Nebuchadnezzar, the king, made an image of gold.
We are not without historical confirmation of the narrative as to the existence of gigantic idols of gold among the Babylonians. Herodotus writes that in his day there was at Babylon an idol image of gold twelve cubics high; and, what is still more remarkable, another authority, obviously speaking of the same statue, mentions that every stranger was obliged to worship it before he was allowed to enter the city. Diodorus Siculus mentions an image found in the temple of Bolus forty feet high, which some think was the same as the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar. Other images almost parallel in magnitude are mentioned in history. The Colossus of Nero was one hundred and ten feet high. The Colossus of Rhodes was seventy cubits high, and was considered one of the seven wonders of the world. According to classic story, it took thirteen years to construct this colossus; and on its being thrown down by an earthquake, so great was its weight, it ploughed up the ground, and buried itself under the ground. These historical facts show that such images were not unusual, and that it was not impossible to construct such by ancient art. The Colossus of Nero and of Rhodes were not, however, of gold; nor do we suppose that the image of Nebuchadnezzar was of solid gold. It must have been either hollow, or made of wood and covered with gold. It does not appear that the ancients made any but small images of solid gold. The proportions of this image are out of order, unless we understand the height to include the thickness of the pedestal, which it seems to me we should do. (W. A. Scott, D.D.)
Then Nebuchadnezzar, the king, sent to gather together the princes, the governors.
Society, the union of the many for the interest of all, seems ever to have been a principal object of God’s care and protection. His providence, in the order of nature, is manifestly directed to gather men together, to bind them to one another by the powerful bonds of mutual responsibility, and by the ineffaceable sentiments of justice and humanity.
In the revealed or written law God has caused religion and society to advance together. He has, in a manner, amalgamated them with each other. In defining our obligations with respect to Himself, He has defined our mutual engagements towards each other. All the precepts of the decalogue tend to the general utility of mankind. The object of the Gospel is to make of all the inhabitants of the world but one single people--of that people but one family; and to imbue that family with but one single aspiration: “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one as We are.” And we may assert of Jesus Christ in reference to Society, what He asserted of Himself in reference to the ancient law, that He “did not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” In fact, the intercourse which we carry on among ourselves gives birth to four descriptions of duty essential to the happiness of mankind, and to the tranquility of the social condition. Political duties, which are the foundations of society; magisterial duties, which are its security; charitable duties, which are its bonds; conventional duties, which are its elegancies. Now, it is religion alone that enforces and sanctifies those duties, and, therefore, it alone really protects the interests of society. Now, the error of all others prejudicial to society, and nevertheless an error which is very common, is to imagine that the various conditions existing in the world are no more than the result of chance or of necessity--that it is not necessary to refer to Divine wisdom for the explanation of the fact, that our wants once ascertained, it is perfectly natural that we should seek in the industry of others for those resources we cannot discover in ourselves--that this exchange of services has produced that variety of conditions into which society is divided--and that independently of Providence, nature has conferred authority upon the father of a family, strength given rule to kings, adulation created the influence of the great, the public safety suggested the office of the magistrate, luxury and appetite have been the parents of all the elegant arts. Would a father (and this is the title by which He delights to be called) forget his children, and leave their future prospects uncertain and wavering? No; and, therefore, religion displays to us His providence directed to abundantly supplying our wants and even luxuries. And how? Why, by means of that variety of social conditions, of which He alone is the Author. For what other Being than He, who from the discord of the elements called forth the harmony of the universe, could bind together and incorporate so many opposing influences, and direct them towards one only end? What other Being than He, who by means of a few grains of sand arrests the fury of the waves, could discipline so many furious passions, and fix the invisible limits which they cannot pass?
Nevertheless, I cannot deny that there is a specious objection often urged to this fundamental truth; and that is, the great inequality of conditions among mankind. “Wherefore,” it may be said, “wherefore is it that of the same clay are fashioned vessels of honour and vessels of dishonour? Why that immense distance that separates one man from another? Why so many enjoyments and so much liberty on the one hand, and so many privations and so much bondage on the other? Is God an accepter of persons?” What do you require Him to do? That He should establish complete equality amongst us? Let us suppose that He has done so, and nosy mark the consequences. We are all equally independent, equally powerful, equally great, equally rich. And now tell us of what advantage would that independence be to us. Should we be competent to supply all our own requirements, and should we have no need to apply to others to assist us in our necessity? Of what advantage would our power be to us? To what use could we apply it? Of what advantage would our grandeur be to us? Would it attract towards us one single particle of homage or of respect? Of what advantage would our riches be to us? how could we employ them? That complete equality once established even, would it last long? Would our ambition continue to be satisfied? Would it patiently endure so many equals? Would it not aspire to domination? And what restraint would be applicable to control it? We should all be rivals, and continually in a state of civil war. That complete equality once established, who amongst us would undertake to cultivate the ground, to supply the most pressing wants, to procure the ordinary necessaries of life? What law, what authority would there be to compel us to do so? We should perish in consequence of our greatness and abundance; we should obtain nothing but worthless superfluities while we were requiring actual food and shelter. In short, to make men all equally fortunate is but another term for rendering them all equally wretched. There must be a head of a state, that the state may escape the infliction of many tyrants; there must be great men, “princes and governors,” to protect the weak; there must be warriors “and captains,” to defend the country; there must be magistrates, “judges,” “counsellors, and sheriffs,” to prevent injustice, and to punish crime; there must be the rich, “the treasurers,” to employ labour and to reward it; there must be the poor and needy, that the inconveniences which poverty entails may serve as a spur to indolence and a warning to sloth. Society rests upon these different states as upon buttresses that support it. Now, it would be perfectly superfluous in me to prove to you that labour is the condition on which society exists--that in certain respects even political commotions themselves are less dangerous than apathy and sloth--that happiness consists in the mutual understanding which should exist between various classes, who, acting in concert, and depending upon each other for an interchange of good offices, meet together by different roads which converge towards the same centre. Well, it is religion alone which imparts a true impetus to that activity, by the peculiar stress it lays upon the conscientious discharge of the various social duties--duties so peculiar to each separate condition, that every individual is required personally to fulfil them--so essential, that they will hold the foremost place in the examination, which at the last great day the Sovereign Judge will institute--so indispensable, that their absence implies an absence of piety as well,since “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Does human policy watch as carefully over the interests of society? Does it rise up to protest with equal sternness against those indifferent spectators who reap abundantly in the field wherein they have not sown? Of the vast multitude of men of whom society is composed, how few serve it from other motives than ambition or emolument! The love of glory urges on the former, the thirst of riches influences the latter. Fortunately nature condemns from their very birth the greater number to struggle and to toil. And now observe the distinguishing glory of our holy faith. Not content with enjoining the fulfilment of the various social duties, it sets forth as well the manner in which those duties should be fulfilled. Is it no service to society that religion enjoins that the duties of the state be discharged with intelligence?” Abound in knowledge and in all diligence.” And who can fail to feel how fatal to the interests of society would be the influence of those in power if destitute of the necessary knowledge? If they be warriors, in spite of their valour and intrepidity, to what dangers would they not expose their country? Or is it no service to society that religion enjoins that the duties of the state be discharged with decorum? “Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, that ye may walk honestly towards them that are without.” Or does religion confer no benefit on society when it enjoins, that the motive of action when we are serving our fellow-men should be a desire to please God--“not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord?” No other motive would be pure enough nor noble enough to elevate us above human considerations and our own self-interest. Were Christianity universally practised even there only where it is professed--were all mankind to regulate their conduct by the maxims of the Gospel, and careful to be guided by heavenly motives only; with God over all disposing everything according to His wisdom, regulating everything by His will, animating everything by His Spirit, enriching everything by His liberality, sanctifying everything by His grace, sustaining everything by His power--at the sight of a state of society like this, who would not be tempted to exclaim with Balaam, as he contemplated the camp of Israel, “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel?” (J. Jessopp, M.A.)
To you it is commanded, O people.
The Importance of the Imperative
We cannot do without this word “command” in our religious education. It is a Divine word. It would be instructive to trace the history of that term, and to study its meaning in the various relations which it assumes. The Bible is full of commandments; in Genesis the Lord commands, in the Apocalypse there is a commanding voice; and Jesus, gracious, meek, patient, tender Jesus, commands--He says, “A new commandment give I unto you.” How, then, can Jesus give commands? Because of what He is. God can give commands because He is God; and not only so, but being God, He knows human nature, and can address it in its own terms, and according to the line of its own instincts and necessities. When He thunders down His commands there is nothing that offends the mental or moral constitution on which the commanding voice falls with ineffable authority. The command awakens something that is already slumbering in the nature. We must have our duties in the first instance in the form of commands, but only God can tell what commands are not arbitrary, but are natural, and operate in the line of instinct and Divine intention. What is a commandment to one man is an easy task to another. Some hard and all but impenetrable natures require to be commanded, stirred, roused; and others hear the word of the Lord and spring to it in obedience that seems to understand it all ere it be fully spoken. Many have sweetened the bitterness of their lot by an ample and proper use of the promises who have forgotten that every promise has behind it or near it a corresponding command. The imperative mood has never been allowed to fall into disuse in the Bible; it is, “Son, give me thine heart”; it is, “Love one another”; it is, “Hear my words and do them.” We draw the line, then, as between human authority and Divine sovereignty, as between an arbitrary decree and a command that is in harmony with the wisdom and love of God, and in harmony with the peculiarity of human constitution and capacity. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)
The sound of the cornet, flute, harp.
Eastern Musical Instruments
The instruments enumerated here are mostly still in use in the present time, but some of them have become obsolete. The cornet is a brass trumpet manufactured in the country, and used in martial music. There are several kinds of flute, both single and double. The harp is no longer in use, nor the “psaltery,” which is a similar instrument of the same kind; they have been replaced by the ood, which gives a richer sound, and is more portable. The “sackbut” is a tamboora, a sort of guitar, of various shapes and sizes; in its most complete and perfect form it is three feet nine inches long, has ten strings of fine wire, and forty-seven steps. It is played with a plectrum, and is often inlaid with mother-of-pearl and valuable woods. It is often, however, of smaller size and less costly materials. The “dulcimer” is a kanoon, or sander. The “kanoon” is the original of our piano, both being probably derived from the lyre and the harp, whence the piano was first called a harpsichord. This instrument consists of a box two inches in depth, and of an irregular form, its greatest length being thirty-nine inches, and its width sixteen. There are only twenty-four notes, and, like the piano, each note has three strings, which are tuned with a key. The sounding-board lies under the strings, and is perforated, and covered with fish-skin where the bridge rests. The performer lays the instrument on his knees, and strikes the chords with the forefinger of each hand, to which is fastened a plectrum of horn. Another form of this instrument, called “santur,” is a double kanoon, and comes still nearer to our piano; the strings are of wire, and only double; they are struck with wooden hammers held in the hand. When used in a procession, this instrument is suspended from the neck by means of a cord. (H. J. Van Lennep, D.D.)
The Religion of Ceremonial
Are all the coloured garments so many visions of beauty? Is there some strain religious in the blare of brazen trumpets and the throb of military drums? Most of the people that we see gathered together around great sights would gladly be at home, listening to the voice of child, or friend, or bird. Do external images fill the soul? is it enough to have a painted God? What wonder if we begin by worshipping things that are seen? That course would seem to be natural, and would seem to be able to justify itself by sound reasoning of a preliminary kind. Who could not in ignorance of other deity worship the sun? Sometimes he seems to be almost God! How multitudinous are his phases, how manifold the apocalypse within which he shows his uncounted riches; now so pale, as if he were weary, an eye half closed in sleep long needed, long delayed; and then in full pomp, every beam, so to say, alive, and the whole heaven amazed and delighted at this vision of glory, as if hidden within that fount of flame and heat there lay ten thousand times ten thousand summers, and ten thousand times ten thousand purple autumns, with all their largesses of fruit and flowers and benison, for the sustenance and the nutrition of men; then lost among the clouds, where, indeed, he seems to be disporting himself in painting a thousand academies by one look of his eyes; see how he fills the clouds and seems to shape them, or fall into their shape, making them burn and sparkle and glitter, and invests them with unimagined and untransferable colours; a marvellous, glorious sight! Who could not uncover his head in presence of such glory, and say, Surely this is the gate at least that opens upon the palaces of God. To worship nature would seem in certain stages of development to be right. God made it; God made the green grass and the blushing flower; the great hills, stairways to heights which man never scaled; God made the valleys and the mountains; and what are these fountains saying to the hearing ear? Only the true listener can tell; the vulgar man hears nothing in that splash of water, but the refined soul hears in it melody and song, music religious, and hint of other music that might please the ear of God. As we grow in wisdom, in capacity, in understanding, in sympathy, we close our eyes upon the universe, and say it is no more to us an image that should be sought unto for purposes of worship; but we see within, by a Divinely directed introspection, the true altar, the true sanctuary, the true centre of acceptable worship. Thus we grow from the natural to the spiritual, and when we have obtained the measure of our growth we say, “God is a Spirit”; if we still preserve the image, it is as we should preserve a symbol, that was helpful to us before we saw the thing signified. If our religion is in colour, form, aesthetic attitude and motion, our religion will surely come to nought; but if our piety live in eternity, if it feed itself upon the almightiness and the grace of God, as shown in the Cross of Christ, then it will abide for ever. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)
O king, live for ever.
The Golden Image Set Up
These last words, “O king, live for ever,” were designed by those who uttered them as the expression of the most gross and servile adulation, and they were doubtless regarded by the monarch to whom they were addressed as the spontaneous effusion of a reverential and devoted loyally.
I. First, then, THE WORDS OF THIS SALUTATION, “O king, live for ever,” were, in the mouth of the Chaldeans, manifestly uttered with a twofold purpose; to dissemble the malignity of the courtiers, and to flatter the conceit, if not to impose on the credulity of the king. Now, we do not take upon ourselves to determine whether these Chaldeans had any notion at all of a state of existence after death, or if so, what those notions were; but we can hardly conceive that those who believed the Godhead to be of the substance of silver and of gold could have any reasonable conception of the spiritual essence, the immaterial, intellectual part of man. Judging from this, they could have hoped for nothing more, and could have looked for nothing better after death, than to be resolved into their primal element of dust, and become even as the brutes that perish. Their salutation, therefore, must have been the climax of absurdity, because it bare on the face of it what was to them a perfect impossibility--the violation of a fundamental and universal law of our being. They knew that the king could not, in the course of nature, “live for ever”; they knew, that as the ancient monarchs of the nations lay down every one in his own house, so Nebuchadnezzar’s ample territory must ere long contract itself to the narrow coffin. But they flattered the proud, in order to betray the innocent; they deified a bloodstained and capricious tyrant, that they might doom to death three unoffending strangers and captives, whom they hated. Now, this is a true portraiture of the world in every age. It exalts the oppressor, and tramples on the innocent. We may look upon Nebuchadnezzar, then, in this stage of his career, as a consummate specimen of the favourite of this world, the courted, the envied, the admired, the adored. The universe lay prostrate at his feet. This, then, is a specimen and a sample of the world’s lie. It promises the ungodly what it never can bestow, and threatens the servants of the Lord with the loss of that which it cannot take away; so that while it deludes Nebuchadnezzar into the infatuation of believing that he, because he was a monarch over men, might become a manufacturer of gods, it binds the servants of the one true and living God hand and foot, and casts them into the devouring flame, because they fear not those who can only kill the body, but rather fear Him who is the arbiter of life and death, and who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell.
II. And now let us turn from the humbled king of Babylon, TO TRACE THE PRACTICAL BEARING OF THE SUBJECT UPON OURSELVES. True it is, that in our own age and country persecution for religion’s sake hath ceased, and with it the miracles that of old wrought strange deliverance, and the spiritual consolations and supports that suspended the laws of nature, and sustained the confessor beneath the scourge and the martyr amidst the flames: but there is no change in the enmity of the flesh against the Spirit, or in the barrel of the world to God. True it is, that the oppressor hath no longer at command the burning fiery furnace, nor the lions’ fearful den; but the evil one still does what he can, though he can no longer do what he would. If the weapon of the world is no longer cruelty, it is contumely; if it is no longer torture, it is ridicule. “Live for ever,” these words are a memorial of our own immortality, and they should call upon every one to consider, on the principles laid down in Holy Writ, whether he who is born for eternity is also living for it. Now we, like these intrepid and devoted children of the faithful Abraham, cannot at one and the same time bow down before the golden idol and adore the living God; we must be equally decided in our service with them. “Examine yourselves,” then, “whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” (T. Dale, M.A.)
They serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
The Golden Image
In last chapter we read of an image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in vision. In this chapter our attention is directed to an actual image which that monarch erected in honour of his gods. This image was made of gold. We cannot suppose the whole structure to have consisted entirely of that metal. Rich as Nebuchadnezzar was, neither he nor any other prince possessed so much disposable wealth as would have been required in order to construct a figure of solid gold of equal dimensions with that mentioned in this passage. We should suppose that the structure consisted of a pedestal or shaft surmounted by an image, that the image properly so called was made of gold, that the pedestal was formed of some baser material, and that the height refers solely to the elevation of the image from the ground, and not to its size. This image “was set up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” Some suppose that Dura was the name of an extensive plain in the neighbourhood of the capital. Others, of high authority in Scriptural geography, are of opinion that it was some enclosure within the city adjacent to the temple of Bolus. From the passage itself we would be disposed to infer that it must have been without the city and at some distance, for if it was within the walls of Babylon there was no need of stating, as is here done, that it was “in the province of Babylon.” Various opinions have been entertained respecting the end that Nebuchadnezzar had in view in the erection of this image. Some are of opinion that he wished to claim for himself a place among the gods, and that the image was erected as the outward symbol of his deification. Nebuchadnezzar was evidently an aspiring man. We see no reason to suppose that Nebuchadnezzar intended by this image, publicly, avowedly, and formally, to claim Divine honours for himself. If such had been his intention, it would, doubtless, have been distinctly announced in the proclamation by which his subjects were enjoined to give it worship. The refusal of the three children to worship the image is spoken of by their accusers as a refusal to worship the king’s gods. It is thus apparent from the testimony of all the parties concerned in this matter, that the image was erected in honour of the king’s gods. In all ages, and in all lands, whose political history is known to us, religion has been degraded into an engine of state and an instrument of tyranny. Hence professed atheists have affirmed that religion is a mere invention of rulers to hold mankind in subjection. This assertion is self-destructive The fact that rulers made use of religion as a means of upholding and strengthening their government, evidently implies that religion had a previous existence, and that they had recourse to it as an instrument of policy on account of the great influence which they had perceived it to possess over the minds of men. National uniformity in matters of religion has ever been the idol of politicians. Conformity to the established religion has been one of the most common tests of loyalty. There can be little doubt that in setting up this image Nebuchadnezzar had a similar end in view. It was not erected simply as a mark of reverence to his idols, but also, we may conceive, as a political expedient to strengthen and consolidate his government, by promoting uniformity of religion among his subjects. To him it would probably appear that this step was not only warranted by the ordinary reasons in behalf of uniformity, but demanded by the peculiar state of the Babylonian empire. A great part of that empire had been newly acquired. It was composed of many nations, Jews, Egyptians, Moabites, Ammonites, Syrians, Edomites. Posts under his government and places in his army would be held by persons from all these countries. To unite a kingdom so variously composed, and obtain the permanent ascendancy over countries so newly acquired, nothing would appear more likely than to bring all his subjects to be of one religion. The religion, whether of an individual or a nation, is the most permanent link of connection between the present and the past. Religion exerts a powerful influence in the formation of character; so long, therefore, as these varied nations retained a diversity of opinions, they would never be thoroughly amalgamated into one empire. The image being erected, Nebuchadnezzar commanded all in authority under him, princes, governors, captains, judges, treasurers, sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to his dedication. Being convened, “An herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: and whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” In this proclamation there are two things: First, The command to fall down and worship the image; which extended to all persons specified, without exception. Secondly, The penalty denounced against such as refused. Viewed in the light of the Divine law, this proclamation was most tyrannical. It was a violent outrage on the most sacred rights of human beings. But by this proclamation, Nebuchadnezzar constituted himself supreme dictator in religion to his whole realm; thereby he usurped the prerogatives of the Godhead, by interposing his authority between the conscience of the creature and the will of his Creator. To command his subjects to fall down and worship the image, was to convert law, the bulwark of liberty, into an engine of oppression. But how much more odious and detestable does his conduct appear when we think of the dreadful penalty annexed to the proclamation! In this case, penal laws are always criminal, in the sight of God. It is always wrong to attempt to propagate religion by force. It is contrary to the nature of religion. It is contrary to the nature of man. It is most foolish and inexpedient in point of policy. To attempt to propagate religion by force is to make might the standard of right, which is opposed to man’s nature as a reasonable being, and to the worship of God as a reasonable service. And what could be more foolish? It is attempting an impossibility. Force cannot reach the mind. Force may make cowards, it may make dissemblers, it may make hypocrites and apostates, but it never did, and never can make a convert. What, therefore, can be more inexpedient in a government than to persecute men for adhering to their religion? Is not the success of such a measure the memorial of a nation’s ignominy? For, when persons are thus induced to fall down and worship what they believe to be wrong, do they not proclaim that they are sacrificing their integrity, that they are violating their consciences, that they are time-servers and apostates, and that they are men in whose principles no dependence can be placed, when interest and duty are disjoined. The law enacted by Nebuchadnezzar was most tyrannical, most unreasonable in itself, and most inexpedient in point of policy. The command of Nebuchadnezzar met with the most prompt compliance. What a lamentable spectacle was this, to see the rulers of a great nation bending before tyranny--to see rational and immortal beings doing homage to a figure formed of inanimate materials--to see the creatures of God worshipping a creation of man! And yet, with three exceptions, the whole assembled mass fall down and worship it as one man. The thrre exceptions were the excellent companions of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Unawed by the presence of the king, unseduced by the terrors of the burning fiery furnace, they refused to fall down and worship the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. This act was warranted and demanded by the moral law. In the second commandment it is written, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” etc. In the bustle of that extensive scene, the king of Babylon saw not their neglect. But despotical kings are always encompassed by minions, who, in such a case, are forward to act the part of spies and informers. “Then certain Chaldeans came near and accused the Jews.” Incapable of accounting for their conduct on any known principle of court politics, they endeavoured by artful insinuations to represent their conduct to the king in the most odious light, Nebuchadnezzar probably felt proud of the fine spectacle which the plains of Dura that day presented. His spirit, we may conceive, rose within him with the swell of the music and the plaudits of the worshippers. His pride would be flattered by the reflection that he was the lord of this assembly of rulers. This information, therefore, came upon him like a thunderbolt out of a cloudless sky. And how did these Jews act when their God is thus insulted, and the alternative imposed upon themselves of bowing to the image or burning in the furnace? They quitted themselves like men. Many valuable lessons may be deduced from this passage, particularly in regard to the manner in which we should adopt, and the spirit in which we should adhere to a profession of religion. There are few things in which men act with greater frivolity than in regard to the solemn matter of making a profession of religion. There are many who fall in with whatever is most popular. Others adhere to whatever is most fashionable among the upper classes of society, and would rather walk on the broad path of destruction with fashionable men than on the narrow way of life without them. How often have human laws enjoined what the Divine law prohibits? How often have God’s people been persecuted because they were unwilling to render unto Caesar the things which are God’s? There are seasons when it is no easy matter to obey God rather than man. It may bring ruin on our fortunes and reproach upon our names. It may expose us to a violent and untimely death. But even in these cases we ought to surrender our lives rather than part with our conscientious convictions. In such an emergency natural courage will “faint and fail.” The formalist will become a coward; the hypocrite will become an apostate; and no man can stand securely but he who has confidence in the Divine character, and on the ground of this confidence is able to resign himself implicitly to the Divine management. (William White.)
First we have a state religion persecuting the people for their religious opinions, and threatening them with death if they do not comply with its decrees. The second thing that strikes us is the measures taken to popularise the king’s religion, and persuade the people to embrace it. These measures were two-fold. They were seductive and minatory. They were directed to the sensual tastes and natural fears of man. If the voluptuous swells of music from all kinds of instruments could not cause the people to fail down and worship Bel, why then the furnace was to do its work. And have we nothing like this in our times? The king desired these young men to conform to his decree, but did not prove to them the truth of his religion. There were many flattering arguments which these young men might have urged against the conviction of their earlier education, and in favour of complying with the king’s command, which they did not urge, nor even seem to have allowed to have so much as a moment’s consideration. They might have said--but they did not so say--that it was their duty to obey the king, and worship the image, for thiswas the established religion of the empire. They chose to obey God rather than man, God alone is Lord of the conscience. These young men might have urged also--but they did not do so--that it was most expedient to bow down and worship the image. Mark their situation. They were captives in the hands of an absolute Oriental monarch, who could take off their heads at any minute, and no one ever ask why or wherefore. They were, moreover, advanced to places of power, where they were able, perhaps, to do many kind things for their suffering countrymen. They remembered their old Hebrew Catechism, which had taught them that God had said to them, “Thou shalt not bow down to any idol gods, nor worship them.” It is plainly taught in God’s Holy Word that right is always true expediency. It may not seem to be so; but it will always be found so in the end. Nor did these three Hebrew youths urge that they were compelled to obey the king’s commandment because they were under great personal obligations to him. He had shown them much kindness, and heaped honours upon them; but their duty to God was stronger than gratitude to the king. Employers, parents, teachers, and benefactors may lay you under great personal obligations; but you must follow your conscience in the matter of religion. “He that loveth father or mother more than me cannot be my disciple.” Nor did they urge that they would be out of fashion, and marked for their singularity, if they did not worship this golden image. Singularity assumed for the sake of being singular or famous is contemptible, and indicates a weak mind; but to be singular as a necessary result of not sinning as others do, is worthy of a Christian. When duty requires us to be singular, then we must not hesitate. Do not mind that the multitude are against you, if God be with you. “If sinners entice thee,” God says, “consent not.” “Follow not the multitude to do evil.” Nor did these young men urge the terrible penalty to which they were exposed by disobeying the king’s commandment. Is there any young man here who is saying to himself, “I would become a Christian; I wish to save my soul; but if I do, I must give up such and such pleasures; I must shut up my shop on Sunday, and quit my lake rides on the Lord’s day?” And what if it does cost you all these pleasures to save your soul? Would it not be better to be thrown into the fiery furnace than to have both body and soul cast into hell for ever? “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Your privileges are greater than those of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Gospel has unfolded to you its grace, glory, and riches. How then can you escape if you neglect so great salvation? But why, think you, did these young men refuse to obey the royal decree?
1. They could not obey it because of the force of their religious impressions.
2. Consistency of character and of profession forbade them to worship idols. They were Hebrews. They had avowed Jehovah to be their God. They could not obey the king without denying the God of their fathers. What satisfaction would it have been, think you, to their pious parents, who in their homes at Jerusalem had taken so much pains to instruct them in the law and in the worship of the true God, could they have seen how firmly their sons adhered to the principles they had implanted with so many fears, and tears, and prayers? Never allow yourselves to imbibe any creed or do anything inconsistent with your mirth, education, privileges, and destiny.
3. These Hebrew youths refused, because they were sustained by the hope of deliverance. “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee.” They believed that God would make all things work together for their good. The special lessons from the fiery furnace of Dura to the young men of the nineteenth century are:
I. IN THE COURTEOUS BUT FIRM REFUSAL OF THESE HEBREW YOUTHS, WE HAVE A MODEL FOR THEM IN LESS PAINFUL CIRCUMSTANCES. When God’s providence calls for martyrs, then He will give grace sufficient for the crisis. The principle, however, must be well settled, that if the day comes when you are required to give up your liberty or religious freedom, or perish in the field of battle or at the stake, you would firmly prefer the latter. The prior point, in our times of freedom from persecution, is to become the true followers of Christ. There are not wanting authors and public teachers who argue that these young men should have complied with the wishes of the king, because the religion of Bel was the established religion of the empire. As loyal subjects, they should have embraced the same religion that was professed by their king. This is the old worm-eaten effete doctrine, that the government or the king is the head of the church, and the keeper of the consciences of the people. Such is not the teaching of the Bible. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ is not of this world; nor has He given to any human power the authority of enacting laws for Him. The Scriptures are the only rule of faith. Mormonism prevails in Utah; if I go to the Salt Lake, must I turn Mormon? Brahminism is the established religion of certain parts of India and China, must the English and Americans that go thither become Hindoos? If you live in Constantinople, must you, therefore, become a Mohammedan? If you live in Paris, is it right for you to become an Infidel, Papist, or Socialist; or if in Germany, a Pantheist or a Protestant, simply because any one of these may be the established or prevailing creed around you? It is monstrous to suppose that a man’s duty to his Creator is to be decided by any such standard as this. The only authority binding on the conscience is the authority of God. It is the most potent element of social or individual life. It may be tossed upon the billows of popular fury, or east into the seven-fold heated furnace of persecution, or be trampled to the dust by the iron heel of despotism; but it is absolutely imperishable. “Hers are the eternal years of God.” Nor can those die who fall in her great cause.
II. AS CHRISTIAN YOUNG MEN YOU HAVE, THEREFORE, THE GREAT CONSOLATION OF KNOWING THAT THE GREATEST EFFORTS OF THE MIGHTIEST MEN ARE UTTERLY UNAVAILING AGAINST THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. All the power of earth and hell cannot burn out one single truth from God’s word; nor can all the popes and assemblies, cabinets, and armies on the globe add one single doctrine or precept to the Bible necessary to salvation.
III. Learn then, and though this lesson has been taught before, I must repeat it, that true expediency is true principle. “The path of duty is the path of safety.” “Honesty is the best policy.” It was so with Joseph. It was so with Daniel and his three friends. It has always been so with the great and the good. Whatever God calls you to do or to suffer, fear not to obey. He will be with you in whatever He calls you to. If He calls you to enter the fiery furnace, hesitate not one moment. He will be with you, and either sustain you or deliver you, or make it conducive to your higher and future good. (W. A. Scott, D.D.)
Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Image
In the second chapter, which immediately precedes the history of the golden idol, we have an account of a prophetic vision granted to Nebuchadnezzar, and in which were foreshadowed the destinies of the four great secular empires whose foundation succeeded the foundation of the kingdom of Israel, and preceded the foundation of Christianity. Now in this vision it is to be remarked that these empires were exhibited to the king under the guise of a great statue or image. And explaining the meaning of this strange and tremendous apparition, Daniel addresses the king thus: “Thou art this head of gold.” Now there is a circumstance in the description of the golden idol set up in the plain of Dura in the next chapter which has greatly puzzled commentators, and has been used by some critics to throw discredit on the whole narrative. This circumstance is the utter disproportion of the idol. Assuming it to have been a human figure, how can we imagine a statue representing a human figure sixty cubits high and only six cubits broad? a statue, the height of which is exactly ten times its breadth? Now to me, this monstrous disproportion seems at once to hint at a different conception of what the idol was. I believe it to have been a representation of the image the king had shortly before beheld in his prophetic dream. But, mark you, not of the whole of that image. The other parts of the terrible apparition had been explained by Daniel as denoting other kingdoms less exalted by nature, less glorious in appearance than that of the Babylonian monarch. He was “the head of gold.” Accordingly the image he set up in the plain of Dura was, I conceive, a representation not of the whole image of the vision, but simply of the head of gold, elevated on a pedestal of the same metal, tall enough to exhibit it completely to the whole multitude convened to worship it. The image of the plain of Dura was, in other words, the image of the prophetic dream, so far as it concerned Nebuchadnezzar’s self; it was the representation of himself as the mightiest sovereign the world had ever seen, or ever was to see; and the adoration he demanded for it was a deification of mere worldly power and grandeur in his own person. This hypothesis will appear less startling when we recollect that Oriental kings were often--indeed, generally--considered as emanations from the Deity, incarnations of His attributes; and were approached with exactly the same forms of adoration as were used to the Deity they represented or embodied. And in this case, the representation of the king’s superhuman power and grandeur might actually seem to be authorised by the prophetic vision from which Nebuchadnezzar had adopted it. Viewed in this light, we can at once perceive why all the great officials of the empire, the princes, captains, judges, sheriffs and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled to its dedication--of the people at large nothing is said--and why such an extraordinary and terrific punishment was denounced on those who might refuse to prostrate themselves before it. The official who would not adore the consecrated representation of his own monarch’s power and place in the history of the world might justly, according to Oriental notions, be regarded as a traitor. Nothing but disloyalty could refuse the worship demanded. Why should he not display to all his officers of state the disclosures made to him by the Divinity and explained by the master of the magicians? Why not require Divine honours to be paid to the Divinely revealed representation of his own great place In the destinies of the world--in the history of the human race? Assuming this conception of the connection between the vision of the second chapter and the idol of the third chapter to be correct, how significant a hint does it not give us of the propensity of the human heart to turn even God’s benefits into poison! Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, like Pharaoh of Egypt, had been made the recipient of superhuman knowledge, though on a far grander scale than Pharaoh. He had been favoured with a disclosure of the destinies not of one single kingdom, but of all secular power whatever, previous to the advent of the Christ. But, instead of giving heed to the impressive warning, instead of a salutary lesson of humility, a conviction of the nothingness of all mere worldly power, he had been so puffed up with being told that he was the first and the greatest of those temporal powers that were so soon to be destroyed by the great spiritual Power, as to convert the very emblem of warning into an emblem of daring and blasphemous impiety. God interposes by miracle, not in every case where such interposition might seem desirable, but only in cases peculiar and critical--cases which mark epochs and decide great destinies. Now such an one was pre-eminently the case of the three youths in the burning fiery furnace. God’s people had been completely subjugated by the mighty autocrat of Babylon. Had the three Jews perished in the furnace destined to annihilate all who would not pay Divine honour to the embodiment of human power, the cause of God might, perhaps, have been lost; His people might have been so discouraged that not a remnant would have maintained the truth. Here, then, was a worthy case for Divine interposition.
1. Individually we learn from the behaviour of the three Jews before the terrible King of Babylon, that we have nothing to do with expediency when principle is at stake. How plausibly might they not have reasoned themselves into compliance had expediency been consulted! They were no politicians. They simply asked, Hath God forbidden His people to bow down and worship idols, or hath He not? If He hath, no reasoning can make that right which He hath said is wrong. And as the command was plain and direct, they felt their obedience to it must be plain and direct. Let this magnificent example of heroic steadfastness in the path of duty teach us that simple but difficult lesson how to say NO when we are tempted or threatened in order to make us do what we are aware is wrong. The man who has learned that lesson can go through the fiery furnace of this world unscorched, unharmed, without even the smell of its flame passing on him; for One shall walk beside him who has also overcome temptation--One whose form shall be indeed “the form of the Son of God!”
2. The same considerations apply with added force and on a grander scale to the case of Christ’s Church on earth and every part thereof. The history of that church is one of the strangest and saddest ever written by human passion and human error on the course of time. How the very consolations of God, the sweet ordinances of the Gospel, have, by the cunning of God’s adversary and the fierce narrowmindedness of man, been transformed into whips of scorpions, with which loveless zeal and arrogant pride have scourged generation after generation, they know too well who know anything of the story of Christianity. (C. P. Reichel, D. D.)
Is it True
If you would become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ it will be well for you to count the cost. It was our Lord’s custom to bid men consider what his service might involve. His frequent declaration was, “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” If we count upon ease in this warfare we shall be grievously disappointed; we must fight if we would reign. One reason of this is that the world, like Nebuchadnezzar, expects us all to follow its fashions and to obey its rules. The god of this world is the devil, and he claims implicit obedience. Sin in some form or other is the image which Satan sets up and requires us to serve. The tyranny of the world is fierce and cruel, and those who will not worship its image will find that the burning fiery furnace has not yet cooled. The world’s flute, harp, sackbut, and psaltery must sound for you in vain. A nobler music must charm your ears and make you bid defiance to the world’s threatenings. The true believer’s stand must be taken, and he must determine that he will obey God rather than man. The love of the world and the love of God will no more mix than oil and water. To attempt a fusion of these two is to bring confusion into your heart and life. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said to Nebuchadnezzar, so will true believers say to the world: “We will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Now, if you can refuse to sin, if you can refuse even to parley with iniquity, it is well with you. If you stand out for truth and righteousness, your conscience will approve your position, and this in itself is no small comfort. It will be an ennobling thing for your manhood to have proved its strength, and it will tend to make it stronger. Peradventure some of you may say, “We will not bow before the gods of the world, but we will worship God only; we will follow Christ, and none beside.” This is a brave resolve; you will never regret it if you stand to it even to the end. We are glad to hear you speak thus; but is it true? “Is it true?” It is very well to profess, but “Is it true?”
