stir hand or foot in self-defence. They avowed, one and all, the same doctrine clearly and boldly, and they professed to receive it from one and the same source. They were bound to one another by the closest ties of fellowship. And, in spite of persecutions from without, and occasional dissensions from within, they prospered . . . If there be a moral governor over the world, is there not something unearthly in all this, something which we are forced to refer to him from its marvellousness, something which from its dignity and greatness, bespeaks his hand?
2. Consider the language of Christ and His apostles. From the first they speak confidently, solemnly, calmly, of the destined growth and triumph of the kingdom. Christ contemplated the overshadowing sovereignty of His Kingdom. He spoke also of the disorganisation of society which was to attend the establishment of His Kingdom. In like manner, St. Paul takes for granted the troubles which were coming on the earth, and the rise of the Christian church amidst them, and reasons on all this as if already realised.
3. If the Christian church has spread its branches high and wide over the earth, its roots are fixed as deep below the surface. The intention of Christ and His apostles is itself but the accomplishment of ancient prophecy.
(1) There was an existing belief among the heathen, at the time of its rise, that out of the east a new empire of the world was destined to arise. This rumour was known in Rome, the then seat of dominion; and it is recorded by a Roman historian. It became matter for heathen poetry. Full and varied are the predictions of it delivered by the natives of Judaea themselves. What would be our surprise if we, in the course of our researches into history, found any resemblance to this prophetic forecast in the annals of other kingdoms.
4. The course of providence co-operated with this scheme of prophecy. God’s word and hand went together. Notice the strange connection between the dispersion of the Jews and the propagation of Christianity. Does not such a manifest appearance of cause and effect look very much like an indication of design? (J. H. Newman, B.D.)
God’s Everlasting Kingdom
All that was foretold in this remarkable prophecy in due time came to pass. This universal and everlasting kingdom is distinguished by certain infallible marks and evidences which prevent it from being confounded with human institutions, which may resemble it in some respects.
I. THE FIRST NOTE OF THIS KINGDOM IS ITS VISIBILITY. It has a visible ministry; visible scriptures; visible forms, and ceremonies, and observances; visible sacraments. The very idea of a kingdom implies its visibility.
II. ITS PERPETUITY. It is expressly foretold of it in the text that it should “never be destroyed.” But that it should “stand fast for ever.” All temporal kingdoms are exposed to changes and decay. That kingdom, complete in all its parts, and vigorous and active in its operations, must now be found upon this earth. There does exist a great and Divine system, having the properties of vast dominion, distinguished privileges, and eternal endurance.
III. ITS UNITY. This is a distinguishing mark of God’s Kingdom, and good men should never cease to pray that “all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the Faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.”
IV. ITS SANCTITY The Divine Head and Founder of the church gave Himself for His people that he might “redeem them from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
V. ITS APOSTOLICITY. In other words, it must have a history, and be able to trace back its origin to the days of the Apostles of Christ. (John N. Norton.)
The Kingdom of Christ
1. The mediatorial action of the Son of God is of the nature of kingly rule. Christ rules in the first place within the church. He is King of Saints. His subjects are hearts willingly submissive to His sway. He rules by His word and Spirit. His dominion extends beyond the church; beyond even the world of men. Nature and the invisible world are beneath His feet.
2. The kingdom is of supernatural origin. The kingdom is one which the God of Heaven set up. It was Divine in its origin, so it was endowed with inextinguishable life.
3. The kingdom was insignificant in its commencement. The stone was small. Look at the Messiah himself, at the veil of obscurity which He assumed. He was “of a decayed and delapidated house; was ranked with the poor; was without powerful friends or political connections; of no uncommon advantage of learning; and was regarded with contempt and scorn by the great mass of His countrymen.”
4. The kingdom is destined for universal prevalence. It began by casting down that which would and did oppose its way. Significant as the destruction wrought by the stone may be, even more so is the displacement of the image by the stone. Man-created universal empire gives place to a universal empire God-created. The worldly rule gives way that Heavenly rule may speedily appear. That the stone which smote the image will become a great mountain and fill the whole earth we devoutly believe. The truth might be argued from the essentially aggressive character of the Gospel
5. The kingdom is to be everlasting. It has stood for eighteen hundred years. Not, however, because no attempt has been made to annihilate it. Physical force, mental power, transcendent genius, have each and all done their worst. It is the great fact of the world still. (H. T. Robjohns, B.A.)