I. Follower of Christ, be ready for the question “Is it true?”
1. Do not reckon to live unnoticed, for a fierce light beats about every Christian. You will be sure to meet with some one or other whom you respect or fear, who will demand of you, “Is it true?” Nebuchadnezzar was a great personage to these three holy men; he was their despotic lord, their employer, their influential friend. In his hands rested their liberties and their lives. He was, moreover, their benefactor, for he had set them in high office in his empire. Many young Christians are tried with this temptation. Many worldly advantages may be gained by currying favour with certain ungodly men who are like little Nebuchadnezzars; and this is a great peril. They are bidden to do wrong by one who is their superior, their employer, their patron. Now comes the test. Will they endure the trial hour? They say that they can endure it, but is it true? Nebuchadnezzar spoke in peremptory tones, as if he could not believe that any mortal upon the earth could have the presumption to dispute his will. He cannot conceive that one employed under his patronage will dare to resist his bidding; he demands indignantly, “Is it true?” He will not believe it! He must have been misinformed! You will meet with persons so accustomed to be obeyed that they think it hard that you do not hasten to carry out their wishes. The infidel father says to his boy, “John, is it true that you go to a place of worship against my wishes? How dare you set up to be better than your father and mother?” Often ungodly men profess that they do not believe in the conversion of their fellow workmen. Is it true, John, that you have become religious? A pretty fellow! Is it true? They insinuate that you are off your head, that your wits have gone wool-gathering, and that you are the dupe of fanatics. You will not be able to go through life without being discovered; a lighted candle cannot be hid. There is a feeling among some good people that it will be wise to be very reticent, and hide their light under a bushel. They intend to lie low all the war time, and come out when the palms are being distributed. They hope to travel to Heaven by the back lanes, and skulk into glory in disguise. How was it Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came up to the front when the king’s command was given? They could not consistently keep back. They were public men, set over provinces, and it was needful that they should set an example. Rest assured, my fellow Christians, that at some period or other, in the most quiet lives, there will come a moment for open decision. Days will come when we must speak out or prove traitors to our Lord and to His truth.
2. To be fully prepared to answer the enquiry of opposers, act upon sound reasons. Be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Be able to show why you are a believer in God, why you worship the Lord Jesus Christ, why you trust in His atoning sacrifice, and why you make Him the regulator of your life. Ask the Lord to help you to go to work with Bible reasons at your fingers’ ends; for those are the best of reasons, and bear a high authority about them; so that when the question is put to you, “Is it true?” you may be able to say, “Yes, it is true, and this is why it is true. At such a time God revealed Himself to me in His grace, and opened my blind eyes to see things in a true light.” When the mind is established, the heart is more likely to be firm. Know your duty and the arguments for it, and you are the more likely to be steadfast in the hour of temptation.
3. Next, take care that you always proceed with deep sincerity. Superficial profession soon ends in thorough apostasy. Only heart-work will stand the fire. We need a religion which we can die with.
4. This being done, accustom yourself to act with solemn determination before God on every matter which concerns morals and religion. Many very decent people are not self-contained, but are dependent upon the assistance of others. They are like the houses which our London builders run up so quickly in long rows; if they did not help to keep each other up they would all ramble clown at once, for no one of them could stand alone. How much there is of joint-stock-company religion, wherein hypocrites and formalists keep each other in countenance. Where things are not quite so bad as this, yet there is too little personal establishment in the faith. So many people have a “lean-to” religion. If their minister, or some other leading person were taken away, their back wall would be gone, and they would come to the ground. We have need nowadays to set our face as a flint against sin and error. We must purpose in our own heart what we will do, and then stand to our purpose. Happy he who dares to be in the right with two or three. Happier still is he who will stand in the right, even if the choice two or three should quit it. He who can stand alone is a man indeed; every man of God should be such.
5. Once more, when your determination is formed act in the light of eternity. Do not judge the situation by the king’s threat and by the heat of the burning fiery furnace, but by the everlasting God and the eternal life which awaits you. Let not flute, harp, and sackbut fascinate you, but hearken to the music of the glorified. Men frown at you, but you can see God smiling on you, and so you are not moved. It may be that you all be discharged from your situation unless you can wink at wrong and be the instrument of injustice. Be content to lose place rather than to lose peace. Now I am sure that these good men believed in immortality, or they would never have dared the violence of the flames. These brave men dared the rage of an infuriated tyrant because they saw Him who is invisible, and bad respect unto the recompense of the reward. You also must come to live a great deal in the future, or else you will miss the chief fountain of holy strength. God make us champions of His holy cause! Heroism can only be wrought in us by the Holy Ghost. Humbly yielding your whole nature to the power of the Divine Sanctifier, you will be true to your Lord even to the end.
II. But now, secondly, IF YOU CANNOT SAY THAT IT IS TRUE, WHAT THEN? If, standing before the heart-searching God at this time, you cannot say, “It is true,” how should you act? If you cannot say that you take Christ’s cross, and are willing to follow Him at all hazards, then hearken to me and learn the truth.
1. Do not make a profession at all. If it be not true that you renounce the world’s idols, do not profess that it is so. It is unnecessary that a man should profess to be what he is not; it is a sin of supererogation, a superfluity of naughtiness.
2. If you have made a profession, and yet it is not true, be honest enough to quit it; for it can never be right to keep up a fraud. A false profession is a crime, and to persevere in it is a presumptuous sin. Will you, then, go back to your old ways?
3. I am sure you will if you cannot answer the question of my text; but remember, that in so doing you will have to belie your consciences. Many of you who are not firm in your resolves yet know the right. You will never be able to get that light out of your eyes which has shone into them from
God’s word. You can never again sin so cheaply as others; it will be wilfulness and obstinacy in your case.
4. Remember also that by yielding to the fear of man you are demeaning yourself. There shall come a day when the man that was ashamed of Christ will himself be ashamed; he will wonder where he can hide his guilty head.
5. If your avowal of faith in Jesus and opposition to sin is not true you had better withdraw it and be silent; for by a groundless pretence you will dishonour the cause of God, and cause the enemy to take up a reproach against His people. If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had stood before Nebuchadnezzar and had made a compromise, it would have dishonoured the name of the Lord. Suppose they had said, “O king, we believe in Jehovah, but we hardly know what to do in our peculiar circumstances. We desire to please thee, and we also dread the thought of the burning fiery furnace, and therefore we must yield, though it greatly grieves us.” Why, they would have cast shame upon the name of Israel. O, do not talk about principle, and then pocket your principles because they are unfashionable, or will cost you loss and disrepute. If you do this you will be the enemies of the King of kings.
6. I want you to remember also that if you renounce Christ, if you quit Him in obedience to the world’s commands, you are renouncing eternal life and everlasting bliss. You may think little of that to-night, because of your present madness; but you will think differently before long. Soon you may lie on a sick bed gazing into eternity, and then your estimate of most things will undergo a great change.
III. But now, thirdly, let us consider what follows IF IT BE TRUE. I hope that many here can lay their hands upon their hearts, and quietly say, “Yes, it is true; we are determined not to bow before sin, come what may.”
1. Well, then, if it is true, I have this much to say to you: state this when it is demanded of you. Declare your resolve. This will strengthen it in yourself and be the means of supporting it in others. Is it true?
2. Then joyfully accept the trial which comes of it. Shrink not from the flames. Settle it in your minds that, by Divine grace, no loss, nor cross, nor shame, nor suffering, shall make you play the coward. Say, like the holy children, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” They did not cringe before the king, and cry, “We beseech thee, de not throw us into the fiery furnace. Let us have a consultation with thee, O king, that we may arrange terms. There may be some method by which we can please thee, and yet keep our religion.” No; they said, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” You may lose a great deal for Christ, but you will never lose anything by Christ. You may lose for time, but you will gain for eternity; the loss is transient, but the gain is everlasting.
3. If it be true that you are willing thus to follow Christ, reckon upon deliverance. Nebuchadnezzar may put you into the fire, but he cannot keep you there, nor can he make the fire burn you. The enemy casts you in bound, but the fire will loosen your bonds, and you will walk at liberty amid the glowing coals. You shall gain by your losses, you shall rise by your down-castings. Many prosperous men owe their present position to the fact that they were faithful when they were in humble employments. Do right for Christ’s sake, without considering any consequences, and the consequences will be right enough. If you take care of God’s cause, God will take care for you.
4. If you will stand up for Jesus, and the right, and the true, and the pure, and the temperate, and the good, not only will you be delivered, but you will do great good. This Nebuchadnezzar was a poor piece of goods; yet he was compelled to acknowledge the power of these three decided and holy men. The man who can hide his principles, and conceal his beliefs, and do a little wrong, is a nobody. He is a chip in the porridge; he will flavour nothing. But he who does what he believes to be right; and cannot be driven from it--that is the man. You cannot shake the world if you let the world shake you; but when the world finds that you have grit in you, they will let you alone. Nebuchadnezzar was obliged to feel the influence of these men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Hebrew Youths
I. THE SINGULAR CONDUCT OF THESE YOUTHS. There stand three men upright--when all are bowing--who dare to disobey the king’s command--who know a higher authority than that of any earthly potentate . . . Well for us if we have learnt to judge our actions otherwise than by the popular voice and popular example. If our inquiry is, not what saith the multitude, but what saith the Lord.
II. THE SINGULAR TRIAL OF THESE HEBREW YOUTHS. The punishment which Nebuchadnezzar pronounced against those who should disobey his decree was that they should be cast into a burning fiery furnace. This form of punishment seems to have been common in Babylon. Jeremiah speaks of “Zedekiah and Ahab whom the King of Babylon roasted in the fire.” That it was so, is moreover evident from the fact that the furnace was to be heated “seven times more than it was wont to be heated.” It was in the face, then, of such a terrible doom that these youths determined to stand true to their God--that they refused to conform to the idolatry with which they were surrounded. What a trial of their faith; and what strong faith must theirs have been which enabled them in the face of all this to remain “stedfast and unmoveable.” “Though he slay them, yet will they trust in Him.” Nebuchadnezzar, unfortunately, is not the only one who has presumed to dictate a religion to his fellows, and sought to enforce his command by the stern logic of the flames. Not long ago we visited the old city of St. Andrews, and saw where Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart suffered amid the fires “for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ--the reek from the faggots infecting as many as it did blow upon.” And, as we east our eyes over the continent of Europe, many similar spectacles rise to view. Now in France it is a Shuch, in Bohemia a Huss; and has not Spain of late been but reaping the harvest which it sowed when kings and nobles gathered themselves together and looked with unpitying eye upon the followers of Christ suffering amid the blazing piles?
III. THE SINGULAR DELIVERANCE OF THESE HEBREW YOUTHS (W. R. Inglis.)
The Fiery Trial
Not unwisely did an old Scottish matron once remark, that “It is easy to utter the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, when there is plenty of bread in the house.” If, however, one has no supply, and is without the means of procuring a morsel, strong faith is required to present the supplication aright. Similarly, it may be averred that it is easy to confess Christ when no pains and penalties are attached to the avowal of belief in Him. Most probably the self-confident and boastful would fail in such a testing time; while the meek and retiring would be borne through, because constrained by felt weakness to lean on the Almighty arm. It has been often and truly said, that dying grace is not given till the dying hour; neither is the grace of humble boldness in the cause of the Lord fully conferred, till there arise an occasion demanding its exercise. Twenty-three years appear by this time to have passed since Daniel was elevated to the position of ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and his three special friends made governors of subordinate districts. Meanwhile, much prosperity had been experienced by the empire in all departments. Nebuchadnezzar, it is believed, had during these years overcome not a few kingdoms bordering on his own. Egypt had fallen under his sway, exactly as Jeremiah had prophesied; and to the west or the south of Chaldea there were none strong enough to dispute the sovereignty of the king of Babylon. Forgetting the lesson that had been taught him by his dream regarding the compound image, he began to fancy that to his idol-god Bel, or Baal, his great success was wholly due. Evidently without asking advice from Daniel, he proposed to force all who were under his government to do homage to this idol. As many various nations had been compelled to submit to himself, he was resolved that they should also worship his god. Where was Daniel at this period? Possibly he had already told his master that he must be excused from attending at the dedication of the image; and as the king could not run the risk of losing his services, his absence was permitted. Possibly he may have been in attendance of the monarch during the worship of the idol, and refused to bow down before it; but his great influence prevented anyone from daring to accuse him. But much more probable is it that he was absent from the capital, and engaged at a distance in connection with some pressing business of the State. He may have been even sent away purposely by the king, and thus have had no opportunity of taking part with his brethren in their protest against idolatry. Had he been present, we may well judge that he would either have stood beside them, as being guilty like themselves, or, if unaccused himself, would have used his utmost efforts with Nebuchadnezzar on their behalf. The monarch was much excited. He caused Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to be instantly brought before him. Plainly did he repeat his command, that bow they must to his idol, or die.
I. WE SHOULD PREFER SUFFERING TO SIN. To have bowed the knee to the golden image on the plain of Dura would have been an aggravated transgression on the part of any of the sons of Jacob. They knew well that there was no other God but the God of Israel, and the first and second commandments of the moral law strictly forbade such an act. Better to run the risk of the threatened punishment than, by yielding, to dishonour their Creator, and cast away their souls. Marvellously were these confessors of Jehovah rescued from the devouring fire; for the Lord, whom they honoured, had great purposes to serve by their preservation. Suppose, however, they had been burned to ashes, would they have been losers by their fidelity? Assuredly not! Only the sooner had they reached the rest that remaineth to the people of God. An early confessor of the Lord Jesus was summoned to the presence of the Emperor of Rome, and threatened with banishment, if be dared to remain a Christian. “Me thou canst not banish,” was the noble answer, “for the world is my Father’s house.” “But I will take thy life,” said the Emperor. “Nay, but thou canst not, sire, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” a I will deprive thee of thy treasures,” continued the Emperor. “I have no treasures that thou canst seize,” was the response, “for my treasure is in heaven, and my heart is there.” “But I will drive thee away from man, and thou shalt have no friend left,” “Nay, that thou canst not,” replied the bold and faithful witness, “for I have a Friend in heaven, from whom thou canst not separate me. I defy thee. There is nothing thou canst do to hurt me.” Where the risk of loss is greatly less than in the case in which we have just referred, it is always far better to suffer than to sin. The draper lad in the north of Ireland, who would not assist his employer to cheat a customer, and was turned adrift in consequence, was no loser by his integrity. Through this very circumstance he became a minister of the gospel, and afterwards rose to an eminent position in his profession. There is little likelihood that any of us will be exposed to such a fiery ordeal as the three Jews in Babylon. We may, however, have to meet with much petty persecution, if we faithfully follow the Lamb, and show by our lives that we are His.
II. LET US TAKE CARE THAT WE FOLLOW NOT DOWN BEFORE THE GOLDEN IMAGE ERECTED AMONGST OURSELVES. Not in Britain only, but in every land under the sun, does this idol lift up its head. Those who worship at its shrine probably embrace by far the largest number of every kindred, and tribe, and nation. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” says Jehovah. Yet in the very temple of God is this idol set up by its votaries, and crowds of worshippers devotedly bend the knee. No sweet music of sackbut, or psaltery, or harp, is needed to induce men to adore. This idolatry is even considered respectable. In America this idol is irreverently known by the name of “The Almighty Dollar”; with us it is simply called wealth or money. A mercantile man, who had an extensive acquaintance with various classes of the community, used to state it as his serious opinion that the love of money ruins perhaps more souls than even strong drink. Like other sins, this mammon-worship never dwells alone. In due time it becomes the fruitful parent of many vile things, which will, ultimately, develope into scorpions, to torment the soul that nourished them. How comforting it is to know that imperishable and unalienable wealth can be had simply for the accepting. “The GIFT of God is eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (Original Secession Magazine.)
The Fiery Furnace
How long after the events recorded in the last chapter the setting up of this great image took place, it is impossible to tell. The presumption is, however, that several years had elapsed. The building of this huge image to the favourite god of Nebuchadnezzar, probably the god of battles, was most likely to celebrate and commemorate, with suitable splendour, the final triumph of his arms over all the nations of the earth (v. 4). The profound impression made upon his mind by the recalling and interpretation of his awful dream by Daniel seems to have faded away, since we find him setting up an image of gold and requiring all his subjects to worship it. This was a tyrannical act of uniformity, intended to consolidate the religion as well as the politics of the empire. We do not know where Daniel, Ezekiel, and other eminent Israelites were at this time, or how far the mass of captive Jews complied with this decree; but it seems that the three young princes, who with Daniel had been faithful in refusing to eat the king’s meat, and who had been subsequently elevated to high political office in the province of Babylon, refused, or at least failed, to do homage to the idol.
I. THE RAGE OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR. Nebuchadnezzar was at the summit of his power; he had introduced a great statue, in the form of an image of his god of battle, to celebrate his universal sovereigns; his decree of universal obedience to his god, which was also an act of homage to himself, seems to have been generally obeyed. The defection of these princes from obedience seems to have reminded him that, after all, there were those who looked beyond him and higher than his fancied god for a true king. There were but two courses open to him. He must either at once recognise the right of the Hebrews to their religious liberty or he must suppress them. To do the former would be to unsay and undo all that was involved in the great celebration now going on; whereas, by summarily enforcing the decree of uniformity, especially upon the persons of the high officers of state, he thought he might increase his power, and by one stroke of severity bring all his subjects unto submission. There are several points of evidence that his conscience was aroused as well as his anger. When we refuse to obey conscience, we are always apt to fly into a rage and do the thing forbidden by conscience with ten times more violence. This king of Babylon is only the type of all the world-powers that have succeeded him, who have been enraged against the faith of God’s elect, and have sought to destroy that faith by Violence.
1. The arrest of the three princes. “Then they brought these men before the king.” How often since have the children of faith been accused and brought before kings and their magistrates, to give an account of their faith and answer for their disobedience to some ungodly and tyrannical decree uttered for the purpose of destroying the “faith once delivered to the saints.” The very means of which heathen kings make use to suppress the faith, is made the instrument of God for its universal spread.
2. The fearful alternative. The king seems, after all, to have greatly respected these princes, and secretly desired to find a way of escape for them. The sight of them and the remembrance of their faithful service and of the peculiar marks of Divine favour which had been bestowed upon them for a moment cooled down his rage.
3. The vain boast of the king. “And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” This bit of vain boasting reminds us of the speech of Pharaoh to Moses: “Who is Jehovah that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, neither will I let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2.) Also of the defiant proclamation of Sennacherib to Hezekiah and Jerusalem: “Who are they among all the gods of the countries that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?” (2 Kings 18:35.) And yet God destroyed Pharaoh, and put a hook in Sennacherib’s nose by which He led him in ignominy back to his own city, to perish miserably at the hands of his sons. How empty the boasts, how unbounded the folly of men who challenge Jehovah to conflict!
II. THE DEFENCE OF THE PRINCES.
1. Not careful to answer. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” Had the Holy Spirit already whispered in their hearts the instruction which Jesus afterward gave His disciples? “When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you, in that same hour, what ye shall speak.” (Matthew 10:19.) How calmly these young men stood there before the king! God will answer for us when the emergency comes. Argument will not avail against your arbitrary power over us, or against the injustice of your tyrannical decree.
2. Their confession of faith. “Our God whom we serve.” In making their answer, they distinctly announced that they believed in the one only and true God, and Him they served. This was their, justification for not bowing down to the idol which the king had set up, nor worshipping any of his gods. Their faith was not speculative, but real. It dominated their lives, and secured their glad service. The full power of faith does not always manifest itself until the time of need comes, but, when once the emergency arises, faith springs to the fore and asserts itself.
3. Their confidence in God. “If it be so, our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” Notice this, that though their faith was absolute as to God himself and their relation to Him, yet it was not absolute as to their deliverance out of the fiery furnace, only as to God’s ability to deliver them.
4. Ready to die. If the worst came to the worst, they were quite ready to die.
III. IN THE FURNACE AND OUT AGAIN. God does not promise His saints immunity from suffering in this world; on the other hand, He tells us that He has chosen us in a furnace of affliction.
1. The princes are cast into the furnace.
2. An awful warning. Now a strange thing happened. As the three men who bore these princes to the furnace approached the open door to cast down their helpless victims, a sudden draught of air sent out a volume of flame which slew them on the spot. God seemed to give warning then and there that it was a dangerous thing to touch His saints or do them harm.
3. The astonishment of the king. A while ago he was in a furious rage; now we see him trembling with astonished fear. Not only did the swift death that overtook his three mighty men startle him, but as he looked into the raging flames he saw a wondrous sight. Here was a fact on which he had not counted. By some mysterious power the young men “had quenched the violence of the fire” (Hebrews 11:34), and they were accompanied by the presence of another man, who seemed to have them under his protection. It is not necessary for us to attempt any discussion of this marvellous miracle of deliverance. Whether there was an actual and objective fourth man in the furnace with the three princes, and whether that fourth one was the very Son of God come down in a temporary bodily form, as perhaps the angel of the Lord, or whether the king saw a vision, is of no material importance. That there was a miracle is clear from the fact of the safety of the princes in the flame. There is nothing antecedently impossible in the literal truth of the whole matter. “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good?” (I. Peter 3:12, 13.) (G. F. Pentecost, D.D.)
I. THE UNHOLY OBJECT THAT WAS OFFENSIVE TO THEIR CONSCIENCES It was like a proud, arrogant, Eastern despot, with an ever victorious army, to signalise a great triumph, by setting up some great colossal image. It was more than a memorial, it was a deification of himself. These Babylonian monarchs were not content with being kings or even priests, they must be gods, the object of their people’s veneration. It helped them to keep their iron heel upon the necks of their subjects, and feed their own vanity.
II. THE NATURAL HATRED OF THEIR ENEMIES. This was their chance. They had been watching and waiting for this. It is no wonder that they seized upon it with avidity. There is no love among the children of darkness for the sons of light. The saved of the cross have ever their cross to carry. There are shopmates and associates who are never slow to make you the butt of all their spleen, and to pour out all the malice of their soul upon you. The high offices which these youths held in the State exposed them to the greater vehemence of persecution. It is the way of the world to foster hostility against those above them, and to seek an opportunity to overthrow such. There are men who will sneak into power over your heads, if there be no other way. Yet it is better to endure with Christ than to go alone without Him.
III. THE REFUSED DOOR OF ESCAPE. When their accusers had laid the charge before the king, there seems reason to believe that the king’s first flush of anger was at the sense of his possible loss--he could not endure to think that three of his most capable rulers had been so foolish as to expose themselves to death. He could afford to lose a whole host of such accusers better than lose one Hebrew youth. Possibly, also, the shrewd king saw through their too thinly veiled jealousy. Anyhow, the king offered them a way of escape. His words in effect suggest what we pleasantly call diplomacy, “Just say you blundered, you did not properly understand the meaning of my edict, and I will have the whole ceremony gone through again for your sakes, then you can bow down and save yourselves.” Many of us would have fallen into that trap; it was so ingenious a compromise. It needed great decision of character to answer that aright. One day the officer came to Bunyan in his prison, on Bedford Bridge, and said, “Now, Bunyan, if you like to go free, you can; there is only one trifling condition imposed,, and that is that you abstain from preaching.” “If that is it,” answered Bunyan, “then I cannot go out free, for as sure as I reach yonder field, I shall stand up and preach Christ.” That one condition was the impossible condition. You have your battles to fight, perhaps the issues are not so clear as in the cases before us, yet I pray that you may be quick to discern the right from the wrong, and swift to do the right.
IV. Now a great moral courage like this must be born of GREAT CONVICTIONS. With Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, convictions were worth having, and worth dying for. To these youths, God was greater, higher than the king. God was first, the king second. Their first consideration was not their prospects, but their duty. He has not the martyr spirit who acts indifferently. When you do not bow to the world’s edict, expect not to be credited with conscientious convictions, it will be put down to obstinacy. When John Bunyan refused to keep silent, he was obstinate. When these Hebrews refused to worship idols, they were obstinate. So their persecutors say, but posterity has accorded them justice, and declared it an act of conscience; a spirit of fidelity to God.
V. THREE THINGS THAT CREATED THEIR NOBLE CONDUCT.
1. They made religion a personal thing. It was not a matter of the state or community, but of realised individuality; and personal responsibility to God. No other but a personal religion is worth the name. No other will save your soul.
2. They had repented towards God, and put their trust in Him. They had turned from evil with mind and heart, and set themselves to seek righteousness.
3. They put eternal things before temporal. They saw the world in its true light, and took it at its true estimate. The eternal endures, the temporal passes away. (F. James.)
Devotion to Principle
I. THEY HAD CONVICTIONS. They were not merely Israelites in name; they believed in Israel’s God’. It would not be surprising if, so far from home and under such adverse conditions, the memory of their ancestral religion had gradually ceased and their devotion faded out. But their piety was more, apparently, than an inheritance; it had, before their transportation, been ingrained m heart and conscience and life. If religion be a mere matter of form, it may be changed as readily as one changes his coat; but when it takes possession of the soul it keeps company with a man for ever. Hence the importance of convictions. They believed in God, in the truths which He had revealed to them, in the moral responsibilities which He had imposed upon them. The word “belief” is, by some, derived from the Saxon by-lifian, that is, the thing we live by.
II. THEY WERE LOYAL TO THEIR CONVICTIONS. They were called on to pass through a most trying ordeal. The day of the dedication of the golden image was at hand. What should they do?
1. They might avoid all trouble by joining in the acclamations of the multitude and prostrating themselves before the golden image.
2. They might prostrate themselves as a mere matter of form, saying, “After all, religion is of the heart; and God will know that inwardly we are devoted to Him.” But compromise, in a question of right or wrong, is the subterfuge of the weak and unworthy.
3. The only alternative was to stay indoors that day. Why not? Then must they have said to one another, “We are three cowards.”, God wanted them to go out into the plain of Dura and preach a sermon on heroic piety.
III. GOD TOOK CARE OF THEM. He always takes care of His own. Here is a sure word of promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (D. J. Burrell, D.D.)
On the Conduct of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were three very young men, worshippers of the true God in a heathen land. They were exposed to much persecution and distress on account of their religion, yet they were enabled to act with faithfulness and prudence “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” The true Christian will be obliged to stem the surrounding stream; there will, there must, be opposition; if he were of the world, the world would love its own; but because he is not of the world, but is chosen out of the world, therefore the world will hate him. Now let us imagine a person, and especially a young person, such as were the three individuals mentioned in the text, in such circumstances. How difficult oftentimes and painful the line of duty! How much need is there of some animating example, or affectionate and faithful advice, to keep such a person from offending against conscience, and forgetting his obligations to his Redeemer! To be faithful where ethers are unfaithful--to worship God truly in a family, a parish, a neighbourhood, In which almost all around us conspire to forget Him. It can be performed only by the aid of Him who is at once a Comforter and a Sanctifier. It appears from the narrative, that Nebuchadnezzar the king set up a golden image, and commanded all his subjects to fall down and worship it. In like manner, in the present clay, is sin in its various shapes an idol which the world delight to serve. By nature we are its slaves and votaries; and it is not till we have learned, like those three young men, to come out from the world and to worship the true God, that we begin to feel the burden of this service. New idols are constantly presented to confirm the sinner in his slavery, and to tempt the true Christian from his allegiance to God. Babylon surely abounded with idols enough; yet a new one must be set up for the occasion; and thus the world is always varying its temptations. Whatever be the last evil custom, the last new mode of sinning, men are expected to follow it. Thus, no sooner was the command given, than “princes, judges, governors, captains, treasurers, sheriffs, counsellors, and rulers,” with the people at large, all with one accord eagerly flocked to the idolatrous rite. These three persons only are mentioned as not complying with the order--a proof that even the most youthful Christian ought not to be ashamed of religion, or to reject it; namely, because there may be but few around him who think as seriously as himself. Should all the rich, the wise of this world, the gay, the splendid, be against serious religion; should a thousand new baits and allurements be added to seduce us from it; should unsuspected dangers and persecutions, spring up every moment around our path; yet we may learn from the example before us a lesson of faith, and constancy, and reliance upon God. These three young men, we find, did not court martyrdom or persecution; they did not break out into violent invectives against other persons; they gave no willing offence--thus teaching another most useful and important lesson. The Christian is not to affect anything that may justly draw down the opposition of the world. He ought, as much as in him lies, to live peaceably with all men--but where this is impossible, and the offence arises entirely from the side of the world who dislike his earnest piety, without being able to impeach his character or conduct, he may learn from the example before us how to act so as at once to glorify God and to preserve his own peace of mind. Behold, then, this illustrious example! Firm and decided for Jehovah, these three martyrs approached the eventful spot. Life or death was the alternative. No human way of escape was open before them. Thus tempted to waver, on the one hand, by dread of torments and death, they might also be allured, on the other, by hopes of reward. They might even be ready to plead that the sacrifice was but small. These and various other reasonings might naturally enter their minds; and, had not Faith been powerfully in exercise, would, doubtless, have overcome their resolution. But this Divine grace was able, amidst all, to preserve them. Were this Divine grace existing in full vigour in our minds, even the youngest and most timid Christian would be able to withstand all the artifices of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and to say with Joshua of old, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Instead of being ashamed or afraid of confessing the name of a crucified Redeemer, and of living as becomes His faithful disciples, we should use the decided language before us; and, placing our whole trust and confidence in the supporting arm of an all gracious Father, should learn to do everything, and bear everything, rather than forsake the cause of our Redeemer. There are four things which are often powerful obstacles in the path of the youthful Christian; namely, the allurements of pleasure, the commands of authority, the dread of persecution, and the specious solicitations of friendship and kindness. All these occurred in the case before us; and to a far greater degree than usually, or indeed ever, takes place in the present age.
1. They overcame, in the first place, the allurements of pleasure. What a festive scene was before them! The “cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music,” united their persuasive notes to tempt them to sin. Pleasure assumed all its most winning and seductive shapes to court their compliance. Yet, though in the midst of health and youth, they steadily refused to join the multitude to do evil; they accounted the reproach of Christ better than all the poisoned baits of the world. They were, doubtless, considered by those around them as gloomy and precise persons, who railed at what others thought innocent pleasures--but they knew the side they had taken; they knew also the power and love of their heavenly Parent, and they feared not the result.
2. Neither, again, could the commands of authority tempt them to commit this sin. They were strangers and captives in a foreign land; the hand of power was over them; they were represented as factious persons, as enemies at once to the government and the religion of the country; Nebuchadnezzar, a despotic monarch, was infuriated against them--yet they stood firm. They knew that the first authority to be obeyed is God.
3. The dread of persecution, we have already seen, they also manfully overcame; nor did they less resist the specious solicitations of kindness and friendship. Many a young Christian, who could have braved all the terrors of open persecution, has given way to this temptation, and has for ever ruined his soul, for the sake of that friendship with the world which is enmity against God. Not so these illustrious sufferers. Though they had received innumerable kindnesses from Nebuchadnezzar, and were in the way of receiving many more; though nourished by his bounty, and loaded with his favours; yet when religion was to be the sacrifice, they would not, they durst not make it. The result is well known; God wrought a miracle in their favour; His presence was with them in the fire; while their persecutors were consumed in the very act of casting them into the flames--an awful proof of the danger of opposing the cause or the people of God. Not even the garments of these triumphant confessors were singed; nothing was consumed in the furnace except their bonds. They became more free than they were before they were thrown into the flame; and in like manner the Christian, in the present day, who resolutely bears the cross of his Redeemer, often finds that the more he is persecuted for righteousness’ sake, the more he enjoys freedom and happiness in his own mind. His shackles are consumed in the fire, and he is frequently rendered more bold and persevering in the cause of God, by the very efforts which are made to overcome his constancy. (Christian Observer.)
The Three Witnesses on the Plains of Dura
I. The lessons taught by the narrative of the Holy children.
I. As to the reality of faith.
2. As to the reward of faith. In their hopes they were not disappointed; for they had the presence of God which saved them. (Isaiah 43:2; Isaiah 63:9.)
II. Application of the narrative to our own times. The plain of Dura is a picture of the world; Nebuchadnezzar and his image pourtray the mammon-worship to which mankind is called by common consent and by every device. But the true servants of God refuse; they cannot serve God and mammon.
1. The choice requires a deep and abiding faith, which
The Refusal to Worship the Golden Image
It has sometimes and justly been remarked, that truth is far more wonderful than fiction. Events certainly have transpired in the history of individual men which no fictitious narrative can approach.
I. In the first place, observe, THE MANDATE OF IMPERIAL POWER WHICH HAD BEEN ISSUED. The person from whom the mandate now referred to had emanated, was Nebuchadnezzar, the monarch of the vast and gorgeous empire of Babylon. New in the mandate before us there was heinous and presumptuous sin; and we shall endeavour to notice the elements of which that heinous and presumptuous sin consisted. And we remark
1. That it was a tyrannical encroachment beyond the just limits of civil authority. The monarch of Babylon had not, nor has any other monarch or person invested with worldly station or worldly power, the right of anywise controlling or attempting to influence the religious professions and religious deportment of his subjects. Human governments were created by Divine arrangement, in order that monarchs might order things aright in their secular or political capacity; and their legitimate power of interference extends only to overt acts which are socially beneficial, on the one hand, or which are socially pernicious and injurious, on the other. Obedience to reasonable commands in this respect is an obligation; but obedience to commands attempting to control opinion and conscience is no obligation at all.
2. Again, you will observe of this mandate, that it was a daring impiety against the majesty and claims of the only true God. You doubtless remember at once the law which that Creator had promulgated in early times, in direct denunciation of the apostacy referred to, pronounced by His own voice and written by His own finger--“Thou shalt not have any gods before Me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” etc.
3. Again, you will observe of this mandate, that it was a cruel outrage on the impulses of benevolence and of humanity. To threaten men that if they did not fall down and worship a golden image they should be cast into a furnace of fire there to endure the very worst and most excruciating agonies which the human frame can undergo, was, indeed, beyond expression savage. And here we cannot but observe an illustration of the keenness of despotic power in all periods of time.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THIS IMPERIAL MANDATE WAS TREATED.
1. And first, you will observe that there was firmness. Let us be “valiant for the truth upon the earth”; and let it be our constant aim, that being “followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” we may indulge the glowing hope of being ultimately united in their glory.
2. And again, you will observe, that besides firmness there was also meekness. There was no ebullition of self-sufficiency or of anger; there was respect for regal dignity and station--there was forbearance, there was quietness, there was readiness to suffer; they resisted the wrong, but they did not rebel against the penalty. It is always important, in advocating the rights of conscience and of religious truth, that in the same manner mildness should be blended with courage, and gentleness with resolution. The want of this spirit among those who have pleaded the right of conscience and of truth has often inflicted deep injury upon the best and the holiest of causes. There has been the indulgence of a rugged dogmatism and vehemence; there has been not seldom a resort to the use of force, the fighting of battles, and an endeavour after retaliation; and even when revenge would have struck deep injury upon both liberty and religion, and would have mournfully retarded and held back the time of their progress and the era of final freedom,
III. THE PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH THE TREATMENT OF THAT MANDATE WAS FOUNDED, AND UPON WHICH IT WAS JUSTIFIED. You will observe, in the analysis of the narrative, that they were principles worthy of the occasion, and amply vindicating the course which was pursued.
1. Observe, there was conviction of their duty and responsibility to God. Their language is--“our God whom we serve.” They were endued with reverence and with love to Him, and these principles, associated with the relationship they embodied, prevented by moral necessity that they could be guilty of the glaring impiety of adoring publicly, in the presence of immense masses, a thing graven by art and man’s device, created by man’s base passions for man’s base and bad designs. In the principle in this manner enunciated, you will observe, they took the highest ground under the highest influences--religion, imparted and preserved by the Spirit of
God. And this is alone worthy of the occasion when the rights of conscience and of truth are to be vindicated.
2. Again, you will observe also, there was confidence in the power and readiness of God to deliver. We have seen that the monarch of Babylon uttered this challenge--“Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hand?” And then they replied--“We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” Let us cherish the confidence now. Let us cherish it for ourselves, and know that “nothing shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus the Lord.” Let us cherish it in behalf of the cause which is to us dear as our immortal spirits--the cause of the Redeemer’s glory in the salvation of man and the conversion of the world; and let us never be guilty even of dreaming of such an era as when the church shall be in danger. False systems, which have usurped the name, may be in danger, but the true church never. Can the throne of the eternal Father be in danger?
IV. THE RESULTS IN WHICH THE TREATMENT THUS VINDICATED AND JUSTIFIED WAS MADE TO ISSUE. You will observe here what a singular combination of circumstances claims from the narrative our regard. The immediate result was the infliction of the punishment. “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.” Observe the method in which that deliverance was accomplished. Lastly, you must observe the characteristics by which this deliverance was distinguished. It was accomplished by the agency of the Son of God; and its characteristics require to be noticed. It was, you will observe, indisputably attested. There was nothing equivocal in the mode by which the deliverance was known. And this only indicates a general principle in the Divine interpositions--that when God interposes for the welfare and deliverance of His people, there is nothing uncertain; there is not such an intermingling of secondary instrumentalities that we are unable to separate or to discern the interference of the power of the great First Cause; there is always something in every event by which a devout and enlightened mind is able to pronounce “God is here; here is the work of God.” And it is a delightful fact in the history of the church now, as it will be in the annals of the church in time to come, that wherever God interferes for the welfare of His people He accomplishes His work thoroughly. We observe again, that the deliverance produced a vast public impression. The impression, as it was immediately produced, is noticed in the last verses of the chapter: “Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god except their own Cod. Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill; because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon.” The decree manifested a mighty impression on the mind of the monarch. Some more especial lessons.
1. And, in the first place, we learn from the narrative before us the value of early piety.
2. Again, we learn also the immense importance of decision for God under the most difficult of circumstances. If the example of these Hebrew youths at this crisis had been wanting, even had their personal piety remained intact, how evil would have been the consequence! Had they with some mental weakness bowed, or had they been absent far away under some plausible pretence or excuse--how different would have been the result! Not a voice to be raised for God amidst that vast assembly, and the honour of God deeply and painfully compromised in that nation and other nations for ages!
3. And then, finally, we learn the folly of opposition to the people and to the cause of God. It cannot be hindered by the blandishments or by the opposition of the world; it stands aloft amidst the wreck of empires, and it suffers not amidst the fury of contending nations; it rides upon the whirlwind and directs the storm, and never shall cease its manifestation until it shall establish an empire bounded only by the limits of the universe, and terminating only with the destruction of the world. See to it that you oppose not that, individually, or by combination, which is indestructible. “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, and the Lord shall have you in derision”; and so shall it be, until you shall “perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little.” (J. Parsons.)
The Three Jews in Babylon
It is truly a sad and awful spectacle--to behold a great monarch, and the personages representing the population of a great empire, with perhaps a numerous throng of the common people, assembled for such a purpose. Consider what man should be on earth!
Reflect, that the right state would have been, that all mankind should be intelligent and solemn worshippers of the true God, of Him alone; the merely right state, below which, the scene becomes a spectacle of horror and misery, for the vital principle of all good is wanting. Think, then, of that great empire, that prodigious multitude of human spirits (and nearly all the rest of mankind being sunk equally low) ready to prostrate themselves in adoration of a figure of metal, from the hands of the artificers. Look at them in such prostrations, all over the world, and say, that man is not fallen! Between that state, and the simply, merely, right state, how awful the difference! In the incalculable human mass of a whole idolatrous world, we are shown here and there an individual, or a diminutive combination of individuals, little shining particles, specimens of what the right state of the world would have been. But if they were specimens of no more than what was right--then, what power of thought can estimate, what language describe--that condition of the general substance, from which they shine out in contrast! The right state of the sun is to be one full orb of radiance; that though there be some small spots and dimmer points, it should be in effect a complete and glorious luminary. Imagine, then, if you can, this effulgence extinguished, and turned to blackness, over all its glorious face, excepting here and there a most diminutive point, emitting one bright ray like a small star. What a ghastly phenomenon! and if it continued so, the utter ruin of the system. But such, in the history before us, we behold the condition of the human race--of which that empire was so large a province. We behold three men true and faithful in the grand essential principle, among the innumerable host that were sunk, debased, and lost, as to that which is the supremely essential matter to man. In other pagan lands, however, in the same age, there was not one such. In Babylon, a few. Observe, it is quite in the nature of things that prevailing evil should be ambitious to prevail entirely. And here it was to be brought to the trial, whether any would dare to refuse to be idolaters, in conformity to the whole great assemblage.. The history of the design on the part of the monarch would be curious if we could know it. How he should conceive such a project. Were there not gods enough in his city and empire for all the worship and offerings for which the people could spare time and cost? The thing least strange in the case, was perhaps (for he was man), that he should forget what he had learned by experience of the God of Daniel, though, by his own confession at the time, “a God of gods,” and superior to all known in his empire or in the world. But, then, was the new god to excel both all them and that God too? If not, what need? and what just claim? and what was to make him thus excel? It is a surmise of some learned men (Grotius) that it might be designed as the act of deifying, on rather of expressing and proclaiming the deification of, his deceased father. At any rate, a very leading prompter in the affair was the monarch’s own self-importance. It was for him to show himself lord of even the religion of his subjects. It was for him to constitute a god for them, if he pleased. Then there was the process; an examination of the public, or rather the royal treasures--the gold collected and computed--the consultation and employment of artificers--operations of the smithery--frequent statements or inspections of the progress--perhaps reports circulated through the empire of the grand business that was going on. It is most likely that the imperial mandate to the great man of all the provinces had been despatched some while before, appointing the time; and that the idol was erected but just immediately against the specified day. This grand assembly was summoned for the act of dedication. The great men had been summoned as a kind of representatives of all the people of the empire. Perhaps not one of them failed to be there from any principle of conscience against idolatry. And as to the willingly compliant conduct of the assembly, one is a little disposed to wonder at the king’s having made ready such an expedient of persuasion, as that which he points at, to enforce his command--that is, the furnace, which was prepared and conspicuous near the station of the monarch and the idol. He certainly had not been accustomed to experience any disobedience to his commands. Why, then, such an argument of persuasion at hand? This might be for mere despotic pomp--to impress terror of the very thought of such a thing as disobedience. But it may be suspected that this was possibly done at the instigation of the haters of Daniel and his three friends. Their faith was warned of another Monarch, and also of another fire! a proper fear of whom, and of which, will overcome all other fear. “Fear not them who can kill the body, but after that have no more that they can do; but fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” They were certain to be at the place, without any force used by their enemies. They were assured that, in the present case, there must not be allowed a grand triumphant day to idolatry and the impious pride of power--undisturbed by at least a protest in the name of the Almighty. Was it for them, when their eternal Lord was to be dishonoured, to slink away into a base impunity? And, besides, were they to give to their own people, in captivity there, the lesson and example of betraying, even negatively, their religion, the only true one on earth? They knew their duty, and addressed themselves to perform it. It would seem that this duty devolved on them alone. A question might arise concerning the numerous other Jews then in Babylon--what became of them? Were they placed out of account on this grand occasion? It has been conjectured, in answer, that, as this was to be the solemn, primary act of sanctioning, authorizing, establishing, the new worship, the common people might, in this first instance, be left out of the account as being held of no weight; that it was the chief men only of the empire that were wanted, or held of any value for this purpose. There were, then, three men come on the ground under the fearful vocation to brave the authority, and power, and wrath, of a lofty potentate--the indignation of all his mighty lords, and the rage of a devouring fire. We admire heroic self-devotement in all other situations--we are elated at the view, for instance, of Leonidas and his small band calmly taking their station in Thermopylae in the face of countless legions. But here was a still nobler position taken, by men who were fit to take it, because they were sure not to desert it. We may suppose the utmost calmness--the most unostentatious manner in these three men; that belongs to real invincible fortitude. And they had no occasion to begin with parade--to make a flourish of premature zeal! Exhibition enough was to come erewhile! They were “to be made a spectacle to God, and to angels, and to men.” There was nothing they could need to say; it was past the time for consulting, questioning, or mutual exhortation. They were in the wrong place, if anything remained to be yet decided. But think of the brief interval of suspense and silence between the conclusion of the herald’s proclamation and the first note of the signal-music! What would be their sensations in waiting for it to strike? Think of the intensity of listening! How much the soul may be said to live during such moments, when not amazed and stupified! And at whose dictate--under what conviction--were they thus submissively performing, in appearance at least, the most solemn act that human, that created beings can? The mere dictate of a creature, that was one day to become dust. Thus this proud, and numerous, and lordly assembly acknowledged that neither their bodies nor their souls were their own. But so acknowledged, too, the three men that remained standing upright. Their bodies and souls were not theirs to surrender, to a monarch or to an idol. They belonged to another Power; and to Him their bodies, if He should so appoint, were to be offered in sacrifice on that altar which was flaming full in their view. It were going, perhaps, quite to the extreme of possibility, if we should suppose in them such perfect self-possession that they could look around with regret and compassion on this wide field of prostrate and degraded humanity. But they had not long to look; there were vigilant eyes on them, though it seems not those of the king himself. His devotions were interrupted, and turned into surprise and indignation, by accusers of these three men. These accusers well understood their profession. And then, with the true address of sycophant courtiers, they put the alleged impiety in the form of disloyalty. It was as against him that the offence was committed, more than against the god. “They have not regarded thee, O king!” And this very effective art has never been forgotten by the haters and persecutors of the protestors in behalf of true religion. The three recusants of Babylon were instantly ordered into the royal presence. And the potentate, powerless over the “rage and fury” which agitated him, did yet display some remainder of a reasonable disposition. The truth of the accusation was not to be doubted; but he expressed his amazement at their conduct, as what he could hardly believe against them. He had not long to wait for their decision. “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter”; meaning, “we have no thought or deliberation to give to the alternative; no question or hesitation remains to us; we seek no evasion or delay; our decision is absolute, because our duty is plain.” Some learned critics have given, as more exactly expressive of the sense of the original, an altered construction of the two verses together, thus, “Whether our God, who is able to deliver us, shall deliver us or not, be it known unto thee,” etc.; thus taking away the apparent expression of their assurance that He would deliver them. We cannot know in what degree they did expect any extraordinary Divine interposition, but this construction of their reply exhibits them in a still higher, completer, character of magnanimity and devotement. In the utmost extremity of fury, he ordered the fire to be augmented to a corresponding intensity. “Seven times hotter”--a phrase not of strict numerical import, but meaning the utmost intensity possible, by means of the most effectual fuel that could in haste be supplied. Our martyr, Ridley, slowly consuming at the stake, earnestly entreated, “Give me more fire--more fire!” The binding of these three men was a very superfluous act. But it had a certain judicial appearance; and it exposed them more formally in the character of criminals and victims. And now the consummation, the crowning sanction, would seem to be added to the establishment and authority of the new divinity and worship by a human sacrifice. But the matter was not so to end. It might so have ended without impeachment of the Divine Governor of the world, with respect to these His faithful servants; for He has a right to demand an absolute martyrdom--an actual surrender of life for His cause, and often has required it. But,in this instance, if it had so ended, it would have appeared to the whole empire like a complete triumph and sanction gained to idolatry. There would be, among the great men of the assembly, much self-congratulation that they were no such insane and desperate fanatics. The personal enemies of these three men (and many such they must have had, who hated them for their incorruptible public virtue)--these, too, had now their moment of lively gratification. But the idolatrous chiefs and lords had not all the delight to themselves, that there was at that moment, on that field--the most animated exultation of all, was glowing amidst the flames of the furnace! It is beyond our faculties to conceive the first sensations of men, suddenly plunged into the midst of a vast mass of fire, of the most raging intensity, in their living, susceptible bodies, which even a spark would have hurt, and yet feeling no pain, no terror. We may imagine a momentary amazement, but quickly changed into a full consciousness of exquisite delight. It is beyond our power, however, to bring such a fact to our comprehension. Consider, it is according to natural laws and relations that pleasure is produced, that is, the constituted condition of human pleasure. But when, in a rare instance, by the Divine will and agency, pleasure is to arise from a perfect and stupendous reversal of those natural laws, we are thrown off from any power and means for estimating that pleasure. The attention of Nebuchadnezzar seems to have continued fixed on the fiery receptacle, perhaps with some relenting for what he had done; possibly with some degree of doubt, or suspense of expectation, respecting the consequence. He seems to have been the first to perceive that his fury, and the doom he had awarded, were frustrated. And with that prompt kind of honesty which appears conspicuous in his character, he was the first to proclaim it. Nebuchadnezzar loudly called them to come forth. Had he any authority to do so? He might have left it to the discretion of their splendid visitant and associate to lead them forth when He should judge it the proper time. This once, they were clearly beyond the monarch’s jurisdiction. As to the monarch, that space of fire was as a tract of another world. And besides, they could have no wish to come forth. It was the sublimest, most delightful region they had ever dwelt in yet. At length the three men came out from the fire--their celestial companion being left to depart, like Manoah’s angel, who ascended in the flame. They were looked upon by the amazed and humiliated assembly of grandees; and the effect of fire had not passed on their very garments or their hair. (J. Foster.)
The Fiery Furnace; or, True Principle Exemplified
Man is a worshipper. If there were no God before whose shrine he could bend his knees, he would make himself an object of worship. We have a remarkable instance of this in the narrative before us. What was the design of the Babylonian despot in the erection of this colossal image? Two different answers might be given to this question. It was intended either as an expression of his gratitude to the deity who he imagined had so greatly prospered him on the battle-field, or as a representation of himself under the title of the long-expected “Divine Son,” or universal sovereign of the world. The fact that he summoned all the great officers of the empire to be present at its inauguration is a clear proof that this was not an ordinary idol. It is not probable that he would thus have ordered all the officers from their labours and posts of duty merely to add to the magnificence and splendour of an ordinary scene. The proud monarch had something of far greater importance in view; he wished to secure for himself the homage of his chief officers, and through them that of his numerous subjects. Then, the terrible punishment threatened upon disobedience to the royal mandate is a further proof of the great importance the Babylonian despot attached to this ceremony. This threat was in perfect keeping with the despotism of Chaldea, and the spirit of that benighted age. But in spite of the severity of the threat, the three Hebrews were found true to their principles, and dared to oppose the king’s impiety. How could they pay homage to an idol? Every principle of their religion, every feeling of their heart, revolted against the very thought. The honour due to their God they will not lavish on their monarch.
I. TRUE PRINCIPLES SEVERELY TESTED. Every principle will sooner or later be tried. There is a fiery furnace that will test the principles and motives of every heart. The test in the case of the young Hebrews was peculiarly severe.
1. They had to oppose the will of a powerful benefactor.
2. They had to incur the odium of an excited public.
3. They had to forfeit the honours and emoluments of office.
4. They had to meet death in one of its most terrible forms.
II. TRUE PRINCIPLE NOBLY MAINTAINED.
1. Their calm demeanour. True godliness possesses sweet sustaining power.
2. Their strong faith. Their language was the language of faith; the language of a pious heart firmly confiding in the faithfulness of Heaven. Their faith took hold of two things. The power of God: “Our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.” And also His willingness: “And He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” These two elements form the basis of true faith. You confide in that person because you believe him to be both able and willing to befriend you.
3. Their inflexible determination. “But if not, we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image.”
III. TRUE PRINCIPLE ULTIMATELY TRIUMPHANT. Several very important points were gained by this glorious triumph of true principle.
1. The impious ambition of the monarch was checked.
2. The living personality of the “ Divine Son” was established. The deities of the Gentiles were the creations of their own fancy. Nebuchadnezzar had probably no faith in them. But the person whom he saw in the “fiery furnace” was not a myth, but a real living person. The God of Shadrach and his companions was a living person, not an imaginary object we worship not an idea, but a God who has a heart to love us, and an arm to save us.
3. The faith of the weak and the wavering was confirmed. Had their bitter affliction almost driven the poor Hebrew captives into despair? The occurrence on the plain of Dura would revive their hope, and fill them with wonder and gratitude. Many a disconsolate exile would be greatly encouraged, his faith strengthened, and the expiring embers of his religious love fanned into a flame.
4. The welfare of the captive Jews was effectually promoted. Their treatment of the exiles would be more humane and generous; and they would naturally infer that the people whose God would thus interpose on their behalf were not to be despised.
5. The honour of the true God was greatly enhanced. How valuable is vital godliness! It possesses a sustaining power. It brings down upon the soul the richest blessing of God. Be faithful to it. Let its living principles be exemplified in your life. (J. H. Hughes.)
Babylonia, whither the Jews were led captive by Nebuchadnezzar, was a pagan, idolatrous country, a circumstance which must have been very distressing to God’s faithful people, and added very much of bitterness to the anguish of their enslaved condition. It was a trial heavy enough for the peculiar people to have seen their beautiful city of Jerusalem destroyed--their country turned into a waste howling wilderness--and themselves dragged away from their beloved fatherland into a strange, unfriendly clime. It would have been some relief for them, however, if, in the land of their exile, they had found a people whose religious sympathies and practices had been in harmony with their own--or even if their lot had been cast on some desert, uninhabited isle, where, like John in Patmos, they might have worshipped their God without let or hindrance. But how terribly annoying it must have been--at least, to the thoughtful and devout among them--to be dwelling amidst a people wholly given to idolatry! What was the moral effect of the prevailing idolatries of the Chaldeans upon the Jewish exiles, generally, does not appear--probably it was unfavourable. Still, it is very gratifying to learn that there were some men in Babylonia who defiled not their garments, but kept themselves unspotted from surrounding corruption.
I. We learn that EMINENT PIETY MAY BE MAINTAINED AMIDST TRIALS THE MOST SEVERE. We are sometimes tempted to believe that man is the creature of external circumstances--that his character is formed for him--not by him; and that, consequently, he cannot be virtuous, as he is notresponsible. The narrative before us is calculated to show the erroneousness of this notion, and to establish the important fact that the freedom of the human mind is not destroyed, nor the moral agency of man set aside, by any circumstances in which he may be placed, save and except such as involve the loss of reason, or the eclipse of the intellect. It is true, indeed, that we are frequently influenced by circumstances--our habits too often reflect the form and colour of those circumstances by which we are from time to time surrounded. It is well when such circumstances as favour the growth of piety and godliness are permitted to shed their hallowing influence upon our character. But, to the force of evil circumstances--those circumstances which in themselves tend to foster the development of ungodliness and sin--we need not, we ought not, by any means, to yield. We are responsible for our character. We must, every one of us, give an account of himself to God. Never let us forget that our God has made us free, accountable agents; that most reasonably He holds us bound to do our every duty constantly and unflinchingly; and at the last day will admit no plea whatever for the infidelity of which we have been guilty in this life. “Many men are lamenting their misfortunes, and wishing that their place was changed, that they might the more easily live Christianly. If a man cannot be a Christian in the place where he is, he cannot be a Christian anywhere.” The Christian life ever has been, and must be, a self-denying, cross-bearing life; and the future glorious eternal reward of Heaven is for them, and them only, who, through good report and evil report, have followed the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. The three pious Hebrews--Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego--were placed amidst sorest trials--as few are in our day--yet they proved faithful to their God. To be dutiful to their God they had to resist the most powerful temptations--to brave most formidable dangers.
1. They had to rebel against royal authority. “King Nebuchadnezzar was what would be called a man of large ideas and vast undertakings. The great empire he had won and consolidated comprised many different nations, with different gods and different forms of religions service. Seeing that all these nations obeyed him as a king, and were subject to his absolute sway, it seemed to him but reasonable that his god should share his triumph, and that, as there was but one civil, so there should be but one religious obedience. He, therefore, determined to set up a vast golden image of his god in the plain of Dura, and that, at a signal given by bands of music, all the persons assembled together in the vast plain at the time of dedication should fall down and worship this image.” The religion of Heaven is by no means adverse, but most thoroughly favourable, to civil obedience. Good men have ever been the truest subjects and the best citizens; and the prevalence of godliness among a people is the best guarantee for the stability of the throne that is based on righteousness, and the surest security for the effective carrying out of all such laws as are just and good. But as the sphere of the civil ruler is limited, so are the obligations of the subject The moral sense cannot be bound by Acts of Parliament; the will cannot be coerced by the magistrate’s sword. It was a saying of Napoleon Bonaparte--“My rule ends where that of conscience begins.” It would have beenwell if all civil rulers had recognised this principle. Much bloodshed would have been spared. When the laws of men harmonise with the laws of God there can be no difficulty felt by the good man as to duty in respect to them. But if it is attempted to compel obedience to laws diametrically opposed to the laws of God, then there can remain no doubt as to how the good man must act. We must obey God rather than man. Noble men! no reckless revolutionists, no fanatical politicians were they; but men who understood to what extent they were bound to honour man; and who well understood and deeply felt that there was no consideration which could, by any possibility, free them from their obligation to serve God alone.
2. They had to act in defiance of the popular custom. Grand moral spectacle! Truest heroism this! Here is none of your pitiful time-servers who dare not to differ from the multitude by doing right--here is none of your compromising religious duty by an unhallowed seeming to conform to the world. They did not follow bad customs, lest they should be thought singular. They despised the fashionable religion, and were great and good enough, though Jews, to stand true to their fathers’ God in the face of a nation of idolaters. Was not that a brave deed? Warriors never did such a noble thing. Earth’s proudest heroes never won such laurels, never deserved such fame! If you would be great in the highest and best sense, dare to be good. If there is one spectacle more contemptible than another, it is that mean-spirited soul whom you see timidly, cowardly crouching down to a popular custom which in his conscience he knows to be wrong, and ignobly following a multitude to do evil. It requires little moral courage, publicly and faithfully to stick to duty when it is popular to do so. It is a comparatively easy thing to wear the Christian name and attend to Christian ordinances when and where it is fashionable to do so. But to dare to be singular, to take sides with “the peculiar people,” to endure the world’s scorn, to do what few only have heart and conscience to do--that demands sterling piety, no common-place devotedness, more than lukewarm love to God and His cause. In the present day the temptations to renounce and ignore religion altogether are not such as martyrs knew. Our danger comes from another quarter. Our perils lie hid beneath such religious pretensions as find general favour. It is fashionable, nowadays, to be religious. Only infidels and “our city arabs” are irreligious now. It is a disgrace not to belong to some church or another. The demand is for something more genuine--a counterfeit religion is too wide spread. The form of godliness is abundant. The power of it is rare indeed. Men will be religious; but they are far more eager to gain the world than to save their souls. While they are serving God after a fashion, their hearts are going forth after covetousness. Custom is, as it has ever been, the stern, unyielding foe of all earnest, spiritual, thorough-going Christianity. Men generally have little sympathy with the heartfelt, life-purifying religion of Jesus Christ. “Business is business” with them, and religion has no right to show its face in the warehouse or workshop, in the counting-house or the exchange. Strict morality will not pay; they cannot afford to do right. Their neighbours resort to the “tricks of trade,” and cheat, and tell lies, and deceive; and so must they, or they may as well give up business at once. It is all nonsense to talk to them about applying Christian rules to secular callings. It would be perfectly ruinous! And then, as to social usages and domestic habits, what has religion to do with these things? It is all very well to sing and pray, and go to church, too. But you would never think of turning Puritans, and make religion to bear upon dress--upon our homes, and our amusements! “Style” has to be kept up. Appearances must be preserved. We must not be thought mean, etc. Thus thousands talk, and apologise for the most thorough-going conformity to the giddy, regardless world. I repeat it, he who will be true to his God in these days, must dare to break through unhallowed customs--must be brave enough to differ from others. He who stops to ask himself, What do others do? or, What are the religious opinions and practices of others? cannot be a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your Saviour demands of you thorough-going, uncompromising fidelity to truth and equity. He requires you to take His will to be your own rule; and so completely will He have you in subjection to His authority, that, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, you must do all to His glory!
3. They had to resist the demands of self-interest. It was at a severe cost, an immense sacrifice, that they were prepared to fulfil their obligations to the true and living God (v. 6). By this it would appear that death by burning alive was a very ancient punishment for “heresy.” It was a customary punishment among the Babylonians. Jeremiah, in denouncing the false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, predicted that they should be put to death by the King of Babylon, “And of these shall be taken up a curse by all the captivity of Judah which are in Babylon, saying, The Lord make thee like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire.” See, then, how terrific the threat by which Nebuchadnezzar sought to promote the worship of his god. What a severe trial of the godly steadfastness of these three pious Jews (v. 13, 15). Would you have wondered if, in such circumstances, they had trembled and proposed to themselves some temporising mode of escape from so dreadful a punishment? Ah, threats cannot intimidate them. This noble answer reminds us of what Augustine relates of Cyprian, that when courtiers persuaded him to preserve his life--for it was with great reluctance that the Emperor devoted him to death--when flatterers on all sides urged him to redeem his life by the denial of Christianity, he answered, “There can be no deliberation in a matter so sacred.” So our three heroes declare that they are in nowise concerned to vindicate their conduct, or to deliberate upon the expediency of the step they were taking. “Our consciences are bound to serve the God of heaven alone, and Him only will we worship, despite all consequences.” But many can, Peter-like, boast grandly of how bravely they will act. Nothing shall move them from their Christian steadfastness till the crisis comes--till the hour arrives for self-sacrifice, for prompt and self-denying action--then they faint and fall away. Not so the three pious Hebrews. They were none of your talking heroes. Their deeds were as glorious as their words. Are we not too much given to time-serving? Are we not deterred oftentimes from faithfully acting out our convictions by the fear of losing someone’s friendship, or of incurring someone’s frown? by the fear of suffering the loss of certain worldly emoluments, or of missing certain social advantages? Is our devotedness to Christ characterised by all that manly energy--that indomitable courage that breaks through every barrier, and that conquers every difficulty?
II. We learn what are THE SOURCES AND ENCOURAGEMENTS OF TRUE MORAL HEROISM.
1. All things are possible to them who believe. There is the secret of their heroism. It was not natural animal courage--it was not stoical insensibility--it was not indifference to life--it was not the love of distinction, or ambition for fame--it was faith in God.
2. God is ever present with his faithful people (v. 21-25). We have no reason for supposing that Nebuchadnezzar thought that the fourth person was Jesus Christ, the Son of God; of him he must have known nothing. “A single angel,” says Calvin, “was sent to these three men; Nebuchadnezzar calls him a Son of God, not because he thought him to be Christ, but according to the common opinion among all people that angels are sons of God, since a certain divinity is resplendent in them, and hence they call angels generally sons of God. According to this usual custom Nebuchadnezzar says, the fourth man is like the son of a god.” No doubt Nebuchadnezzar recognised the Divine interposition in what appeared to him an angel; God was wont by the ministry of angels and otherwise visibly to interpose on behalf of His people, and in a most extraordinary way to effect deliverances for them; and, doubtless, it was God who appeared in human form with the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace, to comfort, support, and deliver them, and to convince their enemies that they were under the protection of. Heaven, and, therefore, in safe keeping. We do not look for any palpable manifestations of the Divine presence to attend us in our trials. We look for no miraculous deliverance from the hands of our enemies. Nevertheless, God has promised to be with us to help and succour us, so that we may triumphantly exclaim, “If God be with us, who shall be against us?” “A man in the right with God on his side is in the majority, though he be alone, for God is multitudinous above all populations of the earth.” So that you may boldly say, “God is our refuge,” “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
3. The social influence of uncompromising fidelity to duty on the part of God’s people is mighty (v. 28, 29). We see here the natural working of a truly consistent life. “Ye are the salt of the earth,” etc. (Matthew 5:13-16); “The holy seed is the stock of the land” (Isaiah 6:13). “A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange-tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden--swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up in the air.” Ah, how many of us do this? How many of us commend to the world the religion we possess by an unbending, consistent life?
4. Distinguished honours shall crown the fidelity of God’s people (v. 30). (John Williams.)
The Power of Youthful Piety
The history of these three young men teach us the following lessons.
1. The children of respectable parents may be reduced to humble circumstances.
2. Children deprived of the protection of parents sometimes rise in the world and prosper.
3. Religion is the best preservative of youth when separated from their parents and friends.
4. The effects of early religious education is generally good. These young men’s piety was very vigorous. Consider the power of the piety of these young men.
I. ITS PRINCIPLE. It was attachment to the true God.
1. Their attachment to God was natural, and, therefore, strong. Man was made for God. What is unnatural is weak. Unnatural conformation of body is attended by weakness and pain. The body deprived of the natural means of support soon becomes feeble. Unnatural exercise of social affections wastes them. It is so with the moral powers. Idolatry is not natural to man. It is weakness. It cannot reason; it cannot distinguish between matter and mind. It holds no communion with spiritual worlds; it sinks the spirit; it robs God of His right, and man of happiness. God is to man all that his nature wants.
2. Their attachment was individual.
3. Their attachment was uniform.
II. ITS MANIFESTATIONS. Is wonderful, if we consider.
1. Their destitution of religious means. Without public worship, parental protection exposed to the bigotry, example, society of idolaters.
2. The strength of their temptation.
3. The tenderness of their age. They were little more than twenty.
4. Their number was small. There were only three. But were one in life, death.
III. ITS IMPRESSIONS on those who witnessed it.
1. The king admired their character.
2. Called attention to it.
3. Blessed God.
4. Promoted them. (Caleb Morris.)
The Martyr Spirit
This episode of the three Jews in Babylon is a revelation of the martyr-spirit, and so, centuries after, the Christian writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews included them in his great muster-roll of the heroes of faith, as those who “quenched the violence of fire.” They were champions of a cause which has often been contested since in the history of nations, and in none perhaps more sharply than our own. It was the rights of conscience they asserted, as they stood calm and confident before the furious king. They showed what men can do under the dominance of a lofty principle. Life, that was in its prime--dignities of office and sweets of power, that bad been tasted--these they were ready to lay down for conscience sake. No sophistries blinded them to the real point at issue; they could not bow to that heathen idol--not even for the king. They faced the ordeal, and came forth from it victorious; they would have been equally victorious had their bodies been charred in the furnace. Theirs was the dauntless spirit which has been manifested by the martyrs or “witnesses” of all ages. The answer they made to the king of Babylon has found many an echo at the stake or the block. Such, as one instance, were the words spoken by the young Scottish martyr on the scaffold (Hugh M’Kail, 1666). “Although I be judged and condemned as a rebel amongst men, yet I hope, even in order to this action, to be accepted as loyal before God.” (P.
The Three Hebrew Youths
For the difficult task of acting upon fixed religious principle, example is more helpful than precept.
I. THESE YOUTHS WOULD NOT, TO SAVE THEIR LIVES, COMMIT EVEN ONE SINGLE ACT OF IDOLATRY (v. 12) Had they not been true servants of God they would easily have quieted their consciences with excuses such as these.
1. All are obeying the command.
2. After all, it was a political rather than a religious act.
3. If they failed to comply with the royal mandate, their conduct might be misconstrued. But men of religious principle do not ask if they will be misunderstood, but what is their duty to God.
II. THEY REFUSED TO PARLEY ABOUT THE COURSE OF DUTY (v. 16). Our declining even to discuss the course of duty, when it is plainly and instinctively recognised by the conscience, is a proof of religious firmness and constancy.
III. THEY TRUSTED IMPLICITLY IN GOD’S SPECIAL PROVIDENCE OF HIS PEOPLE (v. 17). When our hold upon Divine truth is lessening or weak, we trust to the arm of flesh and useless expediences. Examples: Asa and the physicians (2 Chronicles 16:12); Israel and the chariots of Egypt Isaiah 31:1). Those whose hearts are fixed, and who prove true in the fiery ordeal of trial, fall back upon their inner lines of retrenchment. They realise the fact that the Lord reigns, and personally superintends the order of events, so that the wrath of man is restrained, and also that God watches with jealous care His own people.
IV. THEY DID NOT CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR CONSTANCY (v. 18). God has not pledged Himself always to work a miracle or to doanything uncommon to deliver His people. As a rule we must not expect such interpositions. If we were perfectly certain of such help, where would be the worth of our holding out for the truth? It was as much a miracle of grace for the three youths to remain constant as it was a miracle of providence that they were kept safely in the fiery furnace. To determine our conduct, altogether irrespective of the consequences which may follow, shows the value of our religious life.
V. THEY HONOURED GOD BEFORE THE WORLD AND GOD ESPECIALLY HONOURED THEM. As unholy compromises and cowardly denials conduct to shame and confusion, so unflinching courage, and acting upon religious principles, leads to happiness and honour. Such is illustrated in the present case.
1. They are safely protected from the slightest harm in the fiery furnace. The very elements are made to respect them (v. 24, 25, 27).
2. The Son of God blesses them with His company (v. 25; Isaiah 43:2;Proverbs 18:10).
3. Their persecuter, Nebuchadnezzar, bestows greater honour upon them (v. 30; Proverbs 16:7). Is our religion one of fashion, form, education, or one of reality and principle? If the former, then in times of trial we shall fall away; if the latter, we shall by God’s grace be kept steadfast. Christians should be prepared to face a fiery ordeal of temptation at some period of their career. This will strengthen and purify their faith. (C. Neil, M.A.)
The Nonconformists of Babylon
Hero worship is the one form of religion, if you will allow me to call it so, that binds the whole world. Dare great things, look at them in the face, and at once you are secure of the crown of laurel. What the world has to decide is the highest kind of courage. Some types of hero at once rise to your mind. There is the soldier type, for instance. He will dash through a storm of grape, and stand first upon the enemy’s breastwork, covered with wounds. Or here is another, there is the fireman. He will rush through suffocating smoke and scorching heat, and come forth presently with the life he has rescued from the flames. Or here is the coast-guardsman. He will swim through the boiling surf, with a rope in his teeth, to the ship that has been stranded. Noble types of courage all of them--heroes worthy of crosses and of honours. But there is one thing to be said with regard to all these, they have all one strong inducement to heroism--the onlooking and the applause of the spectators. But if you wish to know who the true heroes of men are, ask who are those who dare to do right, simply because it is right, secure of no applause from the world, certain only of disapproval--standing alone. To be honest when honesty is the best policy, to be right when broad lines of right and wrong are marked down and acknowledged by all men, that is good; but to dare to be honest, and good, and true when it is not the best policy, when it is not popular--commend me to the man of this sort for the highest hero. And it was of such heroism that the men in our text are an example. The golden image. No figure emerges from the mist of ancient times more clearly defined than Nebuchadnezzar. He occupies a large space in Scripture, and the disinterred libraries of the East are filled with the records of his glory. While yet only crown prince he had swept in triumph through Syria and Palestine, and inflicted a severe defeat on Egypt. Greater than his victories abroad was his conquest of the magnificent city of Babylon, with its colossal walls and temples, which may justly be called his creation. To a certain magnificence and generosity of character he united vast arrogance, an ungovernable temper, and vindictive cruelty; yet he was so religious that all the records of his deeds are ascription to his god. What is the meaning of this decree? Doubtless, in the first place, it was largely political--a method, not unwise, of uniting the many different elements of his scattered empire, and securing his own supremacy. But it is not difficult to see that Nebuchadnezzar’s god was, after all, only a deification of Nebuchadnezzar himself. The true man comes out in such phrases as these: “Is not this the great Babylon which I have built? . . . Who is that God, who is able to deliver you out of my hands?” Yes, the image, overlaid with gold, flashing in the sun there, is an image erected to success and human glory. It is the worldly power triumphant. Men and women, the image of Dura is with us still. It is no longer embodied in outward form of idol or king. It is the world spirit, the spirit of earthly glory, wealth, success; and a right lordly spirit it is, towering, like Nebuchadnezzar’s image, aloft, and decked out, too, like it, with flashing gold. It has allurement still; it gathers to it still all music, art, and refinement,--everything that delights the senses, and makes the homage of its worshippers easy; but it is arbitrary and capricious as ever. No religion or morality may control it. Its first commandment is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”; and for all its beauty and refinement, it is cruel--oh, deadly cruel. Resist it, and it is swelling with rage. Resist still, and it opens the furnace, no longer the furnace of wood or pitch. We have changed all that. The times are refined, but it has still its deadly enmity, as sharp in the teeth as ever. If it is no longer a furnace, it has sneering and scorning and social ostracism. The image flashes, the music sounds, the king is looking on, and in a moment the vast assembly is prostrate as a field of corn before a sudden tempest. Scythian purple, fine white linen, all kiss the dust. Just so, just so. Always where the world-spirit is upreared the world-power is down with one consent. Character, religion, these matter nothing. Wealth, show, rank, glory, these are your gods, O Israel. What kind of man is he that you ask us to worship? They say that he has broken hiswife’s heart; never mind, “bow your heads”; and at once the whole multitude make their universal salaam. Here another splendid equipage comes along. Hats off! It is said, Who is he? What has he done? He has made his fortune. They say he has taken his millions out of the gutter. What does that matter? He is a rich man. Bow your heads; and again there is an universal acknowledgment of the old image of Dura. Our god is Success. This is his great Babylon that he has built. And so, when the music sounds the scene of Dura is repeated in every age, and the golden image is still worshipped by all. Not by all! Thank God, there are heroes still. Let us consider what they had to do. Young men they were, we are told, standing on the very threshold of life. Aye, and when is life ever so sweet? When is the grass so green, and the sun so bright, and that light upon land and sea so pleasant? When is it so difficult to turn one’s back upon it, and leave it all? And not only life was before them, but, look you, such a life full of advantage. Would they not say, “God, pardon for once. We find the noise of the multitude, and the wrath of the king, and the allurements of music too much. God pardon us?” They had a very good precedent for it. You remember that when Naaman the Syrian was cured, he said to the prophet, taking the prophet’s God to be his in this thing, “The Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon; when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.” And the prophet said, “Go in peace.” And was there no prophet to say to these men that their sin was very small, and they might go in peace? There was higher than the king there that day. “They endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” But we have not yet touched the full height of their heroism. Let us follow the narrative. The tongue of envy is at once set ageing. You will see that the envious tongue is the tongue of the Chaldeans, and you need not wonder at that when you find in the chapter before we have a record of a victory over the Chaldeans at the hands of Jehovah. They cannot bear to be thus humbled, prostrate themselves. You can hear cutting words like these: “Straight-laced!” “Who are they that they should be setting themselves up, indeed!” “Holier than all the rest!” Just so, just so. Do you worship with me? No; you dare to be different. How dare you? Who are you that you should set yourself up that I am wrong and you are right? And so the king heard of it, and was swelling with rage. Don’t you wonder at the king? But a little while ago he had said of a truth, “your God is a God of gods and a Lord of lords.” And yet it suited him to forget. The former interference of the God of gods had been quite in a line with his policy’. “And if the God of gods and the Lord of lords will interpret my dreams to me, and give me satisfaction, why, I have no objection to His being God of gods; but if He interferes with my lordship, if He sets me down from my pedestal and my golden image, erected to my glory, ah! then who is that God who will deliver out of my hand?” That is the morality of the world, the world’s god. They knew God. Well, they had their answer. “Oh, Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thy hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” “But if not.” Men and women, I wonder if you see the amazing heroism of these three words. What does it mean? Ah! here is what it means. Religion pays. Honesty is the best policy. If you do not get on in this world you will in the next. If you are good, there is Heaven; if you are bad, there is hell. It is best to be good. But if all that arrangement of yours for the reward of good and the punishment of evil were to-night upset, where would your morality be? It is convenient for you to be an honest fellow. You have the repute of your fellows. But that hope beyond--but if not, if there should be no reward for your goodness, if there is noHeaven to keep you up, if there is no hell to terrify you, nothing but right--that is right, whether it is reward or not. I wonder if you would be boldenough to say, “If not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” But marvellous things happen. With startling dramatic power it is put before us in this narrative. “Then Nebuchadnezzar was astonished, rose up and said, “Lo! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Ah, whatever interpretation you make of that verse, on the whole doctrine the story is true for all time. Truth lives in the furnace. It was a great thing these men had looked forward to when they said, “Our God is able to deliver us from the furnace, and He will deliver us.” That was great, but who of men ever thought of this greater thing by far--“Our God is able to deliver us in the furnace.” These men went free; nothing was burned but the bonds which their fellows had laid upon them. The lesson of it all is this, that truth--nay, let me say this, to speak in New Testament language--the truth, us it is in Jesus, devotion to Christ, is a thing marked off from the world by as sharp a line as it was in the days of Nebuchadnezzar--and to young men--yes, and old men--there comes the same choice on the one side, the lordly bringing to itself all worldly advantage, surrounding itself still with cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, with the furnace not far off, is claiming your allegiance; and by the side is your Lord and Master, asking you to witness and be faithful to Him, to His Person, to His atonement, to His resurrection, to all that He is and all that He has given us; and He has asked of you, “What will you do to-day?” Ah! the world says, “No need to be so sharp; let us have airy notions and ill-defined beliefs; let us have a large margin, wherein it may be lawful now to bow to the golden image, and now to bow to Jehovah.” No, no. Keen--keen is the dividing line still--the worship there, Christ here; the music there, the furnace here--and for your choice. God help you in that day when the two forces strive for your allegiance! I say, God help you to say, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so the God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us. But if not, we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image thou hast set up.” (W. J. Macdonald.)