A Contrast between Paganism and Christianity
You will recall to your minds King Nebuchadnezzar’s wonderful dream, and the interpretation of it by Daniel. God can touch the heart of a person in sleep. He can touch the heart of a man dead in sin. How easily He gains His purposes--the forgetting of a dream raised Daniel next to the throne. In the dream we find revealed a contrast between paganism and Christianity.
1. Paganism is constructed; Christianity is a growth. The image was builded of gold, of silver, of brass, of iron, of clay. But the little stone grew.
2. Paganism is of human origin; Christianity, like the little stone, is made without hands.
3. Paganism divides men; Christianity unites. Disorganisation is inherent in paganism, and it cannot but crumble. How different with Christianity! Its centre is God, and that Centre is everywhere, and its circumference is nowhere. Every individual in this kingdom is at the very centre of power. We have even no need of one to stand between us and this Centre, for Christ is God. The advance of civilisation is destructive to error; but Christianity is fitted for the highest civilization. The greater the advancement, the more irresistible becomes this stone cut from the mountain. Its development is the crowding out and destruction of all false systems. There need be no fear that science will harm Christianity; it will, in the end, help it, not harm it. Literature is on this side. Never has Christianity exercised so great a power over the press as to-day, Education is also helping, not hindering, religion. Our colleges are nearly all in the hands of Christian people. Nine-tenths of all educational endowments are the gifts of Christian men and women. Art is not hostile to Christianity. The best of painting, the best of sculpture, the best of architecture, the best of music, is helping to roll this stone that is filling the earth.
4. The power which makes this stone irresistible is God. It is omnipotent as is the throne of Jehovah. No man-made power can resist it. Gold, brass, iron, are crushed beneath it. The great movement for the purification of the earth is going forward. God wishes us to Join in this work. Blessed are we if we are found co-workers with Him. (Bishop Simpson.)
The Fifth Monarchy
I. WHAT IS THE KINGDOM? By the kingdom we understand the gospel church or Christian dispensation. When John the Baptist commenced his ministry in the wilderness of Judaea, he preached, saying, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In this passage we evidently find the church represented as a kingdom. There are, we apprehend, sufficient reasons why she may be so represented. She has all the qualities peculiar to a kingdom. A kingdom consists of a number of men associated for purposes of mutual benefit, who have ordained a certain code of laws for the regulation of their lives, and who have elected a ruler to preside over their interests--to dispense law and preserve order--to act as “a terror” to evil-doers and a praise to them that do well. Similar in all these respects is the church. The revealed and written word of God contains the constitution and rules of their society. It contains laws for the regulation of their lives, as individuals, as congregations, as churches, and as nations--rules for all the relations into which man in this life of change can possibly enter. Christ is their King, Lawgiver, and Judge--“King of kings, and Lord of lords”--“Head over all things” to the church are titles conspicuously written on His vesture and on His thigh.
II. SOME OF THE MORE OBVIOUS QUALITIES OF THIS KINGDOM. Every man has his distinguishing characteristics. In like manner, every community, every kingdom is distinguished by some special properties. Thus we find Russia, notorious for despotism; Spain, for bigotry; France, for fickleness and instability; Christ’s kingdom is distinguished by:
1. Its spirituality.
(1) It is entirely spiritual--spiritual as to its Author, spiritual as to its origin, spiritual as to its laws, ordinances, rewards, and punishments. The founders of all kingdoms of this world have been mere men, inheriting the same nature with ourselves. The founder of the kingdom under review is God; and “God is a Spirit.” Most kingdoms of men have been established by carnal means, by force, by rapine, and by blood. By the same means all false systems of religion. How different from this the manner in which the Prince of Peace extends his regal rule. He establishes His empire by the exhibition of love, by the manifestation of truth, by arguments and persuasion, adapted to operate on men’s mental and moral nature. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
(2) The laws also of this kingdom are spiritual. They take cognizance more especially of man’s moral nature. Human laws can take cognizance of the external conduct alone. The greatest tyrant on earth cannot command the sentiments of the mind, or desires of the heart. God requires the heart: “Son, give me thine heart.”
(3) The ordinances of this kingdom are spiritual. They are intended and adapted to remove the vices of sin from our nature, and to effect a spiritual change. Ordinances the result of human wisdom, or political sagacity, cannot correct an evil bias nor remove a sinful tendency. Human ordinances are powerless for such purposes. The ordinances of Christ’s Kingdom exert a higher and more potent influence. When accompanied by the blessing of the Spirit they can transform the whole soul.