The Trial of Fire
The world crowns with the heroic wreath those who have been distinguished for valour in the field of carnal strife, “but there is something which has tried the souls of men more than the muzzle of a gun ready to pour its contents into the unshielded breast of a soldier.” So there have been heroes who never set a squadron in the field, or bared their breast to an enemy’s steel flattery and frowns, blandishments and dungeons, and cross and the stake, have had no power to turn them from the right.
I. THE ACCUSATION. No man may expect to escape from calumny. But happy is the man who can be assailed only because of his virtues--his adherence to religious principles. And such is the base passion of envy, that it withers at another’s joy, and hates the excellence it cannot reach,” and will, therefore, seek to elevate itself by detracting from the reputation of another.
II. THE TRIAL. The trial of these young men was one of the most extraordinary to which men were ever subjected. It was so as by fire. Now, truth and virtue are on trial. What will be the issue? Come, ye angels that excel in strength; come, all the world that hang in hope upon the truth of religion, and await the result. “But if not, be it known unto thee, O king! that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” The answer illustrates:
1. The duty of pleasing God rather than men. “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” But just here the text is found at which so many fail. Men are careful to answer to their fellow-men, rather than to God, for their conduct. Public opinion is the great golden image before which they fall down in worship. Fashion also sets up its great golden image, and commands all to bow down and worship it. It has passed into an aphorism: “You had as well go out of the world as out of the fashion.” God says: “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” There is also a great golden image set up in the form of prevailing social customs, by which persons are tried whether they will do right or conform to the example of the company they are in.
2. The confidence that God would take care of them if they honoured Him. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery” furnace, and He will deliver us out of thy hand.” And their knowledge of the character of God assured them that no real harm could come to them in the way of their duty to Him. But their answer went further; if it had not, it would have lacked in one great element of force, which we shall see presently. They said: “But if God does not deliver us, we will not serve thy gods.” If this had not been added, it might have been said: “No wonder they are so heroic, having the assurance that God would save them from the threatened punishment; in other words, they were willing to serve God as long as they were exempt from suffering; as long as it went well with them in this world.” That was the kind of religion that the neighbours of Job thought he had--a mercenary religion.
3. We have in this answer an exhibition of true principle as the foundation of a religious life. Their were governed by principle. “True religion,” says Albert Barnes, “is a determined purpose to do right, whatever may be the consequences. Come wealth or poverty, honour or dishonour, life or death, the mind is firmly fixed on doing right.” A man who loves what is right, and is determined to do what is right because he has deep down in his soul a recognition of the everlasting blessedness of virtue, is not the one who will want to bring weak excuses for worldly conformity; for doing what he has misgivings in his own mind is not right. He who is in earnest about saving his soul will not frame weak excuses for yielding to temptation. In fine, principle, and not impulse, will be the mainspring of his religious activity. True religion is a determined purpose to live for God, come what may.
III. WE COME NOW TO THE CONDEMNATION AND DELIVERANCE OF THESE YOUNG MEN AS THE FINAL GENERAL PROPOSITION OF OUR SUBJECT. They were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. Though they had been so faithful to God, yet He permitted them to be brought into this dreadful place. Now may Nebuchadnezzar utter his infidel sneer: “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” Even faith itself may be so tried as to say: “It is vain to serve God; He is so indifferent to our efforts to please Hire, or He is powerless against the world.” But do not be in haste to judge. God did not save them from the furnace, but He went with them into it and protected them there. So His people may not be exempt from trials, but they have the presence of Jesus in these trials. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” and through great tribulation ye shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. But if He sees that it is necessary that we go into those trials, He will give us blessed compensations. And then, if He sees fit to put us in the furnace in order to purify, and sanctify, and fit us for glory, it is because He knows there is something in us worth the trial. Men do not put dross in the crucible--a thing of no value--and sit there watching over it. Then, if you are in the furnace, there is something in you which God values, and by this process He will develop it. “They walked in the midst of the fire and had no hurt.” How true to the history of God’s people in all ages of the world-walking in the midst of the fire and not burned. From this we learn that it is not the outward circumstances of an individual that can harm him. His welfare depends upon the inward state of the heart. Hence a Christian has a source of consolation which no earthly influences can turn aside or obstruct. But the same fire which was harmless to God’s servants destroyed their enemies. And thus it is that those trials under which Christians are happy are overwhelming to those who have no faith in God. I cannot leave this subject without one more thought. These men were called up out of the furnace. And that was not all; they were promoted in the kingdom. From the fires of trial to which God subjects us, always comes a higher state of life. But this higher state is produced by those experiences which seem so hard to us. We rise upon the wreck of the earthly to the Heavenly. After they were well tried the king came and called these young men out of the trial--out of the furnace. Then the king promoted them in the province of Babylon. And thus will God, when He has seen that we have been suffciently tried, and are fitted for the better world, call us out of the furnace and promote us to the kingdom of everlasting blessedness. (J. T. Murray.)
Three Names High on the Muster-roll
Have you not seen in your time men seriously impressed? But after a while they forgot it all, and became at length the most bitter opponents of the truth before which they seemed once to bow. We know, then, what to expect; that some who seem like fish almost landed, will, nevertheless, slip back into the stream. This great king of Babylon was an absolute monarch. His will was law; no man ever dared to dispute with him. Who would differ from a gentleman who could back up his arguments with a fiery, furnace, or with a threat to cut you in pieces, and to make your house a dunghill?
I. First of all, as we think of these three brave Jews, let us consider THE EXCUSES THEY MIGHT HAVE MADE. They were accused by the Chaldeans, who had so recently been saved from death by Daniel and his three friends. The surest way to be hated by some people is to place them under an obligation. But in this case the wrath of man was to praise God. They might have said to themselves, “It is perfectly useless to resist. We cannot contend against this man. If we submit, we do it unwillingly; and surely, being coerced into it, we shall be but little blamed.” It is a bad excuse, but it is one that I have often heard made. “Oh,” says a man, “we must live, you know; we must live.” I really do not see any necessity for it. Again, they might have said, “We are in a strange land, and is it not written by one of our wise men, ‘When you are in Babylon, you must do as Babylon does’? Of course, if we were at home, in Judaea, we would not think of such a thing.” Is God the God of this island, and not the God of the Continent? Has He ever given us permission to do abroad we may not do at home? It is a vile excuse, but commonly enough made. They might also have said, “We are in office”; and seeing they were set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, they might have found some difficulty in detaching their private religion from their public duty. A man gets elected to a parish vestry, or a council, or a board, and when he once gets to sit on that board, he seems to have left his honesty at home. I say not that it is so always, but I am sorry to say that it has often been so. The official has no sooner put on his robes of office than his conscience has vanished. But, then, they were prosperous men. They were getting on in the world, and I believe that God sent this trial to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, because they were prospering. They might have said, “We must not throw away our chances.” Among the dangers to Christian men, the greatest, perhaps, is accumulating wealth--the danger of prosperity. May God grant that we may never turn His mercies into an excuse for sinning against Him! You who are rich have no more liberty to sin than if you were poor. Again, further, they might have excused themselves thus. The putting up of this image was not altogether a religious act. It was symbolical. The image was intended to represent the power of Nebuchadnezzar, and bowing before it was, therefore, doing political homage to the great king. Might they not safely do this? They might have said, “We are pollitically bound.” Oh, how often we hear this brought up! You are told to regard the difference between right and wrong everywhere, except when you get into politics; then stick to your party through thick and thin. Right and wrong vanish at once. Loyalty to your leader--that is the point. A very soothing salve for their conscience might have been found in the absence of any command to renounce their own religion. They might have encouraged each other to submit, by saying, “We are not called upon to abjure our God.” They need not believe the idol to be Divine, nor confess the least faith in it; in their hearts they might make a mental reservation as they bowed, and they might have whispered to one another, and said that it was a devil, and no God. They might have excused themselves to their own conscience by saying that they prostrated themselves to the music, and not to the idol, or that they made obeisance to the king rather than to his image. Anything, in fact, will serve for an excuse, when the heart is ‘bent on compromise; and, especially in these half-hearted days, it is very easy to find a specious reason for a false action, if some temporal benefit is attached to it. Modern charity manufactures a multitude of excuses to cover sins withal. A stronger argument, however, might have been secured from the fact of the universal submission to the decree. “Everybody else is doing it,” they might have said. Though millions bowed, what had that to do with them? I ask you to cultivate a brave personality. In the service of God, things cannot go by the counting of heads. They might have said, “It is only for once, and not for long. Ten minutes or so, once in a lifetime, to please the king; such a trivial act cannot make any difference; at any rate, it is not enough to brave the fiery furnace for. Let us treat the whole thing as a huge jest. It would be ridiculous to throw away our lives for such a trifle.” Not even for a few minutes in a lifetime would these three brave men deny their God. May their stubborn faith be ours! Another excuse that they might have made was, “We can do more good by living than we can by being cast into than furnace. It is true, if we are burnt alive, we bear a rapid testimony to the faith of God; but if we live, how much more we might accomplish! You see we three are Jews, and we are put in high office, and there are many poor Jews who are captives. We can help them. We have always seen justice done to God’s people, our fellow-country-men, and we feel that we are raised to our high office on purpose to do good. Now, you see, if you make us bigots, and wilt not let us yield, you cut short our opportunities of usefulness.” If an act of sin would increase my usefulness tenfold, I have no right to do it; and if an act of righteousness would appear likely to destroy my my apparent usefulness, I am yet to do it. But they might also have said, “Real!y, this is more than can be expected of us.” Remember what Jesus said to the multitudes who went with him, “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children,. and brethren; and sister, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”
II. In the second place, let us assure our own hearts by admiring THE CONFIDENCE WHICH THEY POSSESSED. They expressed it very emphatically and clearly. They had a definite, solid, foursquare faith.
1. First, they said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” The word “careful” there, does not give you the meaning. Read it, “We are not full of care as to how to answer thee.” They did answer very carefully; but they were not anxious about the answer. They did not deliberate. They did not hesitate. They said, “Nebuchadnezzar, we can answer you at once on that point.”
2. In the second place, they did not judge it theirs to answer at all. I find that it may read, as in the Revised Version, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer thee in this matter,” meaning, “We will not answer you. It is not for us to answer you. You have brought another Person into the quarrel” Then notice what they say. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.”
3. They avowed their faith in the Omnipotent God, knowing that, if He chose, no mighty man of Babylon could ever throw them into that furnace. What is more, they add, “And He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” Whether they burned in the fire or not, they were sure they would be delivered. If any of you are in great difficulty and trouble, tempted, to do wrong, nay, pressed to do it, and if you do what is right, it looks as if you will be great losers and great sufferers; believe this: God can deliver you. He can prevent your having to suffer what you suppose you may; and if He does not prevent that, He can help you to bear it, and, in a short time, He can turn all your losses into gains, all your sufferings into happiness. The Lord has helped us in the past, He is helping us in the present, and we believe that He will help us all the way through.
III. But here is the point that I want to make most prominent--the third one--THE DETERMINATION AT WHICH THEY HAD ARRIVED. “I not,” if God does not deliver us at all, “be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Grand language! Noble resolve!
1. They did not pivot their loyalty to God upon their deliverance. They did not say, as some do, “I will serve God if it pays me to do so. I will serve God if He helps me at such and such a time.” No, they would serve Him for nothing; theirs was not cupboard love.
2. They resolved that they would obey God at all costs. Let us walk in this heroic path. But some will say, “It is too hard. You cannot expect men to love God well enough to die for Him.” No, but there was One who loved us well enough to die for us, and to die a thousand deaths in one, that He might save us. If Christ so loved us, we ought so to love Him. “Well,” says one, “I think it is impossible. I could not bear pain.” It is possible, for many have endured it. You may never be called to such a trial as that; but still, if you cannot bear the small trials, how would you bear the great ones? To enable us to get the spirit of these three holy men, we must get, first, a clear sense of the Divine presence. It a man feels that God is seeing him, he will not bow his knee to an idol; neither will he do evil; for God’s eye is upon him. We must, next, have a deep sense of the Divine law. I have already reminded you of the law. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” etc. Above all, to keep us right, we must have a mighty sense of the Divine love. We shall never obey God till by His grace we have new hearts, and those hearts are full of love to Him through Jesus Christ. “But what did these three men do?” says one; “they simply did not bow their heads, and they were cast into the fiery furnace. What did they do?” They influenced their age, their people, and all time. These three men influenced the city of Babylon, and the whole Babylonian empire, They certainly influenced King Nebuchadnezzar. These three men command the admiration of Heaven and earth. A fool would have pointed at them and said, “There go three fools--gentlemen high in office, with large incomes, and wives and families. They have only to take their cap off, and they may live in their wealth; but if they do not do it, they are to be burnt alive; and they will not do it. They will be burnt alive. They are fools.” Yes, but the Son of God did not think so. When He in Heaven heard them speak thus to King Nebuchadnezzar, He said, “Brave, brave men! I will leave the throne of God in Heaven to go and stand by their side”; and invisibly He descended, till where the fires were glowing like one vast ruby, where the fierce flame had slain the men that threw the three confessors into the burning fiery furnace, He came and stood. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The True Way of Treating Sin, and what comes of it
The true way of treating sin is by a religion of principle. And that sort of religion is splendidly displayed in Scripture. Out on the plain of Dura is to be lifted a golden image ninety feet in height. It is plated, not solid--and are not all idols plated? Every object of worship, save only God, is hollow and deceiving. Well, the pageant is accomplished. The image stands resplendent. The king is gorgeous on his throne. The highest officers of the kingdom crowd the plain. The music bursts and swells. And all the plain at once is full of prostrate worshippers. Except that three men still stand. They have not fallen. They do not worship. Who are they? They are Hebrew captives from Jerusalem. They have heard the command higher than the king’s--“Thou shalt have no other gods before me; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor worship them.” They will obey this loftier mandate. And there they stand amid the kneeling host, erect, alone; with firmness on their faces, with faith in their hearts, with God above them, with all the world beneath their feet. Here, surely, is a religion of principle. Not a transient enthusiasm; not simply a decorous, fair-weather profession; not a weak and swaying sentimentality, but a deep, inward, immovable, resistent principle of life, holding the possessors of it to straight and definite courses, and clothing them with heroism. Consider the foundation of such religion of principle. Right doctrine is one of its foundations. Doctrine is something taught. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been taught the truth that Jehovah is supreme. There is an immense importance in right doctrine. Right religion is right theology applied; right practice is right doctrine carried out; right life is right creed lived. You must learn the will of God before you can unfalteringiy do that will. Right resolve is another of the foundations of a religion of principle. Not only must the right doctrine be received, but along with that must go the resolve to practise it at all hazards. The doctrine must not be a seed, carefully wrapped and laid in some secret drawer; it must be a seed planted, and helped upward into growth and bloom and fruitage by all the breezes, and all the showers, and all the sunlight. Right doctrine must, through holy resolution, compel the deed into coincidence with itself. Consider the tests of this religion of principle. It is prompt. Oh, the waste of life, in debating duty! Oh, the weakness of argument and counter argument! Oh, the trouble of the spirit stunned with the noises of disputation with itself. Oh, the clearness and straightness and strength of the life which, looking to Christ for truth, just bravely does the truth at once. Mark the grand promptness of these three Hebrews. “We are determined and decided; wears not careful to answer thee in this matter, O king.” This religion of principle is conscientious about small matters. (Wayland Hoyt, D.D.)
I. WE HAVE HERE AN INSTANCE OF RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE. The scene of the text is laid in an Eastern land. It would seem that the will of the monarch was supreme. His word was law; he must be obeyed. And this authority was not confined simply to affairs of state; it seems to have entered into the region of religion too. This is always dangerous. It matters but little when it happens; trouble is almost sure to arise unless freedom of thought and liberty of conscience are entirely surrendered. It was this arrogant claim which kept many states of Europe in the chains of ignorance and superstition far too long. It was this which fired the soul of Luther, and led him to be a reformer. We state with emphasis that in our judgment no man has a right to come between God and the soul.
1. Every man should be at liberty to worship God according to his own conscience and lights.
2. The law should protect every man in the enjoyment of this liberty, providing always that he does not interfere with the enjoyment of the same rights and liberties by others. My freedom of action is to be limited by the rights and liberties of others. The king had a perfect right to set up his image. But when he sought to compel others to do as he did he interfered with their liberties, which should have been the measure of his own. The law should protect us all alike in our religion, if we do not interfere with the rights of our neighbours.
3. No man should suffer civil disability because of his religious belief.
4. No man should have preference in civil matters because of his religious profession.
II. WE HAVE AN EXAMPLE OF RELIGIOUS FAITHFULNESS.
1. We must be true to our God, even if we have to stand alone. Living as we do in times when religion is popular, and to attend public worship is respectable, we cannot fully realise all it means to stand alone for God.
2. We must be true to our God,, even if it makes us seem untrue to men. These men had received, much in this kingdom. They were the sons of conquered people, men of an alien and foreign race, the children of captivity, and prisoners of war. Royal favour had spared, and saved them. Sad and painful as it may be to appear ungrateful to those to whom we are under obligation, we must not dishonour our God. It is better to lose the friendship of man than the favour of God.
3. We must be true to God, even if it brings loss upon us. A religion which costs nothing is worth only what it costs. Did Moses consider what he would gain if he made common cause with his own people, whom God meant him to deliver? It may well be doubted if anyone ever suffers much in the long run through faithfulness to God. (C. Leach, D.D.)
Men of this strain are of native right the captains of the great host of God. They are the men sent to lead it when formed, to rally it when broken, and to inspire it by their own conduct in the field. The men who can say, Whether I succeed or fail, as the world counts success or failure, whether I suffer or triumph, whether I die or live, one thing I do, the will of God as far as it is made known to me; and one thing I will not do, the will of the world, the flesh, and the devil, form that living core of strength and valour in Christ’s army. The presence of these Jewish youths at the Chaldean court is a conspicuous instance of the visible interposition of a Divine hand in the government of the world. The Jew was the living witness of the care of God for the political welfare of men. We are prone to underrate the influence of the Jew on the world of his time. We see him narrow, selfish, and exclusive, and we easily overlook the remarkable influence which he exerted at critical moments on the surrounding peoples. Joseph’s work in Egypt is really but a specimen of the work which that people, willingly or unwillingly, were compelled to accomplish for mankind. In Daniel probably the influence culminated, until the whole commission was read out by St. Paul. The crisis which Daniel records is one of the chief pivots of universal history.
I. Let us study THE MARTYR SPIRIT AS HERE REVEALED.
1. These men had attained to the condition in which conviction had passed beyond the reach of perturbation or question. The everlasting hills were not so firmly rooted as the belief in the God of Heaven, and the essential blessedness of serving Him, was rooted in those young hearts. The rending in pieces of the whole world system around them would have shattered none of their dearest beliefs and hopes (Psalms 46:1-5). Their God made the world, and could make new worlds at His pleasure; but He was the same, from everlasting to everlasting, and His word must stand, whatever else in the universe might fall.
2. They were themselves of that temper, and had come to that strength and unity of character, that they could declare, There are things which we cannot say, there are things which we cannot do, whatever be the cost; it is blankly impossible; here strand we; we can do no other, God help us. I say they were of that temper, and they had come to that strength and unity of character. There must be both to make such martyrs, such witnesses for the God of Heaven as these. If this must be, it must be. God help us; it must be. We cannot speak, we cannot do, this awful lie. “Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
3. There must abide in all martyr spirits an unwavering faith in the omnipotent hand of God. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us.” His power to rule is clear to us as sunlight. He may choose to help us now, and signally deliver. He may choose to let us suffer, but nothing can shake our belief in His Power to save. We are sure that His will must be done; His cause must triumph; His servants, His soldiers, must be crowned. It may be here; it may be there; we do not question Him; times are in His hand. But here or there it will be, as surely as He reigns. A man may say with unconquerable firmness, I cannot do this thing, I will rather die, even when he believes that death is annihilation. But this faith is essential to the joyous spirit of Christian martyrdom; the exultation in prospect of a death of pain and shame which broke forth in the words, “I am ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.” To die thus, one must believe that that for which he dies will reign, and he with it, in eternity.
II. We shall better understand the temper of these men WHEN WE COMPARE IT WITH A RECORD WHICH DESCRIBES VERY FAITHFULLY THE QUALITY OF MUCH THAT GOES BY THE NAME OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE Genesis 28:16-22). “Bless me, prosper my journey, bring me home again, and I will serve thee,” were the terms of Jacob’s covenant in Bethel. But if the cross be heavy, the self-denial hard, the battle long and stern, the cry is, Why hast thou brought me forth? “Is not this that” we said unto thee, Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?” How grandly beside these terms of bargain rings out the clear defiance of the text. Many a man enters on the pilgrim path in the belief that God will make his way smooth, pleasant, prosperous, and ends by being so wedded to truth and righteousness that he would say quite calmly with these men, “Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Do not be disheartened if you find faith waver in the hour of trial. At the opening of a battle, when the first bullets begin to patter, the boldest soldier draws himself together. When his blood is warm, he thinks of them no more than of summer rain-drops. Pray to the Master that thy faith fail not.
III. Let us look at THE SCHOOL IN WHICH MEN ARE TRAINED TO SUCH GOD-:LIKE VIGOUR AND COURAGE which it was God’s will that they should practise in great things. They were as resolute against little compliances as against great ones. It is a grand mistake to think that men can leap in one moment of high excitement to such a glorious height of strength and courage. Nothing but trained Christian manhood can endure such strain. Idols! the world is full of them. Golden idols, too, and daily throngs bow down their souls to worship. Are you trained to say, That I cannot do, that trick I cannot practise, that lie I cannot tell, that lust I will not indulge, that worldly success I will not clutch at, though life were hanging on it. I cannot do it; God help me! (J. B. Brown, B.A.)
Courage and Fidelity
I. THE IMPIETY OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR IN ERECTING THIS IDOL, and using means to compel all people, especially his captives, to fall down and worship it..
II. The exemplary courage and fidelity of these men, in withstanding the impetuous passion of the king, and suffering all the effects of his rage and fury, rather than yield to the impiety of worshipping his idol
III. The happy issue of their constancy, and triumph of their faith in this conflict.
I. As to the idol itself, though the sacred text says nothing of the shape of it, yet I think it is not doubted but that it was made in the figure of a man; some think it was intended for Bolus, the founder of the Babylonian royal family; others, for Nabopollasser, this king’s father; but a third opinion is that it was a model of that image which Nebuchadnezzar had seen in his dream, in the foregoing chapter, which he might take to be the genius of his kingdom, and which, therefore, he might hope to render propitious to him and his affairs, by dedicating to him this magnificent statue, and through it offering to him Divine honours and adorations. This, indeed, was agreeable enough to the theology of the ancient Gentiles, who thus venerated their peculiar and tutelar deities. But it was more unpardonable in this king than in others, by reason of the long commerce which he had with the Jews, which makes it impossible to conceive that he could be ignorant of this first and greatest article of their religion, that there was but one God, and that He was to be worshipped in a spiritual way, without any material resemblance. He was well acquainted with Daniel and these three men, whom he had appointed to be bred up in his court, and to be fitted for the high offices of his kingdom, to which he quickly preferred them. I will not now stand to enquire how far it may be lawful to enforce the profession even of true religion by temporal penalties. There is a zeal for God, which His own word approves of in magistrates and ministers; and there is a zeal without knowledge, which runs out into a criminal persecution, for which St. Paul says that he obtained mercy, because he acted ignorantly (1. Timothy 1:13). But surely Nebuchadnezzar could not plead this excuse. He must be well acquainted with the religion of these men; he had the greatest obligations to their God, and was bound to them by the laws of hospitality, and by the faithful service which we may justly suppose they rendered him in their respective stations.
II. Let us now turn to the contemplation of THE EXEMPLARY COURAGE AND FIDELITY OF THESE MEN, who withstood the impetuous passion of the king, and chose to suffer all the effects of his rage and fury rather than yield to the impiety of worshipping his idol. This is a plain argument that their hopes were extended beyond this life; for had they thought the fiery furnace could have put an end to their being, and that there should nothing have remained of them for God to reward or punish in another state, I am of opinion they would have bowed to this image rather than have burned for it. For, however some affirm, that truth is so much more beautiful and con-natural to the soul of man than falsehood, that a wise man would prefer it even for its own sake, though nothing was to be expected after this life; yet if it were to be vindicated with the utter extinction of the whole man, and that on the contrary his receding from it would prolong his existence and his happiness, I am apt to think that it would in such case become an allowed rule of wisdom, to recede from the truth when it could not be held without suffering the loss of soul and body for the sake of it. And this was certainty the motive, why these martyrs of the true God did so cheerfully surrender their bodies to the flames, submitting themselves to Him, to live or die, as He saw most conducive to His own glory; firmly believing that if the fire dissolved their bodies, their souls should pass into His more immediate presence, and be made partakers of His immortal felicities. I believe I need not say much to persuade those who have a competent knowledge of the sufferings of holy martyrs, that many of them have given the best evidence that the consolations of God have far exceeded the torments of men in their greatest extremities.
III. THE HAPPY ISSUE OF THESE MEN’S CONSTANCY, and the triumph of their faith in this conflict. The enraged king had power to throw them into the fire, but he had no power to make the fire burn them. The king, when he called to his counsellors upon this occasion, told them that the form of the fourth man was like the Son of God. By this he might mean that he appeared to be a very august, majestic person; a god-like man, as we would say. This is as much as the expression sometimes imports. But because he could not think that a man of flesh and blood could enter there, and preserve the sufferers in such a miraculous manner, he must rather mean that it was some Divine Being sent from Heaven for this purpose. To this it will be objected that it is not credible Nebuchadnezzar knew anything of this Son of God, so as to be able to say that this person was like him. And we may readily allow that he did not; and yet this objection does not at all overthrow our hypothesis. For the king might mean in general that he seemed to be some Divine person; and this person might be the particular and only Son of God, who in all probability appeared upon the earth in human shape upon some occasion long before His incarnation. (W. Reading M. A.)
I. CONSIDER THE TRIAL OF THEIR OBEDIENCE. It must be allowed that things good in themselves are heightened in value by circumstances. Why was the liberality of the widow commended, whole file rich cast into the treasury? We are told that they cast in of their abundance; but she of her penury cast in all that she had. The man who is not puffed up in the time of prosperity, is the humble man; he who is not cast down when in danger, and when all other men’s strength fails, this is the courageous man.
1. They could plead authority. It was their sovereign who commanded them to fall down and worship the image, and good men must be loyal subjects. Yes, but here is a distinction to be made: we must distinguish between civil and religious concerns, and must obey God rather than man. But this conduct has often given to the servants of God a character for insubordination. Thus Jesus was charged with sedition, and Paul with being tumultuous.
2. They could plead obligation. Nebuchadnezzar had taken these captives from among the Hebrews, and had raised them to offices of trust and emolument. Nothing pleads so powerfully as kindness; favours attach the heart, and good men are sensible of obligations. There is no greater trial than to be unable to oblige a friend. “He that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me”--this is the trial.
3. They could plead the universality of the example. All around them yielded; and why should they be singular? Singularity, for its own sake, always shows a vain mind, and singularity in little things discovers a weak mind. Decency requires that we should not stand out in little things; but in things important, where a soul is to be lost, and God dishonoured--there we must be “separate, and touch not the unclean thing.” A dead fish will swim with the stream; it is a live one only that can swim against it. It was thus that Enoch walked with God alone, and amidst opposition. Thus, Noah was a preacher of righteousness in a sinful world, and Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. You are not afraid to be singular in most things; you are not afraid to be singularly wise--singularly rich--singularly happy! The best wisdom is that “which is from above,” and the best happiness is that which is eternal. When you are called on to do good, never ask what others are doing, or what will be said of you.
4. Remark the dreadfulness of the penalty. You sometimes complain that your trials are too much for your virtue. “Oh,” you say, “if we follow on in this particular course, we shall”--but let us hear your trials--“we shall be exposed to the burning stake--cast into the lion’s den.” No, nothing like it. “ Shall be deprived of liberty”; nothing like it. “Be reduced to want”; nothing like it. “No; but in order to attend to closet and family devotions,” I hear you say, “we must rise a little earlier. Oh! but, if we don’t profane the Sabbath, and open our shops on the Sunday, we shall lose some of our customers. If we don’t conform to the world, we shall be scoffed at.” Eternal God! these are the martyrs of thy religion in our day!
II. THE PRINCIPLE OF THEIR OBEDIENCE. A conduct so tried, and yet so triumphant, must have had principle to support it. A man under the influence of principle will not be under the control of circumstances, nor under the influence of momentary impulse; if a good man errs, he acts from principle. But what armed them? Can we find a principle equal to the effect produced? The servants of God have done great things, and have suffered great trials; and the very thing which has enabled them to suffer is that which some are afraid of, viz., faith. Faith does not lead to licentiousness. It is by faith alone that we can do good works. But faith must have something to lay hold on, and act and work upon. In the faith of these three young men there were three things to act upon.
1. The power of God. “Our God,” said they, “is able to deliver us.” “He is the Maker of heaven and earth; He has suspended the laws of nature, made iron to swim, and raised the dead; and He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” It was here that the Jews failed; they asked’, “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Can He give flesh also?” All nature may change; but His word cannot fail: “He can turn the shadow of death into the morning.”
2. It regarded the disposition of God. “He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king!” Perhaps they thought it probable that God would work a miracle in their favour; perhaps they had some inward presentiment of it in their minds; perhaps they concluded this from Scripture. They had doubtless read in the book of Psalms, “I will deliver him and honour him, and I will shew him my salvation.” He has engaged to deliver His people in the day of trouble, and He will do it, either here partially or hereafter completely.
3. It regarded a future indemnification in another world. What! did they still persist in their determination--though a painful death was to be the consequence? Yes; but they could not have regaled it as annihilation. If there had been no other world, it would not have become them to have sacrificed life; their martyrdom would, in this case, have been madness. They must, then, have believed in a state of future recompense. Unless we bring the prospect of a future and eternal life to bear upon our conduct, we shall yield to temptation; and it is for want of this that the world leads us astray. When we think of another world, how infinitely superior does it appear to the present life!
III. Notice THE EFFECT OF THEIR OBEDIENCE. How did it end? In promoting the glory of the Master whom they served, and the interests of the religion which they professed. When the people of God suffer in the discharge of their duty, they glorify God, and show how He can deliver those who trust in Him. It resulted in their own honour and advantage. They staid not long in the furnace; but those were golden moments. O what peace and joy in God did they feel! and what holy resolutions did they form while in the furnace? To conclude:
1. Let us be thankful for the biography of the Scriptures--let us be grateful that we have the example of so many good men set before us, who, through faith and patience, do now inherit the promises.
2. If you are the servants of God, His grace is necessary for you. It is happy for us that we live under a paternal government, and are not exposed to the fury and caprice of tyrants.
3. While infidels ridicule you, and the enemies of Christ misrepresent your conduct, there is something in the religion of Christ which will support you; there is a reality in it which can be found in nothing else. (W. Jay.)
The Three Hebrew Youths
The Church of God has suffered much persecution. This, though in itself an evil, has been productive of good. By persecution the sincerity of religious professors has been tried, the hypocrisy of deceivers has been detected, the graces of good men have been exercised and improved.
I. The CIRCUMSTANCES which occasioned the address. Babylon the renowned capital of the ancient Chaldean empire; a place not less remarkable for its magnificence than its idolatry. Nebuchadnezzar was a heathen; the royal patron of idolatrous practices; a very powerful and ambitious monarch. And was the object of this imperious prince attained? Did he secure universal compliance? No; these three youths, mentioned in the text, dared to refuse. “Then Nebuchadnezzar, in his rage and fury”--very unfit companions for a king! How little qualified was this man to rule mighty nations, who had no rule over his own spirit! This worm of the earth sets himself in competition with Jehovah! He challenges the Most High, the King of Heaven! He defies the power of Omnipotence! It is the sentiment of an infidel, bloated with pride, and burning with passion.
II. The TEMPER OF MIND discovered in the address. It possesses uncommon beauty, and is highly instructive.
1. Dignified composure. “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” There was nothing in the least disrespectful in this sentence; they were not indifferent to their situation, or inattentive to their language and behaviour; it intimates rather that they were not perplexed about the answer they should give. The king was exceedingly agitated, but we see nothing of agitation in these young men; they were perfectly collected and composed. They did not begin to declaim against the idols of Babylon, or against the iniquity of this sanguinary edict. We notice here the influence of genuine religion; it is the same in all ages, and in all countries. So far as it is possessed, it quiets the mind; it preserves it unruffled; it subdues those angry passions which disturb the breast of many when their will is thwarted, when their inclination is crossed. Do you complain of the want of self-possession, and of command of temper in the presence of those who revile and persecute you?
2. Decided piety. In the presence of an imperious monarch, who was addicted to the practice of idolatry, and determined on reducing all about him to the same way, these youths explicitly avow “the God whom we serve.” Yes, the man who loves God in his heart is not ashamed of his attachment, nor is he afraid to declare it on every proper occasion. Decided piety is productive of Christian courage; and this does not consist in rudeness; it does not oblige a man to intrude religious talk into every company, and at every turn; yet, when his principles are violently attacked, when the honour of God and of the Gospel is insulted, the true Christian will not be cowardly, but decided and firm. Beg of God to strengthen this heavenly principle in you, to fortify your hearts and minds, to preserve you from sinful shame, to make you decided and valiant for the truth as it is in Jesus.
3. Believing confidence is remarkably evident. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” They seem to have had a secret expectation that, should Nebuchadnezzar be suffered to carry his threats into execution, their God, by some means, would rescue them. Whether they had any intimation of this given them from Heaven, we are not certain. They trusted in the living God, and by faith “endured, as seeing Him that is invisible! “Ask yourselves, what is the nature, and what are the grounds of your confidence? Is your hope in God?” Does it rest on His truth, and on the certainty that He will secure His own glory? Alas! the confidence of most is easily shaken, and faith wavers with every wind of trial.
4. Steady resolution, at all events, to obey God rather than man, A variety of considerations might have shaken their constancy, and led them to a compliance. Let us advert here, to the disposition of many professors of religion in the present day. Could not you have got over this difficulty without hazarding your life? Would you not have temporised a little? Would you not have yielded, and then, by some expedient, have settled matters with your conscience? Yes, some have settled much more difficult points.
III. The remarkable EFFECTS which the address produced. On Nebuchadnezzar they were effects of more violent anger; it stirred up all his malignant rage, which appeared in the distortion of his countenance; he was “full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed.” Henry remarks: “Would men in a passion but look at their faces in a glass, they would blush at their own folly, and turn their displeasure against themselves.” But the day is coming when proud tyrants will be called to account, not only for the cruelties which they have themselves practised, but also for those which they have instigated others to commit; and an awful reckoning it will be.” This subject suggests a few words:
1. To young persons. The case of these Hebrew youths conveys instruction to you with peculiar energy, and demonstrates the great necessity of steady religious principle. It is true you live not in the court of Babylon; but you live in a sinful world, surrounded with the enemies of God, and of your souls. An image of gold is not set up which you are commanded to worship; but there are other snares, a variety of other trials, which will put your sincerity to the test, and determine whom you serve. And you, parents, we wonder not that young persons, in the present day, are so yielding to vanity and vice; so content to swim with the stream, and to follow the corrupt fashions of the age; for what should hinder? What should induce them to resist? Their minds are not principled;they are not furnished with religious knowledge; and for want of this, their consciences have little sense of evil, their hearts are not inclined to good, they are left without any effectual restraint.
2. To undecided professors. There are many such; and many do not suspect themselves till they are tried. It is an easy thing to follow religion while the world smiles; but when it frowns, when it threatens, when it reviles and persecutes, then is the secret iniquity of multitudes discovered; their principles are abandoned, and their props give way. Remember, if religion demands anything, it demands the heart. You must be decided, or you are nothing. Is it so, that you are led away by the fascinations of the world? You know nothing of the Gospel as you ought to know.
3. Afflicted, persecuted believers are addressed. To you this subject speaks peculiar encouragement. Never was there a more striking illustration, or a more exact fulfilment of the promise, “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” And to you Jehovah speaks, as well as to believers in all ages: “I will be with thee”--“I will deliver thee.”
4. Are there any persecutors here? This subject speaks closely to you. And let me remind you of the dreadful end of such characters. See it in the death of Herod, who was eaten up with worms; see it in the doom of Pharaoh, who, with his host, sunk like lead in the mighty waters; and see it in the degraded condition of this haughty Chaldean monarch. Many a man is an oppressor, a persecutor, in his own house. His influence, possibly, does not reach much farther; or he may have that regard to his reputation, and to his worldly interest, which binds him to restrain his passion in his general intercourse with men. But see him in his own domestic circle;observe his temper in his own family; how often rage and fury boil in his breast, anger distorts his countenance, and even Nebuchadnezzar could scarcely be more unreasonable in some of his requirements. (T. Kidd.)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego
Let us consider the heroic constancy and fidelity of those devoted servants of God, and endeavour to derive therefrom matter for our instruction and encouragement. Now, I can scarcely conceive a harder trial of faith than what these men were called upon to undergo, or any circumstances fitted to put the truth and reality of their principles to a severer test. Had they been the objects of unrelenting persecution for some time previously, their ease would have been vastly different. Their minds would have been, in some measure, prepared for the fearful crisis which awaited them. For it is well known how a long series of afflictions and trials loosens all the ties which bind us to life, and takes away the bitterness of death. But such was not the condition of the bold and holy confessors we are now considering. Their condition, their outward estate, was happy. They might have been called the children of fortune.. Worldly prosperity had brightened their path--they had been promoted to offices of dignity and trust. It is but keeping within the strictest limits of reason and probability to suppose they had as much to attach them to life. This was a dreadful alternative And here we may pause, and ask, Oh! how would hypocrisy, how would empty profession have shrunk from it?--how would the mere formalist have turned his back?--I had almost said, how would the weak and timid believer have proved himself unequal to the trial? But God’s grace was magnified in these men. The fire which consumes the dross only purifies the gold. The holy purpose was fixed. There must be no compromise, no concession; conscience told them the act was wrong. Its voice was paramount. There are those who sneer at those holy records of martyrdoms for the truth, and who would set them down to the score of wild fanaticism, or to the ambition of getting a name. But could it be so in the case before us? What motive could actuate them arising from secular considerations? There were no honours to be obtained by them as dying martyrs--there were the interests of no party to be upheld. They had not the power of the example of others before them to stimulate them to seek a martyr’s glorious name. Oh, I should like to see how wild fanaticism, or heated enthusiasm, or the fire of false excitement, could stand such a trial!--how they would demean themselves under such circumstances. No, we must trace the inflexible courage and constancy of these men to a higher and nobler source. And now was the hour of breathless suspense; now it was expected the screams of agony would issue from the fiery furnace. But, no; all was silent as the grave. It could not be that death had done its work so soon. When, lo, the mysterious marvel!--What signet is this that breaks upon the monarch’s view? “Were there not three men cast into the fiery furnace?”--but, lo, he sees four men, walking; and the fourth is like the Son of God! Now, it is delightful to see God thus openly putting honour upon the faithfulness of His servants. But this, as well as all other Scriptures, was written for our instruction; and we are not living in an age when the lesson which it is fitted to teach us is no longer needful. It is not because the flames of martyrdom are quenched, or its sword sheathed, that, therefore, the spirit, the uncompromising spirit of the martyrs is no longer needed. No, in every period of the church there is truth to be maintained with uncompromising fidelity; error to be opposed with unhesitating boldness. There is ever a demand for that singleness of purpose, that simplicity of aim, which turns not to the right hand nor to the left, where the interests of truth are concerned. These are times when the principles which were so distinguished in these holy men are as much needed as ever. It is well known how much of latitudinarian sentiments are now abroad. We know well with what plausible arguments opinions may be maintained which are as much opposed to truth as light is to darkness. And it is no ordinary trial of sincerity which awaits the young, especially--when they are thrown into the society of men who are infinitely their superiors in intelligence, and literary attainments, and skill in argument--to maintain their principles with meekness, but with boldness. The Christian is certainly called upon to act a consistent and decided part; to show plainly to whom he belongs; to come out and be separate; to be “a living epistle, known and read of all men.” A love of God’s truth is his distinguishing character; and a compromise of God’s truth, or anything that tends to lessen or to obliterate the boundary marks between truth and error, shall have his unqualified reprobation. The truth of God is what he loves better than the life itself; and that truth is simple and one. It would be well to ask ourselves, occasionally, “What sacrifices do we make in defence of the truth? What do we do and suffer in our Divine Master’s cause?” No one can tell how much the interests of true religion may be advanced by the Christian “showing, out of a good conversation, his faith with meekness of wisdom.” The believer is bound to advance the cause of his Master, to the utmost of his ability, means, and opportunity. The silent lessons of a holy example are ever powerful. You may be faithful “in the midst of a perverse and crooked generation.” The offence of the cross is not yet ceased; and the Christian is called to bear a cross. And it would be well that we should, at times, examine ourselves upon the subject of our trials and exercises for Christ’s sake. If we have none, let us examine and search diligently into the cause; take care that our exemption be not owing to compromise or faulty concession--to bowing before the golden image of expediency. (D. Kelly, B. A.)
The Nonconformists of Babylon
We have here:
1. A specimen of religious intolerance. God alone is “Lord of the conscience.” A man’s faith and worship are things which lie between himself and his Creater. This liberty is my birthright as a man.
2. How religious intolerance may be met. These three young men simply refused to do what Nebuchadnezzar commanded; or, in modern phrase, they met his injunction with “passive resistance.” They would not tolerate any excuses, any casuistry. With similar firmness and humility we should meet intolerance yet.
3. An illustration of the support which Jesus gives to His followers, when they are called to suffer for His sake. These young men were entirely delivered, even as Peter was taken out of prison at a later day. God’s servants are not always taken out of tribulations, but they are always supported through them.
4. In the matter of religious intolerance, as well as in some other things, the opposite of wrong is not always right. Nebuchadnezzar gave up the attempt to coerce these young men. That was well; but he issued an edict in reference to Jehovah which had in it elements not less objectionable than his command to worship the image. He had no more right to out men to pieces for speaking evil of Jehovah than he had to put Shadrach into the dames for not worshipping his image. Both edicts were alike unjustifiable. (W. M. Taylor, D.D.)
The Three Witnesses on the Plains of Dura
We may be, and often are, put to trials similar in kind, though perhaps not in degree. If, however, faith and constancy were triumphant in so signal an instance as this, and in circumstances under which frail human nature may have been expected to give way, there is much more reason why they should not give way under less vehement assaults, and with greater advantages on their side. Let us pray to God that our strength may prove equal to our day. In company with idolatry we see tyranny and oppression; these hateful things are always found in union. Observe, too, the zeal with which men who are led by the deceits of Satan propagate their errors. And the cause of truth and godliness ought to be supported by the lawful influence, the fervent prayers; the holy examples, of all in every station, whether high or low . . . What are the temptations by which we are usually induced to break God’s commandments? Some present pleasure that might well be foregone; some convenience that might be easily dispensed with; some gain of money that becomes a loss when obtained; some compliance with the humour of those whom we are wont to look up to with respect, but whose smile is dearly purchased by the sacrifice of principle, and the forfeiture of the favour of God. Inquire lute the principles which actuated these champions for the truth. It was that principle of faith which is so much pressed upon us in the Holy Scriptures. It was that fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom. “They endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”. . . We have, in this narrative, a most vivid exhibition of the practical working of faith. Many persons cannot understand why such stress should be laid upon faith. We behold in the case of these faithful servants of God what faith can do. It lifts us above the world, and bears us up against sorrow and adversity. (H. J. Hastings, M.A.)
The Importance of a True Creed
Why is it that men like these Jews under the Old Testament dispensation, and Christians now and at all times, are ready to give up life and everything for God? It is because a true religion is the sole thing which enlightens the conscience, and so trains and strengthens it as to invest it with real power in the guidance of our lives. When men have felt their will enlightened by Divine knowledge, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, they then choose God’s service so firmly and joyfully that no earthly terrors can shake or move them from their sure foundation. This, then, is what religion does for us. It clothes us with power. Under false religions the conscience remains in a rudimentary state, and though it does approve or condemn, and say this is right and that wrong, it acts but weakly and ignorantly, and is a very feeble monitor. And with so little help men’s lives sink down into mean baseness. But a true faith and the Holy Spirit aid to build up the conscience, and give it, first, light, whereby it distinguishes right and wrong clearly; and, secondly, power, so that it speaks to the will with all authority, and says, “This thou shalt do, and this thou shalt leave undone.” Conscience had long ago decided, for Shadrach and his companions what their lives were to be. And under its influence they could not abandon the faith which had enlightened the conscience and given it this power; nor could they be false to that God who had been their peace and happiness, and whom they knew to be the sole Almighty Governor both in Heaven and in earth below. (Dean Payne-Smith, D.D.)
The Duty of Religious Profession
At first Oliver Cromwell’s Ironsides were dressed anyhow and everyhow; but in the melee with the cavaliers, it sometimes happened that an Ironside was struck down by mistake by the sword of one of his own brethren, and so the general said: “You wear red coats, all of you.” What Cromwell said he meant, and they had to go in their red coats, for it is found essential in warfare that men should be known by some kind of regimental. Now, you that are Christ’s, do not go about as if you were ashamed of your Master’s service. Put on your red coats; I mean, come out as acknowledged Christians. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The rose of Jericho flourishes amidst surroundings which lack all things wherein plants delight--in the hot desert, in the rocky crevices, by the dusty wayside, and in the rubbish heap. Even more, the fierce sirocco tears it from its place and flings it far out upon the ocean, and there, driven by the storms and tossed by the salt waves, it still lives and grows. So should the Christian grow in any and all circumstances where he may be cast--in sorrow, in hardship, in misfortune, in suffering. A deathless life is in him, and he should be unconquerable. (Signal.)
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.
Our Sure Defence
These souls were under the strongest possible temptation to do that which would have been an act of utter unfaithfulness to God, and which would have cost them their own self-respect. Had they yielded to the royal threat, they would have done that for which theft never could have forgiven themselves. It would have been a deed of recreancy and of shame. It is not only for great occasions that we should be prepared. Again and again will occur to us the opportunity for courageous constancy, the temptation to “unworthy concession or to the submission that would end in shame. Where shall we find our defence?
I. IN ABSOLUTE CONVICTION. “The God whom we serve is able to deliver us,” said these dissenting Jews. There was no doubt about that. They remembered what Jehovah had done in the past, what deliverances He had wrought; and in answer to the king’s incredulity, they replied with the absolute conviction of the Divine power to save. It is almost everything to us to have a deep sense of some great spiritual certainties. When evils hang over our head, when our prospects are threatened, when health, or liberty, or life is at stake, it is much indeed to stand upon the rook of some solid certitudes. God is near to us; He is observing us, and is awaiting our constancy with Divine interest and acceptance; He will reward fidelity with His loving favour; He will not allow the worst to happen, except it be right
and well that it should happen; Christ will sympathise with us if we suffer, and go down with us into the deepest waters into which we may descend. If God be for us, we can afford to have the world against us (Mt Romans 8:31). It is a strong rampart in the day of assault to have some impregnable convictions such as these within our souls.
II. A STRONG HOPE. “And He will deliver us out of thine hand . . . but if not”; in other words, we have a prevailing hope that our God will exert His power on our behalf. Their state of mind was this: they knew that God was with them, and was for them, that He was mindful of their prayer and of their trust; that was certain. They could not be sure whether He would justify their faith by a miraculous intervention on their behalf, or by imparting Divine grace to enable them to bear martyr-witness to the truth. Their strong hope was that He would thus deliver them. It is open to us to act and to feel thus. We are in serious danger of financial disaster, or of being attacked by disease, or of losing reputation, or of severe bereavement, or of grievous disappointment, or of social or professional failure. We ask for deliverance. It is not for us to prescribe to the Lord of our life how He shall interpose for us. We may say to ourselves, “God will give us our desire, but if not”--we may cherish not a presumptuous confidence, but a sustaining hope.
III. AN UNWAVERING RESOLVE: “We will not serve thy gods,” etc. Even if their hope of bodily deliverance was not granted, they would retire to the spiritual certainties on which they built, they would fixedly determine not to belie their convictions, not to offend their God, not to desert the truth, not to fail their fellow-countrymen and their coreligionists in the hour of trial. To the proud threat of the imperious and all-confident monarch they opposed the immovable resolution of upright souls that believed in God; their resolution was unqualified, unenfeebled by the shadow of a doubt, invincible. Let the young go forth to the conflict of life in this devout, this heroic spirit, and to them also shall come the victory and the crown. (W. Clarkson, B.A.)
Faith Victorious over the Fear of Man
Examples of the victory of faith over the terrors of the world are useful to believers in their militant state. The victory of faith related in our text will appear brilliant when we call to mind the number of the combatants, the situation in which they stood, the manner in which they were assailed, and the strength and terror of the opposition with which they contended.
I. WE WILL GIVE A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS MEN, WHOSE NAMES ARE IN THE TEXT, and their praise in the church. With respect to number, they were only three; a small number to appear for the Lord God of Israel in opposition to the idolatry of the king, and the court, and the empire of Babylon. By nation and profession they were Israelites, who had been carried to Babylon in the captivity of their country. They were of the tribe of Judah, and are commonly believed to have been of the king’s seed, or royal family. They were in places of power and trust in Babylon.
II. “WE SHALL GIVE SOME ACCOUNT OF THE TESTIMONY WHICH THESE IT ILLUSTROUS MEN HELD, AND THROUGH WHICH THEY OVERCAME. It was not a testimony of their own framing. The Lord God of Israel framed and wrote it, and commanded it to be observed. “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children.” That branch of the testimony for which these princely witnesses appeared, had not only been written on tables of stone by the finger of God; but, according to His promise, was written in their hearts. It had been put into the ark of His testimony which was now lost; but it was also put into their minds by His Holy Spirit, out of which it could not be erased. “Ye are my witnesses saith the Lord, and my servants whom I have chosen, that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me.” “Fear ye not, neither be afraid--ye are even my witnesses. Is there a god beside me? yea there is no god, I know not any.” “I am the First, and I am the Last, and beside Me there is no God.” The reason inserted in the law satisfied the conscience of every pious Israelite: “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” Encouraged and awed with the sovereign reason in it, the princely witnesses entered the plain in the boldness of faith, stood before a haughty monarch without meditating terror, and spake with the dignity of men who feared Him that would not give His glory to another, nor His praise to an image of gold in the plain of Dura. With the Psalms of David and the prophecies of Isaiah they were doubtless acquainted. In the Psalms of David are these passages: “The Lord is great and greatly to be praised, he is to be feared above all gods: For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” “Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols.” “Wherefore should the heathen say, where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not. They have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not. They have hands, but they handle not; feet have they, but they walk not, neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” In the prophecies of Isaiah, we find these and several other passages of the same import. “They have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.” “They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance; and hire a goldsmith, and he maketh it a god; they fall down, yea they worship. They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove; yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble. Remember this and shew yourselves men, bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no god beside Me.” Under that dispensation, in Babylon, as in Jerusalem, believers lived by the word.
III. We shall attempt TO GIVE SOME ACCOUNT OF THEIR MANNER OF MAINTAINING THE ESTABLISHED TESTIMONY, which they received, believed, and held fast. The witnesses, in maintaining their testimony for the honour of the God of Israel, conducted themselves:
1. With discretion. Nebuchadnezzar, in his haughtiness and bigotry, added rudeness and insolence to idolatry, and impiously challenged the might of the God of Israel--“Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” The witnesses, however, neither call him tyrant, nor idolater, nor oppressor, though, in fact, he was all three. On the contrary, they express themselves discreetly and mildly: “O Nebuchadnezzar!” “O king!” In their language they give no occasion to irritation, nor to any court, or to accuse them of despising dominion.
2. With composure and presence of mind. Neither anger nor fear disturbed them. The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, ruled in their hearts. The cause in which they appeared needed not the wrath of man to support it; and the fear of God, which is a sedate and composed principle, fortified their minds against the fear of man.
3. With confidence in the living Cool, as God and their God. Far from being ashamed of Him, and the testimony which He had established in Israel, they acknowledge His propriety in them, and their interest in Him, before a numerous and splendid convocation of His enemies. If their acknowledgment be boasting, it is boasting in the Lord, which is an exercise of faith.
4. With steadfastness. This was standing fast in the faith, and quitting themselves like men.
5. With uprightness. Nothing crooked, nor perverse, nor deceitful, appears in their conduct. Had they consulted flesh and blood, reasons might have been suggested to palliate some deviation from integrity. But flesh and blood were not consulted. The witnesses were Israelites indeed, in whose conduct there was no guile.
1. The mean and unkindly behaviour of the mighty potentate, who projected and authorised the criminal solemnities of that memorable day. Vengeance sparkled in his eyes, with a fierceness resembling the dame of his furnace. This was unmanly, unwise, unkingly, ungodly--“Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils.”
2. Observe the violence of superstition armed with power. Nothing will satisfy it but either the consciences or the lives of upright and holy men. One would have thought that the king and court of Babylon might have been satisfied with the obeisance of that great assembly, without prosecuting three dissenters of a different nation, and a different religion.
3. Observe the distressing alternatives to which faithful witnesses for God have been reduced.
4. Observe the goodness of God in supporting His witnesses in such extremities. What were these three witnesses? In themselves they were weak and timorous as other men. How were they preserved from fainting, and from dishonouring, by unworthy compliances, the testimony for which they appeared? The Lord stood by them, and said, “Fear ye not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God: I will strengthen you, yea I will help you, yea I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.” “Strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, by His Spirit in the inner man,” they stood firm, repelled the wrath of the king and the terror of his furnace, and obtained a glorious victory, “The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits.”
5. Observe the wisdom of counting, before temptations and trials assail our faith, the expense of holding fast our profession unto the end.
6. Observe the nature and efficacy of faith in God:
Absolute Confidence in God
One case is presented here as to which there might be an alternative, and another case is presented as to which there could be no alternative. “If not.” There is that which may happen, and there is that which may not happen. Whether or not our God shall deliver us--and of this there is a doubt--“we will not serve thy gods, O king,” of that there is no doubt. The confidence of the just in God is never misplaced. But this confidence of the just must be absolute, in no way distinguishing. It must be in God himself, not in God doing for them this or that.” They must demand of Him nothing; they must trust Him simply. This is the word which comes to us from the story of the fiery furnace. Death by burning was a Babylonish punishment. The martyrs of God are sometimes left to suffer. Faith in God--not in God’s deliverance, but in God himself--reaches beyond all earthly destiny; it reaches up to Him. If we can onlysee the form of the “Fourth,” no furnace that we may ever have to pass through will go on keeping its heat. Near to us, if we strive to be true to our Father and His love, we may see the very Son of God. There was one who said, and said it to all His true servants, whatever their condition may be, and in whatever age of time they may live, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” If the knowledge of Him who said that shall only be, by the mercy of God, vouchsafed to us; if we are empowered to grasp the fact of Christ and His salvation; not with the shadow of a fancy, but with a strong and real hold; then the plain of Dura, or the fiery furnace, the quiet pastures of life, or the rugged broken ground, the walking loose unhurt, or the consuming of the flames--there will be a reach in our souls beyond them. Knowing God, we shall absolutely trust Him. And then, as to the changes and contortions of this mysterious life--in which we must all take, certainly our chequered, perhaps our grievous part--we shall have outgrown either anxious hope or enervating fear. As to the afflictions of life, in the words of hope we may say, “He shall deliver us; but if not.” Inevitably the point is open, and the trust of faith assumes, and’ accepts the doubt, and passes beyond it; but as to death, and the conditions beyond death, there is to the humble, truehearted believer in Christ no alternative to be admitted. What did he say, that noblest of all Christian men, when he came to the borders of this valley, and looked forth upon its darkness, knowing that he must pass immediately into it--what did he say? “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.” St. Paul speaks quite positively here. He admits of no second case being possible. There is no room here for “but, if not.” That may suit the life of our mortality. The believer in God is here sure of God, but he is not sure of what God shall do with him. God hath pledged himself to no earthly thing, except His love over all. God makes us all like unto St. Paul in this; and life may be buoyant and cheerful with us, or even tempered and calm, but if not--at least when “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” The form of the Fourth will be there, and He is not (as the King of Babylon said) “like unto the Son of God,” He is the Son of God. (M.Wright, M.A.)
Firmness in the Hour of Trial
These Jews were placed in a perfect dilemma. Life and death are now presented for their choice--life with all its blessings if they would conform--death in all its terrors if they should refuse compliance. If they had consulted with flesh and blood, in forming their determination or in framing their reply, what a multitude of cogent and plausible arguments might have been found to justify their compliance. They were not required to renounce the God to whom they had been hitherto devoted-to adjure His name, to abandon His worship, and to profess the god of Nebuchadnezzar as the only living and true God. No such profession was required; all that was necessary was an outward act of homage, which might have been done with a secret disavowal of the image as a god, and a mental protestation in the sight of Heaven that they still owned none save the God of their fathers, and worshipped none else but the invisible Jehovah. But these men, by a previous refusal, had already lifted up their testimony against the idolatry of which they had been the witnesses; and their obedience now, after such a testimony, could be regarded in no other light than as an involuntary constrained act, in which their feeling of constraint destroyed their guilt. A multitude of considerations must naturally have suggested themselves in palliation of the crime. But no token of retraction was given, no sign of irresolution appeared. They addressed the king in calm, but uncompromising terms. The principle which actuated these youths was a scrupulous regard to the will of God, and a deep-seated confidence in His power and promises. Idolatry was a sin prohibited and denounced by God as a derogation from the honour that was due unto His name. In defiance of the punishment which threatened them, they resolved to adhere to the plain line of duty, disdaining the subterfuges which carnality would suggest. The application of this history is far from being a remote one. There is little likelihood, indeed, that any of you should ever be placed in circumstances so critical. But you may be the subjects of tyrannical dictation from another quarter, even from that world in which you dwell, and from those masters which dwell within you--your lusts, your appetites, your passions. Temptation may often be presented to make you swerve from the path of rectitude. You may meet with many who will ridicule your faith, and more who will ridicule your practice, if that be in strict conformity to the faith you profess. But we need not so much to warn you against others as to warn you against yourselves. There are tyrants within who would constrain you to do them reverence. Money, sensual pleasures, vanities, etc., all have something within you to which they make appeal. (J. Glason.)
Courage in the Best of Causes
This is one of the most admirable instances of fortitude and magnanimity. The deportment of these men was at one respectful and unshrinking, free from anything approaching to a railing or resentful expression, but at the same time wholly unmixed with fear. How admirably does their response harmonize with the instructions of our Lord to his disciples, “When ye are brought before kings and rulers . . . it shall be given you in the same hour wilt ye ought to speak.” How many and how glorious have been the triumphs which this Divine principle of a realising faith in the grace and providence of God have, in all times and countries, enabled His people, however weak in themselves, to achieve. In the example before us, it inspired the Jewish youths with a freedom from anxiety perfectly sublime. How does their magnanimous reply put to blush that lukewarm, pusillanimous profession of religion with which so many of us are contented, which refuses the most trivial sacrifice or self-denial in God’s service, and shrinks affrighted even from the shadow of danger! We are in no danger of being called upon to resist unto blood, striving against sin. Our present peril lies in the opposite direction--of being altogether overpowered by the ease and effeminacy of modern refinement--in the risk of our being swallowed up in spiritual sloth and self-indulgence. Our danger arises chiefly from within, from that covetousness which is idolatry. It is when called to undergo fiery trials that the upright Christian may, with the most unhesitating confidence, look for his Lord’s special protection and support. In every temptation, however fierce or terrible, He will open a door of escape, or give us grace to bear the trial. No fire so intense as to overcome His love. (W. F. Vance, M. A.)
In what a trying position these three young men were placed! They did not trifle with their consciences. Compare their behaviour with the accommodating spirit shown by Naaman the Syrian. Persons who are thus only half-conscientious are very apt to show this accommodating spirit whenever they are associated with those who are altogether irreligious. In the various matters of daily life, the conscientious, the half-conscientious, and the unconscientious, are often obliged to have dealings with each other. It is contrary to common-sense, as well as to all Christian modesty, that the Christian should thrust forward at times and in places whore he is not called for the difference in principle between himself and some other who is only a Christian in name; but it does seem to be the duty of all Christians, when mixed up in this world’s business with the ungodly, to be ready to bear witness to the truth, whenever circumstances call for such a witness. An accommodating spirit may be sinful. If we had more reverence for conscience, considering it as no less than God himself speaking to us, we should not be anxiously seeking how far we might go without sin, in making conscience give way to our convenience. (W. H. Nanken, M.A.)
The Fiery Furnace
The three young men, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, whom the king of Babylon named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, did not go to the fiery furnace with a prophecy that they would be preserved, as David did when he moved forward against Goliath. David declared, “This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand.” The three Hebrews in Babylon had no such prospect vouchsafed them. They went to the fiery furnace without assurance of any deliverance. Their courage of faith was greater than that of David in the case alluded to. The faith of these three is brought out into full relief when we thus consider that the fiery furnace was a reality in prospect for them. Had God revealed to them that they should not be touched by the flames, their faith would have rested on His word of deliverance; but now it rested on His character of wisdom, truth and love. It was a higher, grander faith than mere faith in a special deliverance promised. It was a full, implicit confidence that God would do what was best, and would never abandon His own servants. It is not, therefore, in the miracle that we find our lesson to-day. Such a miracle may never again be wrought. Men as true and as holy as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego have not been miraculously saved from physical torture and death, and no saint of God has any right to expect such intervention. Our lesson lies deeper than this. The exclamation of the three was not “The Lord will deliver us from the force of the fire,” but, “The Lord is able to deliver us from the fire.” And herein is a vast difference. Here is implied a spiritual knowledge of the character of God as the God of His people, for the implied sentence is, “And He who is thus able will do for us what is best’; and that this is the implied sentence we know from what follows: “and He will deliver us out of thy hand, O king.” They are assured that God will give them deliverance from the king’s wrath, though it may be by taking them out of the body. There is a grand, eternal deliverance before them. The lesson, then, which we are to learn legitimately from these heroes of the faith is to be unconcerned regarding the Nebuchadnezzars and fiery furnaces that are in our path, and that not because they will be removed, but because the Omnipotent God, our God, is directing all, and will give us the grand deliverance. In our low views of things we are tempted to say, “Why, this is very unsatisfactory; there is no encouragement here. It would be far better if the promise would come to us that the fire should not burn us, that we should suffer no pain or hardship, and have all easy before us. Why cannot God do this?” Well, He certainly could, as far as ability goes, but what would become of His love then, for it is certainly true that whom the Father loveth He chasteneth?
1. The first point, then, in our lesson from the three Hebrews is to have faith in God as our God There is a strange misapprehension of faith, Christian faith, in some minds. They seem to consider it a blind confidence that certain things will take place. Only put your mind on an event, and be perfectly sure it will come, and it will come. There is not a grain of Christian faith in such presumption, but the very enemy and hindrance of faith. Christian faith is faith in God, His character, His will, His promises, as revealed in Jesus Christ His Son. Christian faith has God as its object and security. It holds all things subject to His most holy will, and knows that all things are directed by that will for the soul’s good. It does not attempt to mark out God’s course of dealing, but it is satisfied with that course, whatever it may be. It asks God for special gifts, but it desires God’s infinite wisdom to decide concerning the giving, for a true faith humbly recognises human short-sightedness and knows well that the human wish might be very injurious if granted. Herein is the radical difference between the believer and the world. He is in communion with God, and the grace of God is his comfort and defence, while the world resists the grace and has no Divine promise and no Heavenly experience to rest upon.
2. The second point in our lesson from the three Hebrews is that faith implies service. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us,” is the exclamation of the three heroes. This completely sets aside a speculative faith, which is the common faith of so many who are called Christians. Orthodoxy in opinion is not faith. There must be an action corresponding to the creed. As there can be no true faith without active service, so, of course, there can be no assurance of faith. The Christian who lazily looks after nothing but his present earthly comfort will never look at fiery furnaces with composure. Now, the service of the Lord is the use of the Divine means of grace for ourselves and for others. His grace is working in our earth for His great purpose of salvation, and He chooses us to be His co-workers. The field is the human heart--our hearts and the hearts of others. As servants of God we will take hold of this assigned work earnestly. It is in this way our faith will grow into the proportions of overcoming power that will fear no Nebuchadnezzar or his fiery furnace. Without such service we can express no such growth. Salvation is not from without and by magic. It is by a life that has faith as its motor. The three Hebrews were simply acting out their life of faith when they refused to bow to the king’s idol It was the natural operation of a godly life. They served the Lord. That was their soul’s position. They lived in accordance with that service. “The thing is perfectly plain. Our whole lives direct us. We shall not worship thine idol, and the burning fiery furnace is no argument.” That is the way a soul in the Lord’s service will always reply to an invitation to sin, even when a threat accompanies it. The reason why so many Christians yield is because they do not serve God. They wear Christ’s name and serve self and the world. They have no courage because they have no faith.
3. The third point in our lesson from the three Hebrews is that God’s service runs counter to the world’s requirements. Hence there must be a collision. A man who will serve God will clash with the world. Nebuchadnezzar was but a specimen of the world. The world will insist upon some form of idolatry of every one, and will threaten the fiery furnace for disobedience. The world hates God, and will not recognise His exclusive demands. Political, commercial and social customs will bring a tyrannical pressure upon the soul, and the Christian in the name of his God will have to resist. The fiery furnace has different forms. The more resolute he is, the more wrath the world has and the hotter will it make the fire. Then is the opportunity for the Christian to triumph in his faith and to taste the glory of his position as with God. Deceit, Sabbath-breaking, impurity, fraud, lying, intrigue, to which the customs of the age allure the Christian, are all forms of idolatry, for they are revolts from God after the gods of covetousness, ambition, or carnality. Now, there is no other treatment of these by the godly but positive, open, uncompromising resistance, at any cost. The only position, then, of the Christian who would be at peace with God and with himself is the position of the three Hebrews--the position of faith. There he is afflicted with no doubts, anxieties, or remorse. He knows that God will be with him, even if it be a valley of death-shadow that he is to traverse. He will find the inexpressible comfort of the Divine presence, and feel at every step the strong upholding hand of his God. He will not miss earthly friends in such exalted companionship. In contrast with this steady believer is the one who fears the world’s opposition, and endeavours to soothe and subdue it. This is always done by giving up God for the world. This Christian is of all men most miserable. He gets worse than the fiery furnace in the tortures of his conscience, in his failure to make anything satisfactory out of the world, in his own self-contempt and his dreary, blank prospect. (H. Crosby.)
The Fiery Furnace
It was in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, according to the Septuagint, that he set up this image of gold in the plain of Dura. If that date be correct (and there appears no reason to discredit it), it was done to celebrate the recent destruction of Jerusalem, and the subjection of various enemies of Babylon from India to Ethiopia.
I. THE SECRET OF LOYALTY is a simple and undisturbed trust in God. Of course, there can be no loyalty without faith; none to man, none to God. That which impresses us in the case of these Hebrew youths is that their trust was so serene. And now, when the stress of the king’s command is put upon them, they are not taken off their guard; they are not overwhelmed with surprise or dismay. They trust in God. They believe His word. But the arm on which they leaned was omnipotent. The wisdom to which they confided their way was unlimited. Jehovah cared for them. He had kept them; He would keep them in the time to come. The truest courage is the calmest. Peter and John looked into the faces of the Sanhedrim, and put the question simply back to them, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” Paul, arraigned before Roman kings and Hebrew governors, turns from his own defence on a technical complaint, to deliver the message with which his master had charged him. A loyalty thus based is ready for any emergency. It is not a strain; it is only a confidence. It does not go into heroics; it is unconscious that it is heroic. During the time of the civil war, much was said about the extraordinary bravery of Admiral Farragut in having himself lashed to the mast while passing the forts under fire at Mobile. In answer to an inquirer about it afterwards, he said, “I cannot understand why they make so much of my going up into the maintop. It was nothing special that I did at Mobile, and I was not lashed there at all. When going into action, or in any time of danger, I always went up there, because I felt it my duty to be where I could overlook everything in person, and be seen by all of the men, and set them an example of sharing their risks.” True courage does not promise, nor posture, nor explain. It goes on quietly and acts. It does not care to answer.
II. THE TESTING OF LOYALTY is permitted of God. Nor is it any contradiction to the constancy of His care for His people that it is so. The Lord can do better for His own than to shield them from all hardship. Even their spiritual gifts and graces deserve something better at His hands than sheltering. They ask for cultivation, for the opportunity of development, for the privilege of growth. Protection from evil ceases beyond a certain point to be a kindness. It is more to be strengthened than to be sheltered. The trees which grow always in the forest, protected from the sharpness of the winds, never compelled to battle with the storm, grow up toward the light, but do not spread their branches above ground or their roots below. If the barrier by which one of them has been shielded from the winds were taken suddenly away, the first blast of the tempest would lay it low. It is not braced against it. It stands, not because it is strong, but because it is supported. But on the mountainside the oak grows, or the cedar. From a sapling the breezes have played with it, and it has bonded but held on. And, equally, what power of discipline, what opportunity of courage, what development of strength would the church and Christian of the present day be deprived of, if, by more delicate but no less searching tests, its loyalty were not continually put to the proof.
III. THE SUPPORT OF LOYALTY is promised and assured. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” “My strength shall be sufficient for thee.” “Certninly I will be with thee.”
IV. THE VINDICATION OF LOYALITY IS CERTAIN. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The Burning Fiery Furnace and its Lesson
Stars are visible in the dark, and heroes are seen in persecution and trouble. Had these men always remained amid the peace and quietness of Canaan, they might have perished without leaving even their names upon the pages of history. This is no singular and isolated case.. All history, whether secular or sacred, is full of them. The antediluvian darkness caused Noah to shine. The Egyptian bondage caused Moses to shine. Roman Catholicism caused Luther to shine. The national darkness of England caused Cromwell to shine. The chief glory of man is obedience to God. Every reader finds a charm in the Babylonian captivity. There is something that captivates and delights the soul of man, and has a powerful influence over his life. The wisdom, wealth, authority, slavery, and idolatry that crowd upon each other in the narrative with their light and shadow, may all be stript from the page, yet the power remains that moves the breast of man. Take that one secret, and all the august and dazzling things are bereft of their charm and power. We are part with the wisdom of the magician and the wealth of the king; but we hold with a tenacious grip the unfaltering trust of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. We pass by everything else and cling to this, because it is the chief glory of man, and his most lasting good. The imposing art of the magician, the foresight of the astrologer, the easy saying of the soothsayer, may be grand; but that power these three captives possess, which enables them to defy the king and live for God, is more glorious by far. The wealth of the king only enriched the body, and left the soul as poor as before; would last but a few years, and then vanish for over. But the faith of the captives enriched “the inner man” with a life and blessedness that would endure throughout the hidden ages of eternity. The chief glory of man is not outward grandeur, but a strong trust in God; because it is a power to help amid the cares of life, amid the experience of death, and the unknown possibilities of the future. This has been verified by all history and experience. Pharaoh’s palace yonder is adorned with all the arts and magnificence of the land. Sheep and oxen, corn and wine, power and plenty are on every side. Everything for which one can crave to make life joyous and gay is near. Servants and soldiers without number wait to do his bidding. But we yearn for none of those things; we pass by them all as valueless. We crave for the spirit and faith of the slave Joseph. Because the humble obedience of the slave, and not the outward grandeur of the king, is the chief glory of man.