(4) The rewards and punishments of this kingdom are spiritual. Earthly rulers can confer only a material or temporal reward for obedience, or inflict a temporal punishment for disobedience. If we obey their mandates, they may confer riches, honours, something agreeable to our sentient nature. If we disobey, they may kill the body, but cannot destroy the immortal spirit. The rewards of Jehovah infinitely transcend temporal advantages however great or desirable. There are pardon of sin and acceptance in His sight, peace and joy in believing, and the crown of glory that fadeth not away. Similar also His punishments. Is not Messiah’s Kingdom, therefore, spiritual and consequently different from all worldly monarchies?
2. Light. Scripture informs us that “God is light.” Being light in himself He can never be the author of darkness. The kingdoms of men are kingdoms of darkness. Satan is the god of this world, and he is the prince of darkness. He knows that “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Hence he endeavours by all means to keep those subject to his sway in gross moral darkness. Whilst we doubt the Divine existence, or entertain wrong views of His character and law, of our present condition--our wants and requirements--we will never come to God that we may have life. Hence, when Jehovah wills the salvation of any sinner, he commences the work of grace on his heart by spiritual illumination, by opening the eyes of the understanding to see the wonderful things contained in the law. Thus, every believer, on receiving Christ, though formerly darkness, becomes light in the Lord. His soul is filled with light on all subjects affecting his interests for time and eternity.
3. Liberty. Freedom is sweet to every living being--to everything “in whose nostrils is the breath of life.” The entire animate creation rejoices in the free and unrestrained exercise of every power conferred by the Author of life. By man more especially is liberty prized. The mere mention of its name fills his soul with pleasurable emotions. Christ confers liberty in the highest and most extended sense of the term--liberty infinitely superior to that for which philanthropists have oftentimes sighed and patriots bled. Jesus confers spiritual and a right to temporal liberty on all His followers. These two kinds of freedom are intimately connected. When the former obtains the latter will in due time be sure to follow. When the former has no place the latter cannot possibly exist. When men are spiritually slaves they can neither understand nor enjoy temporal freedom. Jesus delivers all His people from the thraldom of sin and Satan. When Messiah “reigns in Mount Sion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously,” “He shall deliver the needy when he crieth, the poor also, and him that hath no helper.” A bright future is, therefore, in reserve for the oppressed nationalities of Europe; for the persecuted and oppressed of every clime.
4. Peace and happiness. Peace and prosperity are intimately connected. Without peace there can be no progress, no enjoyment, personal, domestic, or social. There can be no happiness to the man whose soul is filled with the tumult of contending passions, whose mind is agitated by fear, or distracted with doubt. There is no enjoyment in the family where alienation and strife reign. The kingdom or nation divided against itself will assuredly fall. Peace is thus of paramount importance; but unhappily it has long been banished from the world. The world has long been a scene of violence, of rapine, and of blood. There is no peace on its wide extent but that which prevails in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ gives peace to all His subjects--peace with God and peace with man. The enmity of the carnal mind is slain and a spirit of love imparted--love to God as Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and love to all His people. Such a disposition obtaining in the mind--such a spirit pervading society--peace will prevail, and harmony reign.
5. Universal. It has at all times baffled the highest efforts of human genius to establish a universal empire. The experience of Alexander in ancient, and of Napoleon in modern times, is proof positive on the point. The honour thus denied the most gifted of our race is reserved for Him who is “Prince of the kings of the earth.” There will never be a universal kingdom but that of Immanuel. We learn from the context, and kindred portions of Inspired Writ, that His empire will embrace all the kingdoms of men.
6. Eternal growth and decay is the order of nature. This holds good both in regard to the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Every plant and every animal, every species of organic existence has its period of development, its period of maturity, and its time of decline. The majestic oak, monarch of the forest, once grew as a tender sapling; gradually and slowly it attained its noble dimensions; after having lifted on high its head for ages, and shaking out its green drapery to the breeze, seeming to bid defiance to the lightnings of Heaven and fury of the blast, at length it becomes gnarled and bare, and yielding to the violence of the storm, falls prostrate on the ground. In like manner with man, lord of the animate creation. As with man individually, so with man collectively, so with nations. Nations as such have their rise, their growth, their maturity, and decline. Thus with all the celebrated kingdoms of antiquity. They all prevailed for a time, and maintained their proud supremacy, but at last the elements of decay contained in their constitution wrought their ruin. Christ’s Kingdom, however, though it had a commencement, and an increase, will never be destroyed, nor suffer a decline. It is free from all elements of dissolution. Sin is the cause of all death, national as well as individual. The Redeemer’s Kingdom is distinguished for holiness, hence it “shall never be destroyed,” but on the contrary, “shall stand for ever.” The wicked may plot its overthrow; but their devices will redound to their own confusion. Observe:
(1) This kingdom, though long organised, is still in a very immature state. It is still in its infancy every way considered, as regards extent knowledge, liberty, in all the qualities that give dignity and importance to any society. When it may attain its complete development is a subject of uncertainty.