1. The value of this faith is seen in that it gave the captives boldness to express their convictions.
2. The value of this faith is seen in that it prepared the captives for adversity and suffering.
3. The value of this faith is seen in that it secured the captives a noble victory. God stood by His servants, baffled their opponents, and gave them a glorious victory. God’s enemies might appear to conquer at first, but Jehovah only delayed the victory of His people that, when it did come, it might be more marked and distinguished. To fight against God, and against
God’s people, always means defeat and ruin in the end. Pharaoh and his army were buried in a watery grave as they pursued the Israelites. (J. Hubbard.)
The Fiery Furnace
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were men of integrity, against whom no one could bring an accusation, except in the matters of their God. But solely on account of their adherence to the Divine cause, they were cast into the burning fiery furnace.
1. By this we may he reminded, of what it is important at all tinges to keep in view, that for adherence unto God we may be exposed to great difficulties and dangers. At the beginning it was foretold that there “would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman,” and no prediction has ever been more strikingly fulfilled. Those that are born after the flesh have always persecuted them that are born after the Spirit. What injuries have thereby been done unto the church!
2. Though these young men were menaced with danger, though all that was dear to them was in peril, yet they openly adhered unto God. They did not feign an excuse for absenting themselves from the dedication. They did not content themselves with adhering to God in their heart, while they bowed down to the idol with their bodies. When accused, they had not recourse to any specious disguise or subtle ambiguity. And, though everything like ostentation is to be avoided as a sin, we ought openly to hear our testimony for God, whatever difficulties we may have to encounter. It is not enough that we wish well to the cause of God in our hearts--it is not enough that we desire and pray for its triumph--it is not enough that we give it secret aid, while we remain openly among its enemies. When any acknowledge a cause to be good, and stand hack from avowing their attachment, because of the odium which they may incur, or the danger to which they may be exposed, this is unequivocal evidence that the fear and the favour of man have more effect upon their minds than the fear and the favour of God. Christ was not ashamed to own us publicly. God and angels, men and devils, saw Him publicly die for us upon the cross. And shall we ever be ashamed to confess Him before men!
3. Their adherence unto God was not only open, it was also resolute. Nothing like hesitation, or suspense, appears in their conduct. Their minds seem as resolute as if all inducements had boon upon the side of duty--as resolute as if adherence unto God had been the way of advancement, instead of leading, as it did, to a fiery “Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” We must beware of everything like halting, hesitating, and wavering. A halting, wavering, undecided frame of mind, is spoken of in Scripture in the language of contempt. Why halt ye between two opinions? if Jehovah be God, then choose ye Him, but if Baal be God, then choose ye him.
4. The adherence of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego unto God was steadfast. Many are bold when danger is at a distance, who faint when the hour of trial draws nigh. But these young men were steadfast and immovable. They not only declared their resolution to suffer everything, they actually submitted to be cast into the furnace when it was heated seven-fold. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Much depends on the steadfastness of soldiers in the day of battle--the issue of the conflict, and the fate of their country. Openly, decidedly, and steadfastly to adhere to the cause of God’s glory, in despite of all trials and difficulties, is no easy matter. They who are called to such work would do well to count the cost, and consider their abilities. It is God alone who can teach the hands for this war, and the fingers for this fight. And He has promised to do so. Has He not said, “Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. My grace is sufficient for thee, and my strength shall be perfected in thy weakness.” These promises were made good, in the case of His three witnesses, on the plains of Dura. When He called them to more than ordinary work, He furnished them with more than ordinary strength. God not only supported His three servants under the trial to which they were exposed; He, in due time, delivered them. This deliverance was in many respects miraculous, and, in so far as this was the case, we are not warranted to expect that any such interposition will be made in our behalf. But the manner of their deliverance was in most respects similar to God’s ordinary method of interposing for His church and people.
The Three Hebrews in the Furnace
“I am no hypocrite. I make no profession of religion”--that is to say, you boast of your open and consistent enmity to God. This is not the worst. This impiety of conversation, which we every day hear, if it means anything, insinuates, of course, that a profession of religion can never be sincerely made--that there is no such thing as true piety; and proves the people who talk thus to be, not only sinners in their lives, but infidels in their hearts. I only wish these cynics would, study the narrative mow before us. It is said that no one can eater the presence of that matchless statue, the Apollo Belvidere, without instinctively standing erect, without feeling his own form at once dilate and become taller and nobler; and the man is to be pitied who can contemplate the moral grandeur of these youthful heroes without being conscious of I know not what elevation of heart and purpose. A true soul will turn from the record of such undaunted loyalty to God and conscience with a fresh outfit of faith and hope.
I. In unfolding the lessons of the text, let us begin with THE NARRATIVE, let us analyse this passage in the history of our race. And, first, who can look at the scene here portrayed without blushing for the degeneracy and corruption of our race? The spectacle presents a brilliant panorama. The morning is bright, and the eastern sun is kindling a blaze all over the plains of Dura, us its beams are reflected from silver and gold and diamonds, in which princes, satraps, peers, the whole jewelled aristocracy of that magnificent court, are arrayed. High on a throne of royal state, gorgeous with barbaric pomp and splendour, sits the Chaldean monarch. And from the centre of this Oriental and most imposing pageant, soars aloft, glittering and dazzling, the colossal image, the cynosure of every eye--attracting the admiration and homage of that uncounted multitude. The spectacle is grand; but what an exhibition of human nature! On every side I behold the earth carpeted with the softest green, enamelled with a flushing luxuriance of variegated and fragrant flowers. Cool fountains gush up in the groves, and transparent streams murmur through the valley. I breathe delicious odours. I am refreshed by the balmiest zephyrs. Heaven and earth are rejoicing in their loveliness. From nature I turn to man, and what do I find? Recollect, here is no mob of the ignorant and brutal, but the monarch and his patricians--all the gathered wisdom, refinement, honour, of the empire. What do we see openly and superciliously displayed in them all? Idolatry, hostility to God, selfishness, cruelty, the most vindictive malice. In this countless host what a diversity of talent and taste and character; but those detestable passions reign in every bosom. And this depravity flows from an inexhaustible fountain in the human heart. In all this multitude here are only three men who worship the true God, and what have they done? whom have they injured? It is simple mockery to speak of liberty if the mind and conscience be not free. The persons, the property, the lives of his subjects are at the absolute disposal of the Chaldean autocrat. This, however, is not enough. His imperial mandate shall control their religion, shall fetter their souls. The ends of government are temporal, not spiritual. The Saviour possessed omnipotence, but He did not use it to enforce His religion by measures having no relation to the truth of His doctrine. He said, “All power in heaven and in earth is given unto me, go teach all nations.”
II. THE CONDUCT OF THESE HEBREWS, and the example which God here proposes of that constancy and decision of character, without which we can neither be true to truth, to Jesus, nor to ourselves. Decision of character must never be confounded with obstinacy. Firmness tempered with gentleness, this is what we need, if we are to be real Christians. The more you study the conduct of the Redeemer the more will you admire the peerless combination of these virtues in Him. It is not at all uncommon to meet people who pique themselves on firmness and decision; when in fact it is mere, sheer, downright stubbornness they betray--a perverse, selfwilled pertinacity--in which there is no more moral force than there is in the dead weight which fixes a heavy, inert mass of rock to the earth. The other quality, gentleness, is more amiable, but it is scarcely ever united with the highest energy. There is softness, tenderness, sweetness of disposition; but the character is effeminate. Firmness tempered with gentleness--this is true decision of character; not the rigid, inexorable, iron hardness of the dead tree, which cannot bend without breaking; nor the weakness of the osier which bends and remains bent; but the innate, elastic vigour of the young oak, which only becomes more erect, and strikes its roots more deeply into the earth, by yielding to every breeze and complying with every pressure. What is the first element in true decision of character? It is an inflexible and controlling adherence to the will of God in all things and at all times. What is the next element in true decision of character? It is a spirit armed and intrepid in facing danger, in meeting the responsibilities of our station. How prone are we to shrink from duty. These Jews were men of a different spirit. At first, indeed, we are tempted to ask, Why did they come on the ground at all? But--not to remark that cowardice could have availed them nothing--it never can avail anything in the cause of God--was it for men like them to be afraid? Was this a time for the servants of the Most High to be craven? Here is no small matter; a great soul will never concern itself about small matter. God and His glory are about to be outraged. The third element in decision of character grows out of those just indicated. It is a brave disregard of consequences. The moment we begin to think of expediency--to inquire tremulously, What, if we are faithful, will be the effect on our interest or position or reputation? that moment we are gone, we have fallen. And all this strenuousness of purpose is perfectly calm, as real strength always is calm. Men and brethren, a simple trust in God is the most essential ingredient in moral sublimity of character. It elevates a man high above all the earth, and equips him to bear anything, and to brave everything. If God be for him, who can be against him? How indispensable energy and courage are to the Christian, you need not be told. Would you be useful? you must be decided; piety is not enough; you must have a reputation for piety. Would you not dishonour your profession? you must be decided. But, now, how can this firmness and fortitude be inwrought and sustained in beings so feeble and inconstant? I answer, By faith, and faith only; hence the exhortation, “Add to your faith virtue,” that is, courage. Faith is the source from which this commanding grace must spring, and by which it must be fed; and with what invincible courage, what undaunted contempt of danger and death, does not a simple trust in God inspire these young heroes? Observe the noble singularity of the Hebrews. Nor was this any transient enthusiasm, one of those sudden impulses which may hurry a generous spirit to make heroic sacrifices, of which it may afterwards repent. For space is given them to reconsider their determination, the king expostulates with them; but they are immovable.
III. THE RESULT OF THIS FIERY ORDEAL; and impress upon you the great lesson it teaches. The expression, “than it was wont to be,” shows that this furnace was the place of punishment for criminals; and it is probable that its floor was now a bed of the horrible ashes left by former executions. It is God’s method’ ever to cause the malice of those who persecute his people to recoil upon themselves. “The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.” And what is all this but the type of a Christian, when called to pass through the fire--trembling, perhaps, in view of the furnace--but afterwards, with adoring wonder and gratitude, exclaiming, “My God how good it is for me that I was afflicted?” This is not all. Not only is this furnace a sort of heaven to these noble youths, but see how they glorify God in this day of their visitation. Witnesses who testify from eternity. For the place in which they stand belongs not to this earth. Witnesses who look with sublime contempt upon the king and all the pomp and equipage of his power. Witnesses who take no praise to themselves. A Christian never does arrogate any strength or merit; he ascribes all his salvation, from first to last, to sovereign grace. Lastly, witnesses whose testimony is at once and forever decisive. It is not by words, not by preaching, nor forms, that we are to honour God and His truth; it is by our fidelity that men may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven.” Lessons:
1. And, first, let this narrative reinforce our faith and constancy. The secret of Christian strength is an open secret; it is a gracious habit of trusting in God at all times. The song of the Three Holy Children is one of the Apocryphal Books. The man who wrote that beautiful composition, if not inspired himself, had power to inspire others. Nothing can be more touching than the whole story, which I commend to you.
2. How amiable is the religion of Jesus Christ. To the faithful soul it is really true, that “all the way to heaven is heaven.” Even when all is bright, how necessary is this religion for man. But are you bearing crosses and making sacrifices for Jesus and His cause? If not, you are preferring some idol to Him, and what must the end be? (R. Fuller.)
That we will not serve thy gods.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were three very young men, worshippers of the true God, living in a heathen land! They were exposed to much persecution and distress on account of their religion, yet they were enabled to act with faithfulness and prudence “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Religion, where it is genuine and active, will inevitably excite the hatred or contempt of the world. The genuine Christian will be obliged to stem the torrent; there will, there must be, opposition; if he “were of the world, the world would love its own; but because he is not of the world, but is chosen out of the world, therefore the world hateth him.” How difficult, oftentimes, and painful the line of duty! How much need is there of some animating example, or affectionate, and faithful, and wise advice, to keep such a person from offending against conscience, and forgetting his obligations to his gracious Saviour! To be faithful in a family, in a neighbourhood in which almost all around us conspire to forget God--to be in earnest in religion where our friends, and associates, and connections are careless and indifferent--to forsake sin, and the world, and temptation, where everything invites us to love them and follow them, is no easy task. It can be performed only by the aid of that Holy Spirit, who is at once a comforter and a sanctifier. Nebuchadnezzar, not satisfied with his existing gods, commanded all his subjects to fall down and worship a new image which he had set up. In like manner, is sin in its various forms an idol which the world delights to serve.
By nature we are its slaves and votaries; and it is not till we have been taught by the Spirit to worship God in truth, and to renounce the world’s vanities, that we begin to feel the burden of this service. New idols are constantly presented to confirm the sinner in his slavery, and to tempt the true Christian from his allegiance to God. Whatever be the last evil custom, the last new mode of sinning, men are expected to follow it. Should all the rich, the wise of this world, the gay, the splendid be against serious religion; should a thousand new baits and allurements be added to seduce us from it; should unsuspected dangers and persecutions spring up every moment around our path--yet we may learn from the example before us a lesson of faith, and constancy, and reliance upon God, and be incited, from the merciful support given to His servants of old, to commit ourselves to Him as a faithful Creator, knowing that with the “temptation He will also make a way for our escape.” The Christian is not to affect anything that may provoke the opposition of the world; if he live holily, justly, and unblamably, as he ought to do, and if he evidence in his life and conduct the faith, the hope, the prayerfulness of a true disciple of Christ, opposition will almost inevitably arise without his seeking it. He ought, as much as in him lies, if it be possible, to live “peaceably with all men.” Some of the most powerful obstacles in the path of the youthful Christian are the allurements of pleasure, the commands of authority, the dread of persecution, and the specious solicitations of friendship and kindness. I am well aware that this principle may be abused. Enthusiasm may fancy, and hypocrisy may pretend, a Divine commission for the wildest excesses; and resistance may be made about very trifling and unimportant matters. But the principle exists notwithstanding. The clearest and most valuable principles are liable to be abused. They knew that the first authority to be obeyed is God; and that though all other authorities should come in competition with this, yet that one was their Master, even that Messiah who Himself appeared for their support and comfort walking in the midst of the devouring flames. Many a young Christian, who could have braved all the terrors of open persecution, has given way to this temptation, and has, if not for ever ruined his soul, at least marred his present peace, and endangered his soul for the sake of that friendship with the world “which is enmity against God.” Not so these heroic sufferers. If, then, we value our own souls, if we value the souls of others, if we value the cause of Him who deserves all our love and gratitude, let us be decided, “steadfast, unmoveable.” But remember, that Christian decision is exercised in regard to matters of real importance, and when the command of God is clear and distinct. Among mere worldly men a certain stoutness of spirit is often exhibited in matters of indifference, as well as in matters of moment. Such firmness as this is a mere native obstinacy of character. At the same time in matters of real moment, Christian decision displays itself with unshrinking promptitude and perseverance. And such was the case in which these persons in the plain of Dura were called to act. An attack was made upon the very foundation of all true religion. It was a case, therefore, imperiously demanding the decision they exhibited. Everything precious in religious principle, as well as everything tremendous in religious sanctions, required them to act as they did. True Christian decision keeps its eye on the eternal law of God. The man of real Christian firmness admits not a thought of a compromise with sin or with error. Man’s policy will always be narrow, unless it embraces considerations drawn from eternity. He who consults his convenience and temporal interests--who has been controlled at one time by the law of God, and at another by the will of man, will learn too late that he has acted upon a plan not to be admitted in transactions with the Eternal. He attempts a hard task indeed; that of uniting the service of God and mammon. Is there in your deportment nothing like a compromise with sin and error? Are the claims of Christ all met with cheerfulness, and discharged with promptness? Is there no blending of the service of God and the service of the world? (H. Irwin, B.A.)
The Choice of the Highest
These words represent the grand challenge of the human heart against evil fate. Those who believe in the naturalistic origin of conscience forget that its greatest achievements have not been in line with, but in defiance of, popular sentiment. They have been the victories of minorities rather than of majorities. Yet no such sacrifice has ever failed or can fail. The three Hebrew children are a figure of the moral heroes of the world. They did not debate what ought to be done in matters of conscience. It is often said that first thoughts are best. I have only two things to say to you arising out of this text. The first is that the supreme spiritual need of the hour is a strenuous morality, and the second is, there is no morality worthy of the name that is not born in conflict. You may think it strange if I say the supreme spiritual need of the hour is a strenuous morality. What has morality got to do with spirituality? Everything. There is no spiritual truth which has not a moral bearing and places the man who receives it under a moral obligation. It is a cheap spirituality that makes no demand upon conscience. I do not wish to identify morality with spirituality, but I declare they can never be separated. To-day we are confronted with two seemingly contrasted attitudes of the modern mind towards Christianity. First we see before us an admiration for the ethical value of Christianity, for the character of its Founder, for the ideal which He set up, but along with this there comes a very considerable and widespread distrust of its dogmas. He is worthy not only of imitation, but of the fullest homage that a man’s heart can render. Christ stands highest, Christ stands first, Christ is my God. But about that I am not concerned to dispute at this moment. I think Christ is not concerned so much as to what we say about who He is, but He is a very great deal concerned as to the obedience we render unto Him. There is a need to-day of warmth of devotion and moral enthusiasm about the highest things which, after all, lie close to us every day. Poverty in these things leads to pessimism. Every spiritual truth makes this moral demand. The best way for you young men to find the truth about Christ, about God, about Heaven, is to be good. The good and the true are ultimately one. Do one good action and the universe speaks back to you its “Well done.” Every one of you bows before a moral ideal written in his heart. You may prove unfaithful to it, but if you faithfully obey it, it will lead you into light. Whoever or whatever wrought that ideal within you is your God, and your God makes His demands upon you not simply sometimes now and then, but all the time and everywhere. The greatest need, I repeat, of the present day, is the need of a strenuous form of morality. Make men who are not afraid of rendering homage to conscience, and you will make that type of character which Christ Himself delights to honour. But to go to my second point, there is no goodness worth having which is not born in conflict. Make a distinction between the morally beautiful and the morally sublime. I trust you have all read Edmund Burke’s essay on the “Sublime and the Beautiful.” You will remember that he declares one ingredient of the sublime to be a feeling akin to fear, fear in the presence of an unknown dread of an experience that may come. Now, young men, the morally beautiful may contain nothing at all of that particular ingredient. The morally sublime goes to the making of character, and in the long run it cannot be different from the morally beautiful. There is nothing more winsome than the innocence of childhood. Is childhood ideal? No, but childlikeness is. You will go from the morally beautiful through the morally sublime. Begin with childlikeness if you would come to the character of Christ. If you go through the morally sublime you must be prepared to meet Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation and the demons in the darkness of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Simplicity, naturalness, transparency of character, absence of arrogance, are characteristic of the child. It is remarkable but splendid to think that within are the very things which the world is coming to demand from manhood. Test it yourself. Examine your own virtue and see if you have obtained these qualities. That is not virtue which is easily won. The false accent of religiosity to-day says much about humility where humility is not, and a man may come to that dangerous condition when, as has been truly said, he is proud of his own humility. Doing what one wants to is no great virtue in the sight of God. We are every day confronted with the choice between the higher and the lower, the golden image or the fiery furnace. Sometimes a grand crisis comes in life. We have to choose between God and Mammon, conscience or a momentary gain. In such crises we seem left to ourselves, but we never really are left to ourselves. In the darkest hour there stands by our side that unknown Friend. Most of us want God to rescue us before the crisis comes. He very seldom does that, but He rescues us on the other side of this strenuous activity by which character is beaten out, gained, and won. When God calls us to a crisis, God brings us to a conflict It is as though there was a bar to cross, and on the other side, and only on the other side, is the still water and safety. God does not give His rescues upon this side. It is an evil agency that would keep a man back from that by which his manhood is won. Here is opportunity in the great crises of life--to venture on for the right, and to leave the future to God. Supposing, then, that in this house of prayer there is some man listening to me who is face to face with the burning fiery furnace, I would say to him, Make this humble man your ideal. Be not careful about your answer. First thoughts are best in eases like this. Play the man. “Our God is able to deliver” you from the burning fiery furnace--but if not, if not? Then do not bow down. Leave the future to Him.Some of you are instantly tempted to compromise with the ideal. Watch what you are doing. You are perilling something higher than you know, driving from you, it may be, God’s great opportunity. Faithfulness is always vindicated. There is a grandeur in moral victory. If it were otherwise, God’s world would be wrongly made. No man who has ever tested the worth of righteousness has had cause to regret his choice. Listen to the call of inflexible good. Dare to trust it and obey. (R. J. Campbell, M.A.)
Character versus Circumstances
The Babylonian kingdom is in the very height of its power and prosperity. The great Nebuchadnezzar has become a powerful and mighty potentate. His very word is law throughout all that vast realm. He is accustomed to strict obedience in all the affairs of state. Since his subjects are under such perfect control; since they dare not oppose his plans nor thwart his purposes, he thinks he will command them as to what their religion shall be. There are many religions in the realm of Nebuchadnezzar the king; there are many gods to whom sacrifice is made; many images of stone before which the people bow. But Nebuchadnezzar will change this order of things. He will make one image of great stature. The day arrives. A great multitude has assembled. The statue is unveiled with much pomp and display. Another victory for Nebuchadnezzar! Great is the king of the Babylonians! Mighty is the monarch of the Chaldeans! Wonderful is the power that he exerts over his subjects; for their religion, even, is subject to his command. But what newt is this that he hears? What strange report is this that his courier brings? “There are three men in your realm, O king,” the messenger says, “who did not obey your royal mandate, nor bow themselves down at your command.” “Three men in all my kingdom that dare to disobey! Three subjects in all my realm who disregard my command! Who are they? Are they generals of war who have grown haughty? Are they men of wealth who have become influential? Are they politicians of fame with whom is power, that they dare thus to withstand the king? Speak, messengers, their names! Who are they?” “Neither wealth nor power nor royal lineage is theirs, but they are three captives brought from Judea who dare to withstand thine own edict. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee nor worshipped the golden image which thou hast set up.” Then Nebuchadnezzar commanded the three offenders to be brought before him. He tells them of the law they have broken, and rehearses to them the penalty incurred. A fearful penalty, a death sentence of execution terrible. But he will give them one more chance. Our text forms a part of the answer that the Jewish captives gave the king in the hour of trial.
1. These Israelites were true to their principles, in spite of difficulties, and in the face of opposition. They were just as loyal and true in Babylon as ever they had been in Jerusalem. They kept their religion as pure and undefiled as captives as ever they did as free citizens. Circumstances were tremendously against them, but they were the kind of men who did not give way to circumstances. Popular opinion was mightily against them, but they were the kind of men that are uninfluenced by wrong public opinion. They had grit as well as grace; pluck as well as piety.
2. There are a good many people who are good enough so long as they are surrounded by good influences, but get them away from those influences and into temptation and they fall. Some men, who are very good citizens in Jerusalem, lose all their piety as soon as they get down to Babylon. The men who possess decision of character and firmness of purpose are the men who stand where others fall. Young men come here to our city from their country homes. Some advance to positions of responsibility and honour; others sink into lives degraded and low. What is the difference?
The difference lies not in the circumstances that surround these men, but in the characters that they possess.
3. That young man is safe, wherever you put him, who has the consecrated courage, the God-like determination, the heroic devotion to principle, that these three young men had. To tell what will become of a man, inquire not so much into his surroundings, but look at the man himself and see how he is made. When that young man leaves your home to go to a distant city, look not at the reputation of that city so much as at that young man’s character, if you would read his future. Young men, into your lives trying hours will come; into your experiences untoward circumstances will be thrust. But you will have no experience more trying, and be placed in no circumstances more difficult, than were the three Judean captives. And they found that the God whom they worshipped, at home, and to whom they were true abroad, did not forsake them in the hour of Nebuchadnezzar’s rage, but in the very midst of the fiery furnace He was with them, and from all harm He safely delivered them. Their God is your God. He who gave them strength to resist will give you power to overcome. (C. G. Mosher.)
Three Hebrew Martyrs
This persecuting spirit is of very ancient date in the history of human folly. That the summons of the king met with general compliance is not very wonderful. Accustomed as the Assyrian princes and nobles had been to the worship of idols, it is not surprising that they yielded instant and implicit obedience to the royal mandate. It was but adding another to the calendar of the gods of Chaldea, and gratified that passion for variety in the objects of worship which is characteristic of the spirit of idolatry.
I. In looking at the conduct of these Hebrew confessors, the first circumstance that strikes us is, that THEY DID NOT COURT THIS OPPORTUNITY OF MANIFESTING THEIR ZEAL AND CONSTANCY. The erection of the golden image was not the work of a day. Much preparation was employed, and the scene that was to be exhibited in the plain of Dura was known throughout the length and breadth of the land. But in the midst of all the preparation for this new exhibition of human folly, this insult to the Majesty of Heaven, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego did not feel it to be their duty to interfere. It was enough for them to utter their testimony to the faith of their fathers when legitimately called to do so, and to show their abhorrence of the idol when commanded to bow down before it. They were prepared for martyrdom, but they did not court it; they were ready to brave and defy the tyrant’s rage, but they sought not prematurely to provoke it. That forward zeal, which courts opposition and seeks reproach, forms no part of the Christian character; and to step out of the sphere in which Providence has placed him to censure the errors that prevail in the world, or to make an uncalled-for statement of his opinions and feelings, is going beyond the sphere of legitimate duty, and causes his “good to be evil spoken of.” If the Christian adheres to the plain and obvious path of duty, and seeks to lead a holy and blameless life, he will meet with difficulties enough to exercise his faith and patience, and sufficient opportunities of proving and exhibiting the strength and vigour of his principles, without going beyond the sphere of his ordinary calling, or courting unnecessary publicity and distinction.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF THESE HEBREW MARTYRS TO THE ALLUREMENT OF PLEASURE merits our next consideration. A slight examination of their history will satisfy you that they were at that time of life when those attractions wherewith Nebuchadnezzar introduced his golden image have the greatest power over enlightened and cultivated minds. They were not, so far as the history before us testifies, the gross and repulsive pleasures of mere sensualism, wherewith the introduction of the golden image into the number of the Chaldean divinities was celebrated. Pleasures of a more refined and attractive description were held out to allure and deceive the princes and nobles of Babylon. All the charms of Eastern music were employed to recommend this scene of idolatrous folly, and to drown all inquiry concerning the wisdom and propriety of the measure. But these Hebrew captives were superior to the attraction. It is probable that other pleasurable attractions accompanied the powers of music on this memorable occasion; but, of whatever description they were, and whatever passions they addressed, they had no power to suppress or extinguish that fear of God which was the ruling and master sentiment of their souls. They tell us to be on our guard against the seductive influence even of innocent pleasure. “The flute and the dulcimer, the psaltery and the sackbut, the cornet and the harp,” were in themselves innocent instruments of delight, and, employed in the service of God, would have filled Shadrach and his companions with hallowed joy; but, prostituted to the purpose of idolatry and sin, their notes were dissonant, and lost to these holy men all their power to please. And thus do they teach us how pleasures, that are in themselves innocent and susceptible of being rendered the ministers of our improvement, are to be estimated. Sin is never so insidious as when it comes attended by these pleasures which in themselves are innocent. Never let your taste for any enjoyment, which in itself may be harmless, reconcile you to scenes or indulgences with which the guilty ingenuity of men may have associated it. Our most favourite enjoyments must be viewed with jealousy, and shunned when we see them prostituted to the purpose of iniquity.
III. In maintaining their fidelity, these pious Hebrews RESISTED ALL THE INFLUENCES OF KINDNESS AND FRIENDSHIP. Throughout all the provinces they were viewed as the favourites of the mighty monarch, and many an envious eye was cast at the eminence they had attained. They were thus bound to the king by the ties of gratitude, and by the prospects of future favour. Men who so truly and deeply feared God could not be deficient in yielding every legitimate honour to the king. But the question which now pressed upon them related to higher interests than the favour of a monarch, and all the honour and wealth he could bestow. Similar sacrifices of worldly interest to religious principle--of the sense of gratitude to the sense of duty--are frequently demanded of the faithful servants of God; and where religious principle and the sense of duty have a proper hold of the heart, these sacrifices are made without hesitation or reluctance. These Hebrew confessors would gladly have retained the favour and friendship of the king of Babylon; but when these could not be retained but at the expense of their religious consistency and by the sacrifice of their immortal interests, they were willing to relinquish them.
IV. When we admire this superiority to the influence of kindness and friendship in the cause of religion, THE FIRMNESS AND MAGNANIMITY WITH WHICH THEY BRAVED DEATH IN ITS CRUELEST FORM MERIT A STILL HIGHER MEASURE OF OUR REGARD. In this moment of uttermost peril, the feeling of self-preservation, the all-powerful instinctive love of life, might have whispered, and doubtless did whisper, some excuse to conscience for compliance with the king’s command. Such are the considerations that enhance the faith and fortitude of these confessors. Let us now, in conclusion, turn our attention to the manner in which Heaven honoured their faith and constancy in the hour of trial. (J. Johnston.)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, or Decision in Religion
Decision of character never appears more truly great than when it is displayed in defiance of danger and in contempt of death.
I. In looking at THE DISTINGUISHING CHARACTER OF RELIGIOUS DECISION, as it is illustrated in this history:
1. It appears to be lofty in its principle. It is quite evident that in this ease it was not exercised in order to gratify some mere impulse of feeling. It did not spring from a foolish wish to affect singularity, nor from a mere determination to oppose the king’s authority. No; but it was a noble stand in defence of the rights of conscience--it was a firm resistance of an unjust demand--it was a lofty determination to obey God rather than man. Had Nebuchadnezzar commanded Shadrach and his companions to perform some difficult, but lawful service, we believe they would have performed it; but desirous as they were of obeying him, they dare not do this, at the certain risk of disobeying God--they knew that Jehovah had infinitely higher claims upon their obedience than any earthly king--they knew that in the decalogue they wore expressly and solemnly commanded to avoid the sin of idlolatry, and not even the imperious mandate of a Nebuchadnezzar, nor yet the fiercest manifestations of his displeasure, could make them swerve from their duty, or shake their constancy to the King of kings. I say, their decision, in this matter, was lofty in its principle. It was so, because it was based upon an intelligent sense of duty. Reason and judgment and conscience were arrayed on the side of principle; while all that worldly wealth could offer, and all that worldly power could indict, were enlisted on the aide of expediency. Was it not noble in these men, under such circumstances, to stand firm by their principles? But, again, their decision was lofty in principle because it was an assertion of the inalienability of man’s right at all times to think and to act for himself in all matters of religion. What right had the Babylonian king to enact laws on the subject of religion? As the monarch of an earthly kingdom, it is true, he had a temporal jurisdiction over his subjects, and he had a perfect right to exercise it. But you perceive Nebuchadnezzar was not content with this. Accustomed to wield the iron sceptre of despotism over the bodies of men, he vainly wished to control their spirits too. But Nebuchadnezzar had yet to learn a most important lesson--he had yet to learn that there is a power in the spirit of man to burst asunder the chains that would enslave it--he had yet to learn the supremacy of conscience, and the power ofreligious principle to enable a man to press toward his object even with death itself in view.
2. I would remark that religious decision, as it is illustrated in this history, appears to have the character of uncompromising firmness. Throughout the whole of the conduct of Shadrach and his companions there does not appear the smallest indication of a wish to accommodate matters or to effect a compromise between principle and expediency. But, further, let us follow them to the presence of the haughty king, before whom they were soon dragged at the impeachment of their bloodthirsty foes; and here, how striking the scene. See them confronted by everything most adapted to intimidate and appal human nature. Once more, if we follow them on to the last and most fearful trial of their constancy, we shall see the uncompromising firmness of their religious decision. But even this barbarous mandate did not shake their constancy. They saw the fury of the king--they heard his cruel command--but they were unmoved.
II. THE IMPORTANT TIME OF ITS MANIFESTATION. It requires only a limited historical acquaintance with the state of the world at the time when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were called to act their parts upon it--to know that it was a time of great mental degradation and moraldebasement. There seemed to be at that period a concentration of effort on the part of the powers of darkness to quench the last spark of vital religion yet remaining upon earth, and by a desperate piece of policy to plunge in yet deeper gloom an already too fearfully benighted world, and Shadrach and his companions seem to have been the appointed instruments in the hands of God of defeating this infernal policy, and of preserving this only remaining spark from utter extinction. Was not that a critical season, when, before an assembled universe they were called to combat the confederated power of darkness, and to vindicate the insulted majesty of Jehovah? It was for these men, by their conduct, to show whether the whole family of man should be publicly led captive by the devil at his will, or whether, by boldly standing forth as witnesses for God, the work of darkness should be arrested, and Satan deprived of his triumph. And here let me ask, before passing on, whether the present period of time be not one which preeminently demands the manifestation of religious decision on the part of the professed servants of God.
III. THE BENEFICIAL RESULTS resulting from religious decision, as illustrated in the history before us. Had opportunity permitted, we might have dwelt upon the beneficial consequences resulting from this decision to the individuals themselves who exercised it. It was not only a manifestation of their consistency, and a proof of the reality of their religion, but it secured them the respect of the king, and it opened up a way for still greater aggrandisement and worldly honour. We might still further have enlarged upon the effect of this decision upon the minds of the captive Jews at Babylon. Doubtless, those of the Hebrews who had bowed down to image, through a time-serving policy, would be ashamed of their inconsistent and guilty course, while such as had done thus through a vacillation and conscious weakness would be inspired with a fresh energy and zeal. We might also have shown you at length the mighty change which this manifestation of decision tended to effect in the views and purposes of the proud king of Babylon; and, doubtless, also in the views and purposes of those by whom he was surrounded. Oh! let us ever remember that with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego we are called to stand forward before an ungodly world as witnesses for God, and that, as His professing people, our every action has an influence directly or indirectly upon the destiny of the world. If we are faithful to our trust, a stamp of reality shall be given to our religion which shall convince the most unwilling, and convert the world; but if we are unfaithful, the reign of darkness shall be perpetuated, and Satan shall triumph. Let me conclude in the language of a well-known writer: “Of this, Christians, you may rest assured, you cannot stand neutral. Every moment you live you are testifying for or against religion. Every step you take you tread on cords that will vibrate through all eternity. Every time you move yon touch keys whose sounds will re-echo over all the hills and dales of Kenyon, and peal through all the dark caverns and vaults of hell. Every moment of your lives you are exerting a tremendous influence that will tell on the immortal interests of souls all around you. Are you asleep, while all your conduct is exerting such an influence?” (G. W. Pegg.)
Active Religious Principle
I. THE PRINCIPLE FOR WHICH WE CONTEND SHOULD BE TRUE. This should be our first consideration. The standard of right or wrong is the Bible. These young men had not now to investigate whether idolatry was allowable or not. Though the revelation of the Divine will, which they had, was not so full and clear as that with which we are favoured, it was quite decisive on this subject--and they knew it. We, too, ought to be familiar with the Scriptures, so that when any line of conduct is proposed to us we may be able instantly to say whether or not we ought to pursue it.
II. TRUE PRINCIPLES SHOULD BE MAINTAINED AGAINST ALL OPPOSITION.
III. TRUTH SHOULD BE MAINTAINED IN THE SPIRIT OF LOVE. This is of great consequence, and is often neglected. But if we fail in spirit and manner:
1. We injure our cause before men; who soon perceive our inconsistency, and put a small price upon our bad-tempered exhortations.
2. We deprive ourselves of Almighty help; without which our most earnest efforts will be vain.
IV. THERE ARE ABUNDANT ENCOURAGEMENTS FOR US THUS TO MAINTAIN RIGHT PRINCIPLES. These young men were encouraged by an assurance that God’s power and goodness were exercised on their behalf. They knew that God was “able,” and would deliver them out of the king’s hand.
V. GLORIOUS RESULTS WILL FOLLOW THE CONSISTENT MAINTENANCE OF RIGHT PRINCIPLE. In the case before us, the confessors were themselves preserved and honoured, and the God whom they served was glorified. (Edward Thompson.)
Witnesses to the Truth
This scene is one of the most sublime and majestic which the human mind can conceive. On the one side is represented human power in its grandest and most overwhelming form. On the other side we have three men who stand apart and refuse to join in the act for which all the rest are met. Here is the contrast between spiritual greatness and human greatness. Each complete and the highest of its kind.
1. We ask ourselves what it was which gave these three men the power to withstand the will of this great monarch, and stand firm though they were alone in the midst of an assembled world? And the answer is obvious. It was simply that they felt the importance of the truth for which they witnessed. They knew that they were upholding the true religion against the false.
2. Here, then, is the lesson which the scene teaches us; that we have laid upon us the duty of witnessing to the truth; and that in order to be able to witness to the truth, we must have an inward perception of the value of the truth to be witnessed to. We are told particularly in Scripture that this is one of our great duties as servants of God. The whole Jewish nation entrusted with the oracles of God. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-negro bore witness, as they did in this striking manner, to the truth of the unity and spiritual nature of God, and against the worship of idols, they fulfilled their special duties as Jews, and did what God had sent the Jewish people into the world to do. And we Christians, too, are told in Scripture that we are to be witnesses to the truth, as the Jews were to be, though to a higher truth than the Jews had. Our Lord Himself had this as one of His great offices (John 18:37). And the Apostles (1 John 1:1-3). And all Christians are invested in a measure with office of witnessing to the truth of the Christian revelation (Matthew 5:16).
3. And as Christians have the office imposed upon them, so they are placed in a world which tries that office severely, and opposes great temptations to, and brings an overwhelming influence to bear against, the performance of that duty. The scene described in the Book of Daniel is indeed a symbolical one. The great Babylon which arrayed itself in majesty on that occasion, and set up its golden idol, has fallen, but there is another Babylon which still goes on, and always will go on till Christ comes again to judgment. As imposing, and as carnally majestic, great and sublime as ever. Go where we will it follows us. And what a powerful influence does it exert upon our minds--very same influence as that which tried the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego on plain of Dura. Doubtless they felt the commanding force of that great spectacle, and had feelings and natural weaknesses of men. It was influence of the visible world which they resisted.
4. Such being the office, then, which Christians have, and such the temptations under which they have to exercise it, what is, as a matter of fact, the way in which this duty is performed? Do we find Christians showing by their lives, and by the objects they pursue here, their belief in eternity, witnessing to the great truth of the Gospel dispensation, that our Lord by His resurrection from the dead brought life and immortality to light? or do we not find that the great rule of all action adopted by them is to do as other people do, to think as other people think, and to aim at getting what all other people strive to get? That is to say, do not the great mass of people do exactly the same thing that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would have done, if at the proclamation of the herald, and at the sound of the music, they had fallen down and worshipped the golden image?
5. The office of witness, however, to Divine truth, rejected as it is by the generality, as if it were something more than could be expected of men, is a privilege as well as a duty, and brings, if it is faithfully executed, great rewards to those who execute it. We cannot conceive anything more sublime than the triumph of the three great witnesses in this chapter. It is one of the great triumphs of faith, one of those great anticipations of the final triumph of good over evil, which Scripture has recorded for our encouragement. (Moses, Elijah, etc.) The men were bound, the furnace was heated, etc. (Describe result.) The strength of the whole earth was gone in a moment, in the presence of One who was walking in the midst of the fire, and whose form was like the Son of God.
6. Here was, indeed, a triumph of that faith which bears witness to the truth; and, as I have said, this scene is symbolical. It is the figure of a deep truth which holds now, and which we may apply to ourselves. Men know the truth, but they will not witness to it. Yet, we may venture to say, and with certainty, that never, on any occasion, by any one of the humblest servants of God, was this office of witness to the truth executed without a reward. In the adversity a companion; in the fire walking with him the Son of God. (Canon Mozley.)
Faith Victorious Over the Fear of Man
I. Concerning THE OBJECT OF OUR FAITH. By these holy writings we know and acknowledge Him to be the Lord our God in Christ.
1. He is the Lord, whose name alone is Jehovah.
2. The object of faith is the Lord “our God.” He says in the ear of His people, “Be not dismayed, for I am thy God”; and hearing His speech, they say, “This God,” who speaketh in His holiness, is “Our God.” Would ye have an example? ye will see one in the eighteenth Psalm: “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.”
3. The object of faith is the Lord our God in Christ. In the faith of sinners this consideration of Him is essentially important. Without a mediator of righteousness, atonement, and reconciliation, we can have no intercourse with Him in believing. “By Christ we believe in God, who raised Him from the dead, that our faith and hope might be in God.” This consideration of the object of faith is not peculiar to the New Testament. Though the revelation of it was comparatively dark, the first believer, and all that followed, had it before them, and saw it truly. God was then, as He is now, in Christ. The witnesses in Babylon saw anal believed in Him as in Christ; and in the furnace had a sensible proof of it.
II. Concerning THE GROUND OF FAITH. The ground on which we stand and build in believing, is the record or testimony of God, revealing Himself to us as the Lord our God in Christ. This record, testimony, or witness, faith believes to be true, receives as good, rests in as sure, and builds on with appropriation, according its address with full assurance of its stability. The truth is, faith can neither stand nor build on any other ground. Unless we have His own testimony before us, we cannot glorify Him in believing. It would be presuming, and not believing, to call Him our God on any other ground. Though the faith of believers doth not fix them always on the same passage, they always build on some passage of the revealed testimony. They never change their ground, but do not always build on the same spot. In the Testimony which is the ground of faith there is an order that ought not to be overlooked, since according to it the exercise of faith is to be regulated. The glorious Object, in the front of the law, says, “I am the Lord thy God”; and in the body of the particular commandment, which turned to His witnesses in the plain of Dura for a testimony, He repeats it, saying, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” Upon hearing this gracious declaration from His throne, faith proceeds, and boldly advances its claim, saying, “This God is our God.” In this very order the witnesses proceed, and add to their faith virtue.
3. Concerning the exercise of faith. In the exercise of faith there is:
1. That believing God is warrantable and authourised exercise in all extremities. Warrantable, because it is allowed; authorised, because it is commanded.
2. That the gratuitous deed, which is the ground of believing, proceeds upon a ransom found, and an atonement made. Grace reigns in it. The reign of grace, however, is a righteous administration.
3. We infer the immorality of unbelief. By many in the visibles church unbelief is not held to be an immorality. Discipline cannot lay hands upon it, nor are ministers able to do anything but cry against it, It is, notwithstanding, a crying immorality, denying the truth of God in His word, despising the loving kindness of the Saviour of the world, resisting the spirit of holiness, and drowning in destruction and perdition multitudes of precious souls. (A. Shanks.)
The service of Christ demands heroism of the truest and highest kind. This world is radically hostile to Christ and His religion, and no disciple, in any age or land, can be, in all things and at all times, true to his Master, in the full sense of the term, and not encounter opposition and obstacles that will demand the very highest type of heroism to meet and overcome. Examples of the sublimest heroism are not wanting in the history of the church. We have such in Noah, in building the Ark; in Abraham, in the sacrifice of Isaac; in Daniel; in the three Hebrew worthies; in Paul, and the other disciples; in the long line of the prophets, martyrs and witnesses to the truth, and in the lives of such missionaries as Brainerd, Martyn, Carey, Judson, Morrison, and Harriet Newell. And in the grand roll of honour, read off in the final day, will be found the names of untold thousands of true heroes, whose deeds were never recognised on earth--men and women, who, in humble life, or in private stations, away from the observation of men, heroically endured and wrought for the Master, and won a crown as bright as any worn by martyr-saint! Never was there greater need of Christian heroism than at the present time.
I. IN THE PULPIT. The tide of change, of insidious and seductive error, of worldliness and spiritual declension, is rising high and beating fearfully against the old foundations of faith, and spirituality, and a godly life. The pulpit of to-day is assailed by more potent and dangerous influences than if we were in the midst of fiery persecution. To stand firm for God and truth, and “the simplicity that is in Christ”--to lift high the banner of righteousness and wage uncompromising war with sin and error in every form--requires the heroism of apostles and martyrs. Would to God our pulpits everywhere, in city and country., responded to the demand.
II. IN ALL THE WALKS OF PRIVATE, CHRISTIAN LIFE. This a day that puts to a severe test the fidelity of the heart to Christ. Oh, there are so many false Christs in the world, false standards of duty, counterfeit experiences, “lying and seducing spirits,” evil examples and declensions, and so much “conformity to the world,” and worship of “mammon,” and lowering of the standard of discipleship, that to meet the full demands of Christ-likenees and Christ’s service calls for more heroism than it would to face the stake! Alas, how little of it, comparatively, do we see!
III. IN THE GREAT MISSIONARY WORK, TO WHICH GOD IS CALLING HIS PEOPLE.
IV. IN THE MART OF BUSINESS. Terrible is the strain here, and how many fail and go down in the awful wreck and rain of character, many of them, too, bearing the name of Christ; and all because they have not true manliness, true courage, to face temptation and disaster--have not heroism sufficient to live up to the principles of righteousness.
V. IN PUBLIC LIFE, IN POLITICS, IN ALL PLACES OF HONOUR AND TRUST. Heroism is here demanded, and heroism of the genuine stamp. Dare to do right, though office be lost, or election fail, or poverty come, or clamour assail. To do right is to win! To do or connive at wrong is to lose, always! (J. M. Sherwood.)
Nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
Steadfastness in the Midst of Dangers
At the king’s command, the three Hebrew youths came forth from the fire unscorched. The same scenes--differing simply in the lesser details--have more than once been witnessed upon the earth. The whole world is one wide plain of Darn, in which a golden image is set up. The God of Heaven proclaims His sovereign will. Rival divinities set up their groundless claims. They all have their due proportion of abject worshippers.
1. The man of the world bows down before the golden image. He adores that which seems nearest to himself. Popularity, and power, and place are foremost in his thoughts. He makes an idol of the world. Nothing is “real” in his sight which cannot be coined into money, and which will not aid him in his ambitious plans.
2. The Christian has full scope for the exercise of the determined spirit manifested by the Hebrew youths, in a consistent walk with God. “All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” If you are what you ought to be, no degree of prudence and reserve will free you altogether from the opposition and malice of an ungodly world. It seems, at first thought, a hard lot; but it has its blessings. (John N. Norton.)
That they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.
The Fiery Furnace
I. THE PERSON WHO CAUSED IT TO BE MADE. This Oriental despot was then in the zenith of his glory. He was the acknowledged master of the world. The pomp and pageantry, of that religious gathering has never been surpassed. In deep awe, “they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up” (v. 4).
II. THE PERSONS WHO WERE CAST INTO THIS BURNING FIERY FURNACE AND WHY. These were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego--“the three Hebrew children,” who were carried to Babylon in captivity B.C. 606. They were of royal birth. They first came into notice in refusing to eat the “king’s meat.” Why were they cast into the burning furnace? It was because they refused to do that which would offend the living God. Listen to the answer given by those Hebrews: “Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (v. 18). What is our answer? Observe, there is one great word in this verse now quoted. It is the word “not”! “We will not serve thy gods”! O this word, “not”! How grand it is!
1. It contains all the decision of 5:16. There they say: “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” “There is no need for talk on this subject, O king. You are determined what to do; so, also, are we!” Glorious decision! There is never any “not” where there is the least hesitation or parleying with sin.
2. This word “not” contains all the faith of 5:17. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning furnace.” This is what the great Paul once said: “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). How glorious such a trust!
3. The “not” before us contains the profoundest courage. It was popular that day to bow to the image; the lend-mouthed “herald” proclaimed the penalty of not worshipping. Yet the brave men spoke out courageously. With decision, faith, and courage, we can alone stand against the evils of our day. Because Shadrach and his friends said “net,” they were cast into the fire.
III. THE PERSON WHO DELIVERED THEM, AND WHY. It was Almighty God (v. 28). Why? Because they “trusted in Him” (v. 28). This the versereferred to in Hebrews 11:33-34 --“who through fire subdued kingdoms”! It is faith that overcomes the world. Faith is the mighty moral force of the age. The Apostles said unto the Lord, and so should we, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). Observe:
1. The completeness of this deliverance: “Nor was an hair of their head singed” (v. 27). So God always saves--it is complete, or not at all.
2. They were thrown into the furnace “bound,” but soon they walked through the flames “loose” (v. 24, 25). O how Satan has tried to bind us in our afflictions, but in the greatest sorrow--when the furnace has been heated “seven times,” we have had both freedom and joy. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
IV. THE PERSONS BENEFITED BY THE FIERY FURNACE, AND WHY.
1. The three Hebrews were benefited by receiving another wonderful evidence of the power of grace; by being promoted to a higher official rank in the kingdom (v. 30). This was the result of decision, faith, and courage.
2. Nebuchadnezzar was benefited by being brought back to the knowledge of God which, years before, he had professed (Daniel 2:47).
3. No doubt the great multitude which that day had worshipped the golden image was benefited. They all saw that the true God was He whom the Hebrews worshipped. Decision for the Lord Jesus is the best way to win the wicked to His worship and service. (Alfred W. Moment.)
We have in this chapter an affecting case of an attempt to punish men for holding certain opinions, and for acting in conformity with them. When we read of an instance of persecution like this, it occurs to us to ask certain questions.
1. What is persecution? It is pain inflicted, or some loss, or disadvantage in person, family, or office, on account of holding certain opinions. It has had two objects. One to punish men for holding certain opinions, as if the persecutor had a right to regard this as an offence against the state; and the other a professed view to reclaim those who are made to suffer, and to save their souls. In regard to the pain or suffering involved in persecution, it is not material what kind of pain is inflicted in order to constitute persecution. Any bodily suffering; any deprivation of comfort; any exclusion from office; any holding up of one to public reproach; or any form of ridicule, constitutes the essence of persecution. It may be added that not a few of the inventions most distinguished for inflicting pain, and known as refinements of cruelty, have been originated in times of persecution, and would probably have been unknown if it had not been for the purpose of restraining men from the free exercise of religious opinions. The Inquisition has been most eminent in this; and within the walls of that dreaded institution it is probable that human ingenuity has been exhausted in devising the most refined modes of inflicting torture on the human frame.
2. Why has this been permitted? Among the reasons may be the following:
3. What have been the effects of persecution?
In the Fiery Furnace
Note the teachings of the miracle.
I. THOSE ONLY WHO LIVE ABOVE THE WORLD CAN AFFORD TO LEAVE IT OR TO LOSE IT. The man who has temporal blessings without fellowship with God cannot afford to disobey the world’s laws or customs (Hebrews 11:14).
II. THE MEANS TAKEN TO EXTINGUISH TRUTH WILL BE USED TO EXTEND ITS INFLUENCE. The Philippian jailer, not content with beating his prisoners, thrust them into the inner prison, yet into this prison he shall come, and falling upon his knees, shall beseech help from his prisoners. The very means taken in that city by the magistrates to silence Paul and Silas led to their being more highly esteemed, and consequently to the words which they had spoken receiving more attention.
III. ONE SPECIAL INTERPOSITION OF PROVIDENCE IN A LIFETIME WILL NOT GUARANTEE EXEMPTION FROM AN ORDINARY FATE AT ANOTHER PERIOD. Peter was saved from Herod’s sword, but he suffered martyrdom in later life.
IV. THE SERVANTS OF GOD WHO HAVE BEEN PUBLICLY CONDEMNED SHALL BE PUBLICLY VINDICATED. The Son of God was publicly condemned and executed as a malefactor by the Jews, but they will one day own Him as their Lord with “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him” Isaiah 25:9). (Outlines by a London Minister.)
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished.
The Astonishment of Nebuchadnezzer as he looked into the Fiery Furnace
Consider the causes of his astonishment.
I. HE WAS ASTONISHED AT THE NUMBER HE BEHELD IN THE FURNACE “Lo! I see four men; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God!” Some have imagined that by the expression “Son of God” Nebuchadnezzar meant a son of Jupiter, or of Baal, or of some other heathen deity; but surely it is far more reasonable to suppose that by the power of God, who “causeth the wrath of man to praise Him,” and of whom we read, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh,” the king was constrained to utter a great truth in spite of the fury of his spirit and the darkness of his soul. Does it not seem clear that Jehovah was then dealing with Nebuchadnezzar in essentially the same way as He had, ages before, dealt with Balaam, when He caused his opposition to praise Him, and when, in spite of “the madness of the prophet,” he was constrained, instead of cursing Israel, to give utterance, under a power he could not resist, to truths he did not understand, when he spake of the coming of “a Star out of Jacob,” and proclaimed: “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh”? Can we fail in the light of Scripture to recognise the fourth in the furnace as “the Messenger of the covenant” of whom we read: “In all their afflictions He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them”; “the Word” that was to be “made flesh and dwell among men, the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”? That cause of the king’s astonishment, seeing four in the furnace, becomes to us illustrative of a precious truth--that God, our Saviour, is with His people in the furnace of affliction. “The Lord loveth the righteous.” Loving man, He prepares them for home; and affliction, “if need be,” is one of the preparatory means employed by Him “whose fire is in Zion and His furnace in Jerusalem.” But neither are others free from trial. The world has its furnaces. Was not Cain in a furnace when he said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear”? Was not Belshazzar, when, with trembling knees and a terrified soul, he quailed before the writing on the wall: “Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting”? Was not Judas, when, casting on the ground the thirty pieces of silver, as if burning not his fingers but his soul, he went out and hanged himself? And multitudes now wandering in the ways of sin are in furnaces of affliction. But when servants of the Lord are in the furnace of affliction they are in the furnace that is “in Jerusalem,” and in it they are not alone. He who controls and regulates its heat, and can, at His pleasure, take them out of it, is with them in it, as “the consolation of Israel, the Saviour thereof, in time of trouble.” “will not leave you comfortless.” “Lo! I am with you always”; “My grace is sufflcient for thee.”
II. Another cause of the king’s astonishment was this: “THEY HAVE NO HURT.” How illustrative of the precious truth that God’s people receive no hurt in the furnace of affliction! So the Psalmist seems to have felt when he said, “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul.” To have discoveries made to us of errors in the judgment, deceitfulness in the heart, self-righteousness in the spirit, and manifold deficiencies previously unnoticed by us in our character and life, may be most humiliating and painful for a season, but far from hurtful to the soul; for such are some of the expressly intended results of sanctified affliction which, injuring none of the Christian graces, gives new vigour to faith, new brightness to hope, new ardour to holy affections, and a tone of new devotedness to the whole spirit and life. Surely, then, it becomes the people of God, amid the various trials of life, to “trust and be not afraid,” and so “glorify in the fires” their covenant God and Father.
III. That the king saw in the furnace “four men LOOSE, whilst unhurt,” was another cause of astonishment. Not power only, but thought, discrimination, and directing influence were acting amid the flames. He who “directeth His lightning to the ends of the earth,” Lord of all the elements, the God of nature and nature’s laws, caused the fire to act only in such direction and for such ends as He willed. It acted, but only to burn bonds. That cause of astonishment illustrates another precious truth--that sanctified affliction burns bonds--the bonds of sin, Satan, and the world. Children of God, becoming entangled anew in bonds of various kinds, are often placed by the unerring hand of a faithful and loving Father in the furnace of affliction; and in due season, the bonds being burned, they are led out of the furnace to feel anew and often far more than previously, “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
IV. Another cause of the king’s astonishment seems to have been this: THEIR DEMEANOUR IN THE FURNACE--“walking in the midst of the fire,” so calm, self-possessed, joyful. How illustrative of another precious truth, that God’s people are not only supported but enabled to be “joyful in tribulation.” Before the multitude of amazed spectators went away they must surely have fixed their eyes very intently for a few moments upon the king, the furnace, and the three faithful servants of “a great God.” Let us do likewise.
1. The king. What is now the state of his mind? One thing he said was this: “There is no other God that can deliver after this sort.” “True, O king.” But is there any other god that can deliver at all? Where were thy gods, O Babylon, when some of their self-denying votaries, those “mighty men,” were being burned to death even outside the furnace? Sadly did Nebuchadnezzar fail to turn to rational and right account that signally favourable opportunity of looking fully at the question, “What is truth “? And not very long afterward he was to be seen eating grass with the beasts of the field! What a lesson as to the importance of improving every season of specially favourable opportunity, every day of specially merciful visitation.
2. The furnace. Read as in letters of light among the subsiding glories, such lessons as these: “The path of duty is the path of safety”; “As my days, so shall my strength be”; “Them that honour” God, He “will honour”; “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.”
3. The three tried ones that have come forth as gold’.
Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire.
Consolation in the Furnace
The narrative of the glorious boldness and marvellous deliverance of the three holy children, or rather champions, is well calculated to excite in the minds of believers firmness and steadfastness in upholding the truth in the teeth of tyranny and in the very jaws of death. Let young men especially, since these were young men, learn from their example both in matters of faith in religion, and matters of integrity in business, never to sacrifice their consciences. To have a clear conscience, to wear a guileless spirit, to have a heart void of offence, is greater riches than the mines of Ophir could yield or the traffic of Tyre could win. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and inward contention therewith. An ounce of heart’s-ease is worth a ton of gold; and a drop of innocence is better than a sea of flattery.
I. The place WHERE GOD’S PEOPLE OFTEN ARE. In the text we find three of them in a burning fiery furnace, and singular as this may be literally, it is no extraordinary thing spiritually, for, to say the truth, it is the usual place where the saints’ are found. The ancients fabled of the salamander that it lived in the fire; the same can be said of the Christian without any fable whatever. It is rather a wonder when a Christian is not in trial, for to wanderers in a wilderness discomfort and privation will naturally be the rule rather than the exception. It is through “much tribulation” that we inherit the kingdom.
1. First, there is the furnace which men kindle. As if there were not enough misery in the world, men are the greatest tormentors to their fellow men. The elements in all their fury, wild beasts in all their ferocity, and famine and pestilence in all their horrors, have scarcely proved such foes to man, as men themselves have been. Religious animosity is always the worst of all hatreds, and incites to the most fiendish deeds; persecution is as unsparing as death, and as cruel as the grave. At times the Christian feels the heat of the furnace of open persecution. Another furnace is that of oppression. In the iron furnace of Egypt the children of Israel were made to do hard bondage in brick and in mortar; and doubtless many of God’s people are in positions where they are little better than slaves. There is also the furnace of slander.
2. Secondly, there is a furnace which Satan blows with three great bellows--some of you have been in it. It is hard to bear, for the prince of thepower of the air hath great mastery over human spirits; he knows our weak places, and can strike so as to cut us to the very quick. He fans the fire with the blast of temptation. Then he works the second bellows of accusation. He hisses into the ear, “Thy sins have destroyed thee! The Lord hath forsaken thee quite! Thy God will be gracious no more!” Then he will beset us with suggestions of blasphemy; for while tormenting as with insinuations, he has a way of uttering foul things against God, and then casting them into our hearts as if they were our own.
3. And thirdly, there is a furnace which God himself prepares for His people. There is the furnace of physical pain. A furnace still worse, perhaps, is that of bereavement. Then, added to this, there will crowd in upon us temporal losses and sufferings. The business which we thought would enrich, impoverishes.
4. The context reminds us that sometimes the Christian is exposed to very peculiar trials. The furnace was heated seven times hotter; it was hot enough when heated once; but I suppose that Nebuchadnezzar had pitch and tar, and all kinds of combustibles thrown in to make it flame out with greater vehemence. Truly at times the Lord appears to deal thus with His people. It is a peculiarly fierce heat which surrounds them, and they cry out, “Surely I am the man that hath seen affliction--I may take precedence of all others in the realm of sorrow.”
5. I do not like to leave this point without observing, too, that these holy champions were helpless when thrown into the furnace. They ware cast in bound; and many of us have been cast in bound, too, so that we could not lift hand or foot to help ourselves. Pretty plight to be in! Who does not shudder at it! Certainly none of us would choose it; but we have not the choice, and as we have said with David, “Thou shalt choose mine inheritance for me,” if the Lord determines to choose it for us among the coals of fire, it is the Lord, lot Him do what seemeth Him good. Where Jehovah places His saints they are safe in reality, although exposed to destruction in appearance.
II. WHAT THEY LOSE THERE. Look at the text, and it will be clear to you that they lost something. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego lost something in the fire--not their turbans, nor their coats, nor their hosen, nor one hair of their heads or boards--no; what then?
1. Why, they lost their bonds there. Do observe: “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire.” The fire did not hurt them, but it snapped their bonds. Blessed loss this! A true Christian’s losses are gains in another shape. Now, observe this carefully, that many of God’s servants never know the fulness of spiritual liberty till they are cast into the midst of the furnace. Shall I show you some of the bonds which God looses for His people when they are in the fire of human hatred? Sometimes He bursts the cords of fear of man, and desire to please man. When persecution rages, it is wonderful what liberty it gives to the child of God. Never a freer tongue than Luther’s! Never a braver mouth than that of John Knox! Never a bolder speech than that of John Calvin! Never a braver heart than that which throbbed beneath the ribs of Wickliffe!
2. Again, when Satan puts us in the furnace, he is often the means of breaking bonds. How many Christians are bound by the bonds of frames and feelings; the bonds of depend-once upon something within, instead of resting upon Christ the great Sacrifice. Fierce temptations may be like waves that wash the mariner on a rock--they may drive us nearer to Christ. It is an ill wind which blows no one any good; but the worst wind that Satan can send blows the Christian good, because it hurries him nearer to his Lord. Temptation is a great blessing when it looses our bonds of self-confidence and reliance upon frames and feelings.
3. As for the afflictions which God sends, do they not loose our bonds? Doubts and fears are more common to us in the midst of work and business than when laid aside by sickness.
III. WHAT SAINTS DO THERE. “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire.” Walking! They are walking--it is a symbol of joy, of ease, of peace, of rest--not flitting like unquiet ghosts, as if they were disembodied spirits traversing the flame; but walking with real footsteps, treading on hot coals as though they were roses, and smelling the sulphureons flames as though they yielded nothing but aromatic perfume. Enoch “walked with God.” It is the Christian’s pace, it is his general pace; he does sometimes run, but his general pace is walking with God, walking in the Spirit; and you see that these good men did not quicken their pace, and they did not slacken it--they continued to walk as they usually did; they had the same holy calm and peace of mind which they enjoyed elsewhere. Their walking shows not only their liberty, and their ease, and their pleasure, and their calm, but it shows their strength. Their sinews ware not snapped, they were walking. These men had no limping gait, they were walking, walking in the midst of the fire.
IV. WHAT THEY DID NOT LOSE THERE. The text says, “And they have no hurt.” They did not lose anything there.
1. But we may say of them first, their persons were not hurt. The child of God loses in the furnace nothing of himself that is worth keeping. He does not lose his spiritual life--that is immortal; he does not lose his graces--he gets them refined and multiplied, and the glitter of them is best seen by furnace-light.
2. The Christian does not lose his garments there. You see their hats, and their hosen, and their coats were not singed, nor was there the smell of fire upon them; and so with the Christian: his garment is the beauteous dress which Christ himself wrought out in His life, and which He dyed in the purple of His own blood. As it is not hurt by age, nor moth, nor worm, nor mildew, so neither can it be touched by fire. I know you dread that furnace--who would not?--but courage, courage, the Lord who permits thatfurnace to be heated will preserve you in it, therefore be not dismayed!
V. WHO WAS WITH THEM IN THE FURNACE. There was a fourth, and he was so bright and glorious that even the heathen eyes of Nebuchadnezzar could discern a supernatural lustre about him. “The fourth,” he said, “is like the Son of God,” What appearance Christ had put on I cannot tell, which was recognisable by that heathen monarch; but I suppose that He appeared in a degree of that glory in which He showed Himself to His servant John in the Apocalypse. You must go into the furnace if you would have the nearest and dearest dealings with Christ Jesus. Whenever the Lord appears, it is to His people when they are in a militant posture. The richest thought that a Christian perhaps can live upon is this, that Christ is in the furnace with him. I know that to the worldling this seems a very poor comfort, but then if you have never drank this wine you cannot judge its flavour. What must it be to dwell with everlasting burnings! One’s heart beats high at the thought of the three poor men being thrown into that furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, with its flaming pitch and bitumen reaching upwards its streamers of flame, as though it would set the heavens on a blaze; yet that fire could not touch the three children, it was not consuming fire. But, be ye warned, there is One who is “a consuming fire,” and once let Him flame forth in anger, and none can deliver you. He calls to you to leave your sins and look to Him, and then you shall never die, neither upon you shall the flame of wrath kindle because its power was spent on Him, and He felt the furnace of Divine wrath, and trod the glowing coals for every soul that believeth in Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Two Aspects of Life
Now, what I want to derive from the passage as an illustration is this--that there are two aspects of life; one which is here described, as Nebuchadnezzar described it to his counsellors, and as they acknowledged that it was; and the other as it appears to the eye of faith, which is represented to us by this king, who had his eyes opened to see that which apparently his counsellors did not see. The three men, then, being cast into the furnace of fire, may be taken as instances of daily commonplace life; that which Nebuchadnezzar himself was enabled to perceive may be taken as that interpretation and glorification of the ordinary facts of everyday life which the Bible, which religion, and which emphatically Christianity is enabled to cast over all the circumstances of our existence here. Now this may be taken as a pattern of all the circumstances of life. There is the ordinary, the commonplace, the matter-of-fact, the prosaic way of looking at everything; and as things are so looked at, they show very much as the natural features of this city do on one of our dull, foggy November mornings. There is nothing to delight, there is no poetry, there is no light about them; they all seem dull, and dead, and leaden. But, then, there is another aspect, and that is such as the king had his eyes open to perceive; and you observe that what he saw was something totally different from what things were to the eyes of his counsellors, and from what they were as he thought they must be. He said, “Lo, I see four men.” There is another there. These men are not alone; they are not left to grapple with the violence of the flame; they have a friend with them; and, moreover, as they were cast bound, so now he perceives that they are loosened, he sees them also walking in the midst of the fire. Observe that they were there exposed to all these mighty flames. He allowed them to go down into them, but they were walking about in the fire and they had no hurt. So it is with Christian life. The Christian is not delivered out of temptation; he is not one of those who are never exposed to trial; there is no exemption wrought on his behalf; he has his lot with other men; he takes his part with other men; and sometimes his lot and part are worse than those of other men, or at least they appear to be so. But yet he is enabled to walk about in the midst of the fire. Now there are those persons who always take the commonplace, matter-of-fact view of life, and they are the tedious people. I know no people so tedious, so difficult to get on with, as those who always see things in their dull, grey light, precisely as they are; whereas those who can throw into the commonplace and into the ordinary the glamour of a Divine existence and of a higher life, who can throw poetry into the scene--those are the people who are interesting, those are the people who know with whom it is a joy and a privilege to be. Then, again, observe very often we may be in the midst of danger and not know it. Who can tell how many dangers he has been preserved from? It is quite possible that many of us from time to time walk over difficulties and dangers of which we have no notion, and we probably never discover that we have been preserved from difficulty and danger. Is not this the case with many of us? Or, on the other hand, it is possible for us to walk in the midst of danger and to know that we are in the midst of danger, as these men knew they were; and then sometimes we are not conscious of that unseen, invisible protection which is nigh unto us. Now I want you to learn to see this, to believe in it. We, as Christians, walk by faith, and not by sight, and there should be no emergency and no trial into which the Christian comes in which he should feel himself left alone; he should always know that there is someone there with him, a mighty friend, the strongest of the strong, and that the form of that unseen one is like the Son of God. Oh, it is only the Word of God, it is only the power of religion, it is only the truth of Christianity and the presence of the grace of God, which can thus throw into the ordinary, the dull, and the commonplace the light of the glory of the Sun of Righteousness, which tips everything with gold, and makes everything to shine as with the light of the glory of Kenyon. That, and that alone, can make life glorious; that, and that alone, can steel your heart so that you may bear up under all opposition, and under all trials, and may quit yourselves like men in the day of the Lord. That question, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” could be answered only in one way--“True, O king!” But it was the grace of God, it was the mystery of the promise of God and the presence of God which enabled that great king to say, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, anal they have no hurt; the smell of the fire has not passed on them. It had no power to damage or injure them because there was One with them who was mightier than the flames, and the form of that fourth Mighty One was like the Son of God.” Now, it is a very remarkable thing that in this Book of the Prophet Daniel, the fourth and last of the four great prophets, we have such an extraordinary foretaste, if I may say so, of the coming Gospel of Jesus Christ. But when the king here says, “The fourth is like that of the Son of God.” it is impossible, and we see ourselves that it is impossible, that he can mean one of those persons who are called by a figure of speech “sons of God.” He must mean the Son of God, who is, by eminence and excellence, the only begotten Son of’ God, the one who is made in God’s imago and God’s likeness, who is of God and from God, and who stands in the exact relation to God that a child stands to his father. Such, then, is the glorification which is offered to every Christian for all the times of life. Life, no doubt, for everyone under the most advantageous circumstances, has its dull aspect. “We all knew what it is to travel along a road which has no variety, which is nothing but monotonous from beginning to end, and we feel the effect of such journey on our spirit. Life has such journeys for us all, even under the most favourable circumstances. What we want is not to have those circumstances altered--because it may be that they never will be altered, and certainly when we most feel their monotony they are not so likely to be altered--but what we want is something which will make us proof against their dulness and monotony, something which will give us strength to cope with them, something which will shed the sunlight of eternal day over the darkness and gloominess of the morning spread upon the mountains, and will kindle for us by it a glorious day in which and through which we may walk from hour to hour with the presence of Him whose form is like that of the Son of God. Now, have you this presence of the Son of God with you? I am quite sure you want Him. I am sure there is no one whose heart does not yearn after a friend. Sometimes one solitary friend is worth a mine of wealth to us, and if we have got one such friend we may count ourselves rich. Now, there is such a friend for every one of us in the person of the Son of God, who is also the Son of man, “so pitying found.” That Son of man and Son of God is very near to every one of us; and if we would see Him we must have our eyes open as this great king’s eyes were opened. It is only by faith that we can behold Him. We are not told that these three men even knew that there was a fourth with them. It was only given to one man to see that fourth, and it was only given to him to recognise in Him the form “like that of the Son of God.” The Son of God may be with us now. He is with us now, because He has promised to be with us. What we want to make us strong is to know that He is with us, and to feel that the form of that Son of God is indeed the form of the Son of man, who was crucified for us, who rose from the dead for us, and who now sitteth at the right hand of God, evermore to make intercession for us. But, pray that your eyes may be opened, that in every want that you have in this life, in every trial and temptation, you may ever feel that the Son of God and the Son of man is with you. (Dean Stanley.)
And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
Folly of Polytheism and Pantheism
There can be no confidence nor firm trust where men suppose that there is a multitude of gods. For one god may have to yield to another, or may find his power limited by another’s dominion. The Greeks of old believed that there wore quarrels and feuds and divisions among the inhabitants of their Olympus, and that one deity might have to sacrifice the interests of his devotees in order to obtain some concession for other favourites. Happy was Israel of old in the belief in one God, and many were the deeds of heroism wrought in the strength of this conviction. Nor can there be peace of mind and calm fortitude where the one god is the mere sum of the being of the universe. To the pantheist God is not a person, omniscient, omnipresent, almighty, who sees and knows and takes interest in all he does. To him God is a blind power, the mere aggregate of the working of nature and man, of whom he is himself part, and into whom he will be finally absorbed. Such a deity has no separate existence, no separate action, no separate knowledge, no personal will, no special sphere of duty. The man may see, but the god, who is the mere sum of all human and animal seeing, himself sees not. Man may work, and nature may employ her physical and vegetative energies, but the sum of all this working can do nothing. Whatever it be, it has not even an existence for and in itself, and can inspire no hope, can give man no courage in danger, no consolation in sorrow, no strength for right action. Such a god is a name, and not a being, and there is no such thing as responsibility to him. And absorption into him at death simply means the ceasing to have a separate existence. In life we are the acting, thinking, energising part of the pantheistic god, to be absorbed into him at death is to fall into unconsciousness. In neither Polytheism nor pantheism is there any nobleness of thought, or anything to make man better and aid him in becoming godlike on earth. It is responsibility to an almighty, omniscient, and just Judge which raises man to the true height of his dignity, as a being endowed by God with free will and a conscience; and the answer to the question why God has made this world such as it is, and placed man in a position so full of difficulty, is to be found in the thought that only by bearing the burden of responsibility can man be made fit for God’s service in Heaven. Here, on earth, men rise in moral worth and social influence by responsibility rightly borne; and the whole doctrine of a future judgment, and of eternal rewards and punishments, has for one great purpose the impressing the minds of men with a sense that they are responsible to a righteous Judge for all they think and say and do. It was this sense of responsibility to a personal God which gave these three Jewish martyrs their high courage, their strength to resist a despotic monarch, their calmness and joy in the hour of suffering. (Dean Payne-Smith, D.D.)
The Son of God in the Fiery Furnace
The concluding words should read not “the Son of God,” but “a Son of God.” Nebuchadnezzar was a heathen, ignorant of the high religious teachings of the Jews, and certainly not acquainted with the Christian doctrine of the second Person in the Trinity. The fourth figure in the furnace struck him as Divine in its beauty, majesty, glory, a godlike form.
I. A REVELATION IN A FIERY FURNACE. Whether the startling appearance were an angel, or Christ before His incarnation, or any other mode of Divine manifestation, it was in any case a revelation of God.
I. God only needs to be revealed to be seen. He exists always; He is seen at rare intervals. He is not more existent when seen than when unseen. The veil hides His light, but does not extinguish it. All we need is that the veil should be lifted. Then the ever-present God will be recognised.
2. God is revealed in the fiery furnace of trouble. Invisible writing starts into appearance when held to the fire. Characters suddenly flash out in their true light at seasons of storm, terror, and pain. God reveals Himself in critical moments of agony and need.
3. The revelation in the fiery furnace is seen by the outside world. The three youths are not alone favoured with the cheering vision of the Heavenly presence. Nebuchadnezzar also sees the wonderful appearance. Indeed, it is he only who is expressly stated to have observed this additional figure in the furnace. God was revealed by means of the faithful Jews, but so that the heathen world might behold Him. The vision of God in the passion of Christ is open to the gaze of the world, and may arrest the attention of those who are blind to the daily revelation of the Divine in nature. May not this fact be an explanation of the mystery of suffering? We take too narrow and personal a view of the mission of pain. It has larger and wider ends than the sufferer’s own private advantage. May not others be called to endure pain that through the flames that kindle about their own souls the light of Goal may flash out upon their fellow-men?
II. DIVINE FELLOWSHIP IN HUMAN TROUBLE.
1. God is with His people in their troubles. He does not only look down from Heaven. Pity from the serene altitude of perfect bliss may only aggravate the torture of those who are writhing in the torture-chamber of affliction. But we are told of God that in all His people’s afflictions He is afflicted. Christ came into the world to suffer with men. He was with St. Stephen in the council chamber, with St. Paul in the gaol at Philippi.
2. The comforting Divine presence is dependent on the fidelity of God’s people. There are troubles in the midst of which we dare not expect to see the cheering radiance of our Saviour’s countenance. If He appears in them at all, our consciences tell us that it must be with a look of grief or anger, and a voice saying, “What doest thou here?” The trouble which we bring upon ourselves by heedless indifference or culpable disobedience to the will of God invites no comforting Divine fellowship.
3. The Divine presence in trouble is a security against all real harm. The cruel flames play about their would-be victims as harmlessly as forest leaves. Sects the presence of Christ and all will be well. (W. F. Adeney, M.A.)
A Son of God in the Fire
Sceptical criticism has railed out against all this, as showing too much of the wonderful to be believed. But with the Almighty one thing is no harder than another. He can make a blazing sun in the heavens with as much ease as make a daisy in the meadow. Some have urged that it was unfitting the Deity to show such wonders here. But who can decide what is, and what is not, becoming to a Being whose thoughts no man can fathom? And when we consider that millions of His chosen people were then in servitude in that empire; that the great object of their being there was to purge them of their idolatries; that no ordinary ministries for this purpose existed; that here was a great and mighty people that knew not God, destitute of any effectual means of being made acquainted with His superior majesty and power; and that here was an assembly of all their heads and chiefs, who would thus be made to see His signs, and to become the attestors and heralds of the miracle to all parts of the mighty realm--there certainly would seem to be reason enough that here and now, if anywhere or ever, the greatest wonders of the God of Heaven should be enacted. Who can say that there was not ample occasion for just such a display of the Eternal omnipotence? And see also the effect. A decree went forth from the throne to “every people, nation, and language,” reciting the wonder, proclaiming the majesty of Jehovah, and forbidding, on pain of death, the speaking of “anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” And these men were thenceforward promoted and honoured by the empire as the living witnesses of the living God. (Joseph A. Seiss, D.D.)
I. IMMENSELY TRIED. “Walking in the midst of the fire.”
II. MORALLY UNCONQUERABLE. Not all the influence of the monarch and his ministers could break their purpose, or make them unfaithful to God. You can’t conquer a true soul.
III. ESSENTIALLY UNINJURABLE. “And they have no hurt.” “Who is that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good!” “Fear not him that can kill the body.”
IV. DIVINELY ACCOMPANIED. “The form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” What a sight for the monarch! Did it not rouse his conscience, think you? God always accompanies His people. “Lo, I am with you alway.” (Homilist.)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego
I. THEIR TEMPTATION.
II. THEIR FAITHFULNESS.
1. They stood alone (v. 7). Might they not fall in with the current and perform the outward act with inward reserve?
2. Then the terrible alternative: “Ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:15). Nothing more calculated to inspire terror. But, like St. Polycarp, they “preferred the fire which lasts an hour and then cools, to the perpetual torment of eternal fire.” In the same way, the Christian martyrs, St. Lawrence and others, were prepared to undergo terrible tortures of gridiron and flame rather than lose the favour of God by denying Christ. But these “three children” were faithful in the days of the old covenant, when God’s love to man had not been made known by Christ, nor did the Spirit of God as yet personally dwell among men; this accentuates their courage.
3. Then note their readiness to endure the torture.
III. THEIR RESCUE.
1. It was miraculous. An old writer enumerates eight miracles in this lesson; but, without going into minutiae, that they were not consumed by the flames could certainly only be owing to Divine intervention.
2. It was the fulfilment of prophecy, “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” Isaiah 43:2). “The flame,” says St. Chrysostom, “set free the captive, and itself was bound by the captive.” The reality of the fire was shown by the molten chains; and the deaths of those who cast the three children into the flames; but the Divine promise was evidenced by their preservation.
3. The mode of the rescue was through the instrumentality of an angel: “The form of the fourth is like the Son of God”; “a son of the gods” (R.V.), that is, an angel. Some ancient interpreters thought Christ Himself was here meant (Tertullian, St. Augustine), of whom Nebuchadnezzar had heard from Daniel, and thus it would be classed with the “theophanies”; but St. Jerome says, “It was in truth an angel.” The visible presence of the angel was proof to the king that the deliverance of the three youths was the result of God’s protection, and from no deception. Similarly, God
delivered Jerusalem from the power of the Assyrians by the ministry of an 2 Kings 19:35); the Apostles from prison (Acts 5:19; Acts 12:7); and St. John from the cauldron of flaming oil.
4. The deliverance was complete. Completeness marks all the works of God. There are no half-measures or imperfect contrivances--only the chains are destroyed, not their garments, nor their hair singed, nor the smell of fire had passed upon them (v. 27).
1. Temptation may be strong, but faithfulness to conscience should be stronger. Temptation, though strong, is never overwhelming or an excuse for sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). The three children were faithful unto death; they were, like St. John, martyrs in will (Revelation 2:10).
2. What Nebuchadnezzar designed is unconsciously carried out by multitudes amongst ourselves. They fall down before the golden image; they worship wealth, and make a god Of “the mammon of unrighteousness”; and this covetousness “is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5).
3. Let us admire and imitate the courage of the three children in disobeying the royal mandate, and take the side of Christ and His Church, if ever obedience to the powers of the world should involve a violation of the Laws of God.
4. Let us rejoice in the Divine deliverance. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them” Psalms 34:7). The furnace of Nebuchadnezzar is an image of the “fiery trial” of persecution, of sensual passion, and of affliction; but to those who are faithful, like the three children, temptation and tribulation are times of Divine manifestation, of refinement and election, and of more entire self-surrender. “Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10, R.V.). (The Thinker.)
The Three Children in the Furnace
This transaction is typical. It sets forth the security of God’s saints in the hour of their greatest peril--together with the reason of that security. Fire represents trial, persecution, for fire consumes, devours, destroys. A furnace is the very image of destruction in its wildest shape. To have fallen down bound into such a furnace, and straightway to be seen walking about there loose, is the liveliest picture possible of perfect security amid tremendous danger. The presence of a companion, and he the Son of God, explains the rest of the marvel, for it accounts for that safety which before was simply inexplicable.
1. In every trial the victory is promised to faith; the same faith which on the plain of Dura “quenched the violence of fire.”
2. The fire of temptation is illustrated by the security of the three children in the furnace. The man is safe, because the Lord is with him.
3. We are here taught to behold the safety of God’s elect children in that tremendous day when “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire.” God Almighty so preserve us in adversity; so be with us amid temptation; so absolve us in that tremendous day--even for His own mercy’s sake! (Anon.)
The Divine Presence in the Fire
This story has a far-reaching suggestiveness. It represents an oft-repeated conflict. It stands as the picture of man in the face of the fierce elements which oppose him--man in his agony, man in his heroism, man, also, in his consolation. It does not need much insight to perceive one aspect of the universality of the story. Man and the fire--that is life. All too soon we say, man is thrust into the fire of pain and suffering. It needs some insight, or some reflection, to perceive the other aspect of its universality. If man and the fire shall be described as life, man and the fire and the Divine presence walking with man in the fire--that is religion. It is something that we are given the power of perceiving a greater than man with man in the fire. Look again at man in the fire. I take man first as an intellectual being. It is by reason of the understanding which the beasts do not possess that there comes an added keenness to human suffering. We have memory, we have anticipation; and out of these come fierce fires to increase our agony. Pain, which comes to the sons of men, comes with an appeal to their consciousness. Man can anticipate, and he knows that the pain which enters into his life to-day is the indication of something which is working there, and he lives in constant dread of its recurrence. From memory and anticipation there comes the agony of retrospect and the agony of suspense. By the very law of our intellectual being we suffer more than the beasts. But would you part with it? Though you know that the capacities with which you are endowed make you capable of the greater suffering, you will not forego the painful gifts. It is precisely as we grow in the scale of being that our power of suffering grows with it. We are reasonable beings, and because we are so we suffer the more. Take man as a moral being. These Hebrews suffered because of their allegiance to a law higher than the law of self-preservation. Why is it that a man who is conscientious must suffer? It is just because he is conscientious. He cannot demoralize himself, and the law within asserts itself, and makes him face the greater pain. But this proclaims his greatness. He is the greater because he is the witness to a law which is larger, truer, deeper than any of the outside laws that touch the physical world. In another way his sense of right makes him suffer. He must do right, though the world frown, because the Divine law within him is asserting itself over the law outside. His suffering springs from this--his capacity to understand the allegiance which he owes to the higher law. Take man as a spiritual being. Men, in the history of religion, have exhibited a spiritual conscientiousness. There are things which, though not wrong, are wrong to them. The cause is within themselves. Others cannot understand. The man has recognised a law of his being, which is deeper than the law of the Decalogue. Whatever seems to him to drag him down is wrong for him, because hostile to his better life. He is grieved with anything which hinders the spiritual development of his being. In all this the Lord Jesus is our model. Mark Him in His temptation; see the moral standard. Suffering seems to me as Heaven’s subpoena, compelling men to bear witness to the Divine which is within, and underneath, to the eternal laws of right, and to the manifestation of a presence like unto the Son of God. What shall be the law by which a man shall pass through the fire, and the smell of fire shall not pass upon him? How few having gone into the fire of life come out unsinged, untouched, the smell of fire not passing on them! Are not men tainted so that you know that they have suffered? They have been singed in the fire. How noble and great seem the few souls that pass through the fire and come forth unharmed! They are the men who held their own in the battle! What is the law? In every universal thing there is some law. The men at whose side the Son of God walks, who are triumphant over the fierceness of the flame, are the men who have had a victory previous to that. Their victory over the fire was preceded by their victory over the multitude. They would not bow down. We must go back further. These men have first been victors over themselves. The man who is victorious over self is the man who is victorious over the world; and the man who is victorious over the world is victorious over the fire that is in the world. That is the law. But when you have discovered a law you are very far from having discovered all you need. Is is not always easy to put the law into operation. What force is at work behind law? In the midst of the fire there was revealed a fourth figure, and his form was like unto the Son of God. In the midst of the fire was the Divine presence. The motive force was the Divine energy, the Divine life, the Divine presence. The law of success is self-control, but the power to make the law effective is in the Divine presence. Life has little meaning unless I recognise that wherever the fire is kindled, there the Divine presence is also. To recognise that is the part of faith; to work and live by that is the power of faith. Another question this truth may answer. We are called upon to suffer, and who will unriddle its pain? The pain is given that the Divine may be made manifest. The cross was to be the symbol of the world’s agony, and of the Divine presence also . . . Then let us cultivate self-control as a protest against the frivolity of life which destroys the heart, against the sensuality of life that corrupts the conscience, against the intellectual dishonesty which disturbs the pure vision of what life ought to be. As we do this, we shall not be alone. He who wore our nature walked before us in the ways of suffering. When the flame shall kindle upon us He will be with us. (W. Boyd-Carpenter, D.D.)
I. THEIR PREPARATION FOR THE DAY OF TRIAL. It came not unawares. Duty is easy when no lion is in the way. In the narrative we only see the valiant three in the day of trial. Their heart was fixed before it came. With no wavering mind went they out to the plain of Dura. They stood in the evil day because they were well prepared, well-equipped for it. Great men are not known by the world till they are great. So trials are to come on us; sharp temptations. They will reveal our character, of what sort it is. Let us every day be pure, unselfish, Christ-trusting, Christ-copying men. Then every day will be a preparation for the terrible time when temptation will assail us like fire; and we shall stand in the evil day.
II. THE CONDUCT OF THE THREE IN THE DAY OF TRIAL. They stood in apparent isolation. To do good is easier when we go with the multitude. But when we stand alone, then is the agony. Alone, yet not alone. Christ is the maker of great men, great hearts. Many a young man He is making brave, daring to stand alone amid terrible temptations to impurity.
III. THEIR DELIVERANCE IN THE DAY OF TRIAL. The king’s eye is on the furnace, and he sees a fourth, one looking like a son of the gods. We identify with the angel Jehovah the messenger of the covenant. Christ’s presence can make even a furnace into paradise. Their deliverer was strong. He will be ours, and save us, if we seek it, from sin, all evil, all that will harm us. Then trust in Him. (G. T. Coster.)
A Sermon to Firemen
The events here recorded probably occurred in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. He had just returned from triumphant war, bringing with him the spoil of subjugated nations, and captives without number. At this juncture he was inclined to make a pause. He thought the time was come for the inauguration of a new era. First, however, he must be certain of the allegiance of these races. The foundation must be firmly laid before he proceeds to erect the superstructure on it. So he decided on the ceremonial which took place on the vast plain of Dura. He was known to be a devout man in his way; an enthusiastic worshipper of his god Merodach. The ceremony was no mere idle pageant; it was not only a matter of state policy, it was an act of gratitude, due to the deity to whom he believed himself to owe his victories and his throne. It is well to bear this in mind if we would enter into the real difficulties of both the monarch and his recalcitrant Jewish monarchs. The line of conduct to which the three Jews felt themselves compelled was looked on by Nebuchadnezzar as open rebellion, and an insult both to himself and his god. These Jews had a most painful and distressing alternative before them--either to act in opposition to their own deepest convictions by worshipping an idol, or else to submit to a horrible death. We can imagine their mutual anxiety, conference, and prayer. When the public refusal was made the monarch was infuriated. To be bearded by his own officials at such a moment, in presence of such a multitude, would have tried the patience of more patient men than he was. He had a passionate temper. The king felt that he was committed to a struggle with the God of the Hebrews.
1. We are inclined to praise the indomitable resolution of these young men; but we must go behind them, and realise their trust in the unseen Jehovah, and in the promises of His word. It was that made them manly. The three young men found their way into a spiritual position, which enabled them to endure the wrath of the king, because they could see a greater, although an invisible King behind him.
2. In this chapter we have a duel between the world-power and the Lord God himself. We have in it the Church of God almost at its lowest ebb. We have the world in all the plenitude of its power, and in all the insolence of its authority. Can we over-estimate the value of such a testimony as this to the faithfulness of God? Take away this story of the three children from the Bible, and how infinitely great would have been the church’s loss!
3. A thought for ourselves. In some shape we may all of us have to pass through the fire. Any one of us may be tried by the seductions of his senses; the snares of business life, bitter loss and dissappiontment, or the keen edge of long-protracted bodily agony. Let us see to it that we have with us, as we may have, the presence of the personal Christ, of Jesus the great High Priest, the Angel of the Covenant. Then we shall pass through the flame, and it will not gather upon nor burn us. So shall we, in our small way, bring glory to God and strength be ether people. (Gordon Calthrop, M.A.)
Safety with the Master of the Elements
The flame recogised the presence of Him that made it, and bowed reverently before the Son of God, just as on other occasions the waters of the sea owned Him, the winds heard Him, and all nature responded to Him, and obeyed Him. The flame lost its power to consume, because it was commanded not to do so by Him that kindled it at the first. Nature is all pliant in the hand of Jesus. He is the Lord of creation; He has but to speak, and all things will respond in ten thousand echoes, “Speak, Lord thy servants hear.” These Hebrew youths, we are told by the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, “quenched the violence of fire” by their faith. (J. Cumming.)
Jesus with us in the Hour of Trouble
Thou wilt not, Christian, have to pass through the river without thy Master. We remember an old tale of our boyhood, how poor Robinson Crusoe, wrecked on a foreign strand, rejoiced when he saw the print of a man’s foot. So it is with the Christian in his trouble; he shall not despair in a desolate land, because there is the foot-print of Christ Jesus on all our temptations, our troubles. Go on rejoicing, Christian; thou art in an inhabited country; thy Jesus is with thee in all thy afflictions, and in all thy woes. Thou shalt never have to tread the wine-press alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent His angel and delivered His servants.
The Persecuting Spirit
The occasion of these words must be too well known to be repeated in all its circumstances.
I. THE PARTICULAR CAUSE OF THE GREAT DANGER WHICH THESE MEN WERE BROUGHT INTO. They would not serve or worship any god except their own God. There is no one who has any conception of God but must allow Him to be infinite in all His attributes. But infinity implies unity; and if this being is One, Divine worship must be due to Him alone. This made God forbid the Jews the serving any of the gods of the neighbouring nations, under such severe penalties. As God showed his approbation of those Jews’ refusal to worship the image by the miracle He wrought in their deliverance, so, I doubt not, but He has showed so many wonders in delivering this nation so often for its constancy in the same refusal, though, in all other respects, most unworthy of the least of His mercies.
II. EXAMINE THE PRETENCES OF RELIGIOUS CRUELTY. They are, either to promote God’s glory or our neighbour’s good. Cruelty is not proper for either of these purposes. By God’s glory is probably meant the improving that notion of God which men have by the light of nature; or making His revealed will to be more readily embraced by them. With mankind in a state of nature, fear forced the acknowledgment of a superior being, so their worship was cruel and their manners were barbarous. When they began to settle into societies, and when they reflected upon the first cause of the benefits they enjoyed, and discovered the goodness of God, then love grew as the principle of their glad obedience, and their worship was bloodless and cheerful, and their manners innocent and endearing. The improvement of human nature consists in the notions of goodness in the Divine. But if, when men had got thus far by the light of nature, anyone should have started up and pretended to have offered violence to his neighbour, by a particular commission from God and for His glory, then love must at once have given place to fear, and human nature turned savage and wild again. Take the other pretence, that violence is intended to promote the Gospel. How contradictory and absurd is this! This is to recommend love by hatred, mercy by cruelty, and forgiveness by destruction. That which distinguishes the Gospel is its being so admirably disposed to beget love and peace, justice and charity, among all men. Here forgiveness is improved into beneficence, and humanity exalted into charity. Here injuries are returned with prayers, and curses with blessings. The Pharisees taught that it was lawful to hate enemies. The Cynics renounced all humanity. The Stoics reckoned compassion an infirmity. All other sects were deficient in this particular. But Christianity improved human nature into the likeness of the Divine. Our Lord’s disciples were to be distinguished from the whole world by their “loving one another.” And what examples did the great Master leave us? Shall men, then, dare to imprison, impoverish, and murder their brethren in the name of this Jesus? Another pretence of religious cruelty is that it may promote the good of our neighbour. This is generally disguised under the specious pretence of zeal. But true zeal ought first to be employed upon ourselves. Zeal is as necessary to the life of devotion as the natural heat is to that of the body. Religion must be a free consent of the soul; it can be acceptable to God only as it is voluntary. How can full conviction be wrought but by gentle usage, calm reasoning, and good example. The will can never be forced to give a sincere assent, after all the violence that can be offered. Beside, all error, considering the vanity of mankind, is of a nice and tender nature; it requires a great deal of management and address to make people own that they are in the wrong, especially in matters of religion. The utmost we can expect from force is an outward compliance. Violence may extort confession from the mouth, but will not hinder curses, at the same time, in the heart. It may fright people into counterfeiting, but not persuade them into believing. One particular reason against the rashness of zealous cruelty is because the good should not suffer with the evil. The true causes of religious cruelty are:
1. The pride and haughtiness of power.
2. The endeavouring to recommend ourselves to man rather than to God.
3. The opinion that such violence is meritorious for the expiation of former sins.
III. COMPARE THE DELIVERANCE MENTIONED IN THE TEXT WITH OUR OWN. These men trusted in God. (J. Adams.)
The Fiery Trial
First, the idolatry is costly. The chapter tells us of an high statue and idol of gold erected by the King of Babylon. Superstition and idolatry will be no niggard, it will spare no cost; but be expensive and sumptuous to maintain an invented and superstitious worship.
1. Nebuchadnezzar must have no petty diminutive god; six cubits in breadth, sixty cubits in height. What’s this to the infinite immensity of our God, that fills Heaven and earth?
2. It must be of metal, too, lasting and durable. A mock imitation of the true God’s eternity.
3. It must be rich and costly, all of beaten gold. “Their idols,” saith David, “are silver and gold.” It may shame us Christians, that are so basely penurious in maintaining and beautifying the worship of our God. Secondly, the erecting of this idol is done with the greatest authority. Thirdly, it is done with great pomp and solemnity. Fourthly, it is done with great content and universality. All the governors and princes of the provinces are gathered together, all engaged in this idolatrous worship. This sin of idolatry, it hath been an over-spreading evil. Fifthly, it is imposed with all strictness and severity; nay, it is pressed upon the people with cruelty and tyranny. Blood and fire and persecution, they are the great promoters of idolatry. Cruelty, ‘tis the brand of the malignant church. Such are the enforcements of idolatry; far from the temper of true Christianity. Sixthly, notwithstanding all this violence in pressing, and this great generality of submitting to this idolatrous injunction, yet, here a few, three men, that deny their conformity, and refuse to engage themselves in this public impiety. In the greatest universality and prevailing of impiety, yet God hath some that withstand superstition and give testimony to His truth. St. Paul speaks it to another purpose, but it is true in this case also, God leaves not Himself without witness. Seventhly, upon these the penalty of the law is inflicted in all extremity.
1. Though but three.
2. They, men of great place and employment, set by the king over the affairs of the province of Babylon, useful to the State.
3. Peaceable, no raisers of sedition and tumult.
4. No blasphemers of this new-made god, but only bare refusers, and that for conscience sake.
Here is the rage of idolatry. Well, what is the success? that is extraordinary and miraculous. God gives way to these men of blood, lets them do their utmost; He saves not these three holy men by rescue, or prevention; He keeps them not from the fire, but preserves them in it. They are, like Moses his bush, burning, but not consumed, The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire. And this deliverance, it is not secret, but conspicuous in the eye and observation of Nebuchadnezzar. So, then, this passage of Scripture reports to us a solemn testimony given by Nebuchadnezzar to this miraculous deliverance of these three holy men. And this, his testimony, will appear in three evidences and manifestations of it. First, it appears in a thankful benediction of Almighty God for this gracious deliverance (v. 28), “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” Secondly, it appears in a strict injunction and provision for His glory, prohibiting all men, upon severe penalty, to blaspheme or say anything amiss against the God of these holy men (v. 29). Thirdly, it appears in an honourable promotion and advancement of these three worthies to places of dignity and authority in the province of Babylon (v. 30). And here we have: First, The action of blessing,. together with the agent, Nebuchadnezzar. Secondly, the Object or Person to whom he ascribes this blessedness, that is, the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, Thirdly, the benefit for which he blesses Him, that is, the sending of His angel to work this deliverance. And, fourthly, The motives acknowledged for which God delivered them, They are four:
I. Quia servi. They were His servants.
II. Quia confidentes. Because they trusted in Him.
III. Quia constantes. They were resolute and constant in holy profession. They changed the king’s word.
IV. Quia martyres. They chose to suffer death for their God and their religion; they would rather die than dishonour Him. They yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god except their own God. They loved not their lives to death that they might be true to Him. Come we to the First, Nebuchadnezzar’s act of benediction and blessing, the thankful acknowledgment he makes of this great deliverance. It is much to hear praises and benedictions of God out of such a man’s mouth. Well, this blessing of Nebuchadnezzar hath some sparks of humanity in it. To be glad and well pleased for the saving of men’s lives, for the sparing of bloodshed, such thanksgivings are comely. To take a more particular notice of this benediction and blessing of Nebuchadnezzar’s, let us consider it in a double notion.
I. Let us see what was good and commendable in it.
We have seen what is commendable in this benediction; but yet it hath its defects; something is wanting here in Nebuchadnezzar, more would have been expected from him.
I. Implies three errors in him.
II. Implies three truths in itself.
But look upon this speech in itself, and so it carries with it an intimation of three truths.
I. What is the mercy?--deliverance.
II. What is the minister and instrument? how is it wrought 7--by the dispatch of an angel.
I. The great work here is deliverance, and riddance of these men from a mischief and destruction. Indeed, deliverance is the work that God delights in, by which He will make Himself known to be the true God. Samuel makes it the proof of a false god, “That they cannot profit or deliver” 1 Samuel 12:21). And the prophet upbraids Amaziah for choosing those gods that could not deliver their own people out of his hands (2 Chronicles 25:15). And this deliverance, it is the more admirable
II. For the instrument, it was the sending and dispatch of an angel.
I. See now he speaks honourably of these men, accounts them the servants of the Most High God. Before, he esteemed them factious, refractory, turbulent men, such as will be wiser, forsooth! And this consideration, that they are His servants; it is a well-alleged motive why they are delivered, His faithful service; it is a safe protection.
1. To His servants God promises protection.
2. His servants, upon this title, they plead for protection.
II. Because they trusted in Him, therefore He delivered them. And faith hath this prevailing power with God:
III. Because they were constant in their religion. That is expressed in these words, “They have changed the king’s word.” They would not be overborne by the king’s command and so sin against God. There is greater duty and greater safety to obey God rather than man. We come to the last motive that graciously inclined God to work this deliverance; that is:
IV. They yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any other god but only their own God. And the goodness of this, their pious adhering to God, will appear in two things: First, in their absolute refusal of this idolatrous command. Secondly, in their ready yielding to the penalty of it upon their refusal. First, see the fulness of their refusal.
Thirdly, this mixture in religion, to serve the Lord, and yet, withal, to conform to the worship of any other god; it is contrary
Hence it is that
And this, their yielding, hath four things observable in it:
There is no other God that can deliver after this sort.
The Great Deliverer
These are the words of a heathen king. They are not the less welcome to us on that account, but perhaps the more so. The testimony of a saint has, of course, its special value, but the witness of a sinner has a worth all its own, especially when it has been compelled from him by the power of God Himself. This unwilling testimony seems to me to exceed in worth the testimony of those from whom we should expect such witness. You may be sure that Nebuchadnezzar was not prejudiced in favour of Jehovah. This he said only through compulsion, yet he spake it with the accent of conviction. It was a matter not of theory but of experience with him. It is true also that this testimony is very far from satisfactory. We find ourselves wishing that Nebuchadnezzar had gone much further. I wish he had left out those last three words: That would have beans grand utterance, “There is no other God that can deliver.” But suppose he had left out three other words, and simply said, “There is no other God,” what an improvement that would have been. Oh, but he was a young beginner, you must remember; he was only just commencing to come under Divine influences. This is a repeating of the alphabet, and he gets through it wonderfully well considering. Wait till God has done with him, and you will find he has made wonderful progress. Read his testimony after he has been humbled by being driven into the fields to eat grass like the ox. Before God and you have done with him he may have given such a record as Nebuchadnezzar did towards the close of his career--“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, and extol, and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment; and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.”
I. THERE IS NO OTHER GOD THAT CAN DELIVER FROM SUCH OVERWHELMING PERIL. There are many features connected with this case that make it special. We may extend the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s phrase.
1. There is no other God that can deliver from such strong temptations. Try to put yourselves in the position of these three young men.
2. Moreover, these men were delivered from their accusers, for you will remember that “certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews.” I expect they had been on the look-out for this opportunity. Now see--for you know the end of the story--how wonderfully the Jews were delivered from the hands of those who were trying to trip and destroy them. Hear me, if you are here who, if you told your story, would have to say, “One of my greatest troubles is that I am so watched; they compass me about like bees; I get no rest or peace! they want to trip me up, to catch me in my words, to entangle me in my talk, if they could only find an occasion against me--and I am half afraid they will.” I charge you, do not be afraid that they will succeed. If you are afraid, they will; but if you simply trust in God and do the right He will deliver you from the hands of your accusers. You need not fear what man can do unto you. “If God be for you, who can be against you?”
3. Again, the holy children were delivered from the wrath of the king, and I warrant you it was wrath of no ordinary nature. There are indications that Nebuchadnezzar was a fair-minded man, at least to some degree. He gave these offenders an opportunity to recant, and up to a certain point seems to have treated them with a commendable humanity. But when he did get angry, there was no mistaking it. Now read the sequel of the story. The lion has become a lamb; he who was like to leap upon them from the thicket now cringes before them, cowed and cowardly. He who had blasphemed their God now praises Him; He who had threatened to destroy them now sets them on high in the province of Babylon. I wonder if there is anybody present who has to deal with those who give way to evil temper. Well, I am not very much surprised that you are a little fearful of it, but oh, if God is with you and you with Him, He can make the wrath of His enemies praise Him.
4. From the fierceness of the fire also these young men were saved. Oh, how gloriously God delivers! They may do their worst--it only gives God an opportunity to do His best. Let them heap on the fuel, let them say all manner of evil against you falsely for His sake. God is a match for them, and more than equal to the emergency. I wonder what the difficulty is under which you labour just now. Is it the power of inbred sin? “There is no other God that can deliver after this sort.” You may see on every hand men and women who have been delivered from the power of sin. Do not suppose that the seas of sorrow must overwhelm you. God can turn your sighing into singing.
II. THERE IS NO OTHER GOD THAT DELIVERS BY SUCH MARVELLOUS MEANS. Think of the methods God employed in this case to set His servants free from their extremity.
1. He first of all inspired their confidence. Did you not admire them and rejoice in them as we read the story of their behaviour before the king? They were not in the least cowed by his august presence, nor frightened by his fearful threat. Well, that is God’s way of working with the hearts of men. He is fitting them for the ordeal through which they are going to pass. God never sends us through any ordeal without first preparing us.
2. Was it not God also who prompted them to a heroic confession of their faith? I can imagine a man full in his heart with holy boldness, and yet failing to speak it forth. They were altogether regardless of consequences. Yet they were not alone, for God was with them.
3. Then God helped them to marvellous patience. It was the spirit of peace and patience that kept them gentle as well as brave. “There is no other God that can deliver after this sort.” Some men can fight their way through difficulties, but the men whom God helps can stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
4. Let it be noted, too, that God allowed these young men to be put into the furnace. God has permitted it, but only with the purpose that His strength may be made perfect in your weakness, and that he may eventually bring you out into a wealthy place.
5. Remember, too, that Nebuchadnezzar, to his great surprise, saw the form of a fourth walking amidst the flames. He did not know who it was. He used an expression which has, I think, been somewhat misunderstood. He had no idea that it could be God’s dear Son, our blessed Saviour. It is not likely that he had even heard of such an One. He really said, “The form of the fourth is like a Son of God,” and later he said that God had sent His angel to save His servants. Oh, if he could have known what I believe is the actual fact, that Jesus Himself, the second Person in the Trinity, put Himself side by side with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, he would have wondered infinitely more. Oh, this is the wonder of wonders, that in the hour of our extremity, Christ comes right down to us, walks by us, holds us by the hand and does, by His presence, cheer and save us. Oh, what a gracious God is ours!
III. THERE IS NO OTHER GOD THAT CAN DELIVER IN SUCH A REMARKABLE MANNER. His methods are remarkable and strange, but the nature of the delivery still more surprises us.
1. No other God saves so readily. There is no sign in all this story of any particular stretching forth of the Divine arm. There is no visible and ostensible exhibition of Divine might. There is, for instance, no sudden burst of a waterspout to quench these flames; no mighty rushing wind to blow the fire away. God wrought a miracle, I gladly own, but the forces He employed were silent and secret. God often works that way. You hope He will deliver you. Yes! but do not dictate to Him the manner of deliverance. He knows in every detail what is best, and we are wise to leave them all to Him.
2. You may be sure He work effectually. There is no other god that does his work so thoroughly as the Hebrews’ God. So complete was the delivery that the king was astonished at it. I expect that the fetters were forged to the strongest point of resistance, but the fire seems to have centred all its force upon the fetters which the king had put upon his prisoners. Oh, welcome fires of persecution, and of temptation too, if the ultimate end is to set me freer than I was before, to burn the bonds that bound me. But upon themselves the fire had no power. And not so much as the smell of fire passed on them. There is an old legend to tee effect that they sang in the midst of the flames. I do not know whether that was really so, but I know that they did not singe in the flames, for God took the power out of the fire, so that they walked unharmed. All things are possible with Heaven.(Thomas Spurgeon.)
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the province of Babylon.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego
Whenever we hear of anyone’s appointment to a Government place, the first question we ask is, How did he get it? generally, in order to ascertain whether or not we have at command any interest like that which has proved successful. And so it is interesting to enquire how these men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, came to be promoted in the province of that Babylon which, after all, is not so unlike this Babylon. Of course, we know how it came to pass, as we have read it in the lesson over and over again. But let us try to place ourselves in the position of persons who did not know any more than the fact that they had been promoted. What would be your conjecture as to the way in which they obtained royal favour? I venture to say that you would at once make up your mind that the promotion had been the result of “trimming” of some kind, or of what is pleasantly called sensible and wise “compromise.” I see the spirit everywhere. The genius and the man of principle in politics is nowhere, except he be wanting to do work in a crisis. And, in the most worldly-wise church on earth, the asserting diplomatist is everything and the argumentative genius is nothing. The one is laden with honours; the other is reserved for use, to be turned on and turned off according to circumstances. If you say, “The miracle made all the difference; let there be as much time-serving and compromise as you please in the present day; still, if anything like what we read in the chapter before us actually took place even now, no Government--Liberal or Conservative--could resist the claims of such men as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” Even admitting that, which I do not for a moment, I ask what caused the startling occurrence which you say would have established their claims and ensured their promotion? It did not come down from Heaven as something to mark its favourites, and to terrify the heathen monarch, and cause him to act in a conciliatory spirit towards the subjects of a superior power. No; what did it effect? This only as far as the king was concerned. It impressed upon him the character of the men with whom he bad to deal. The deliverance called attention to and attested the character of these men; but it was the character thus attested which secured their promotion. To understand their characters we must, I think, do two things:
1. We must get rid of the very prevalent idea that those who are spoken of with approval in the Bible were good as a matter of course, and breathed in and exhaled piety, virtue, and self-denial, in the ordinary course of things; while, on the other hand, those who are condemned, being, by supposition, in the same atmosphere, are much more inexcusable than we should be for not being good! I cannot attempt to prove the absurdity of this notion; I can only remind you that it is absurd. But besides getting rid of the idea that it was easy for these men to do as they did, I think that, in order to appreciate their character, we must try to ascertain how they could have done otherwise--with a view to “promotion”--if they bad lived in our own “enlightened” days. How could they have proceeded to reason with their consciences if they had had the advantage of our superior knowledge? They had many ways of escape. As loyal subjects, it was their duty to do what the king commanded; and, of course, this strong loyal feeling would be somewhat strengthened by the consideration of the alternative of the fire in the event of its repression! These men might, then, have reasoned themselves into compliance on the grounds that they ought to obey the powers that be; and their loyalty might have been stimulated and confirmed by the contemplation of the alternative furnace. When I hear or read the case of these men quoted as instances in which “the Church” opposed “the State,” and received Divine sanction, and am asked to regard Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as prototypes of modern violators of the law as declared by the courts to which they voluntarily submitted themselves when they entered the ministry of the English Church, by virtue of which they hold their position and emoluments, and from which they can withdraw when they please--I feel myself unable to argue with those who can be deluded by that fallacy. The parallel to Shadrach, Meshach, and Aben-nego is not the man who receives position or emolument, or both, from State and from Establishment, and then disobeys the law as declared constitutionally by the State; but the dissenter who refuses to worship what he considers the golden image set up by the State, and who refuses position and emolument rather than be under the control of the State, or, in other words, of the House of Commons. Whether he be right or wrong is another question. But he is intelligible; he may quote Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, because he gets nothing from Nebuchadnezzar the king; but if I disobey the law, I cannot claim martyrdom on such Scriptural authority. I am the recognised officer of Nebuchadnezzar, and my duty is to obey his law, which I accepted with my eyes open, or to cease to be under that law, which I can do when I please. You must bear with me here when I say that my argument will not be touched by saying that these were men serving the true God, and that they were asked to worship an idol. They were asked under pressure to do what they thought to be wrong. Whether or not they judged rightly is not the question. They were men who had no contract with the State. But setting aside the “loyalty” plea altogether, if they had consulted me as to how they had best manage their conscience in view of the objectionable furnace; I mean if they had consulted me as one whose sole business it was to get them out of the difficulty and keep them out of the fire, I should have said, “Look at it in this way; the whole thing is a ‘matter of form.’ Why should you be burnt for a form? Bow down with your body; that is nothing; you are not bowing down with your heart; that is everything.” What would be the answer to this plea about mere form? Simply this: Form is nothing and heart is everything; but the association of ideas is such, with such beings as we are, that when a form becomes associated width an idea, it will be a matter of much time and much labour to sever them. The British flag is so much woollen material, but if you insult it, you insult the great nation which is in idea associated with it. And so, if these men had there and then bowed down--no matter what was in their heart--they would simply have created a wrong impression, sacrificed principle, or, to put it in plainer words, acted a lie. Again, they could have said that they might “cause a disturbance by disobeying the royal command,” and that as Jehovah’s servants they ought to “promote peace.” What is the answer? Certainly peace, but not at the price of principle. Again, they might have said that “everyone was going,