(2) If the last dread conflict between Christ and Belial, light and darkness be not far distant, it is our duty to be preparing for the contest. Jehovah calls all to whom His gospel comes in its fulness and freeness to His help “against the mighty.” He works by human agency in the prosecution of His plans. (G. Stewart, M.A.)
And that it break in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold.
The Image Destroyed
Looking at the image as a whole, notice:
I. ITS UNITY. Four successive empires were not represented by four colossal images, but by one. The figure stood entire to the end, the brightness excellent, the form terrible. The image was the symbol of human power in its highest manifestation, an imperial despotism all but commensurate with the inhabited world. The dynasties, differing in form, were, nevertheless, one and the same in spirit and genius--particularly in alienation from the life of God--and, therefore, in hostiliy to His Kingdom. This need not have been the case. Civil government may be a reflection of the Divine government. It may be rooted in Divine principles. It may be administered in the fear of God.
II. ITS MAJESTY. Just as there may be a certain majesty in mere intellect, apart from its consecration, so may there be in an empire over men, notwithstanding its prostitution to sinful ends. Man was made in the image of God. The dominion of man over nature, over other men, is a shadow of Divine dominion. Of this dominion the image of a human form was a fit symbol; but the image was not of a mere man, but man in colossal majesty. No particular form of government can claim to exist as exclusively of Divine right; but government of some kind, government in the abstract, magistracy of some order, is undoubtedly Divine.
III. ITS WEAKNESS. There is grandeur in this image of worldly power; but the colossus of metal stands on weak feet of clay. It may have been God’s intention that we should note this--how all things human deteriorate unless redeemed from corruption by the saving power of religion. This is as true of government in general, and of particular dynasties and races of kings, as of anything else whatever. Then we may expect Divine intervention to save society by the quickening and regeneration of its members. The process of deterioration is not inevitable. (H. T.Robjohns, B. A.)
The Spiritual Kingdom
As in the symbolical language of the prophetical writers, we have an earthquake for a revolution, a mountain for a kingdom, a star for a prince, a forest for a great city, the treading of the wine-press for desolation and slaughter, and a censer with incense for the offering of prayer; so, in our text, we have the four great empires of the world, like the four ages of the poets of ancient Greece and Rome, represented by the precious and useful metals--gold, silver, brass, and iron; while the enduring empire of the Messiah is expressed by the mountain-stone--that stone which the builders of worldly empires, and of worldly policy, despise. The empire of the Messiah differs from all the others in its nature, origin, extent, and duration. Its spiritual nature our Lord himself signifies, when He says that “His Kingdom is not of this world.” This empire “shall never be destroyed.” Corruption, it is true, in the west, and delusion in the east, have marred both the beauty and extent of the present visible kingdom of the Messiah. But notwithstanding these, we must not falsely estimate either the extent or purity of the Kingdom of Christ. Wherever, therefore, our varied lot of life may be placed by the disposal of providence, whether under our native skies, or in lands the most distant from our own; let us all so live as it becomes the subjects of that empire which shall survive in glory when all earthly empires shall have passed away. (T. Aitken, M.D.)
Reserve Power of Christianity yet to be Manifested
All the oxygen breathed into our lungs is not at once expended again. By the complex processes of our human system, no remotest corner of the body but is supplied with this element of the air against such uses as may require it throughout a future more or less extended. Vigour of body, vigour of mind, vigour of soul, are but other expressions to denote the sum of energies which are in reserve in the respective realms of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. Christianity’s power, even at present, it is not possible to estimate, and never will be known unless we can know the reserve of soul which God’s heavenly grace has stored in His children’s hearts. In the final conflict between good and evil, this reserve will doubtless be called upon. Thus, against that day, let us preserve and reserve His grace. (Quiver.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Daniel 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany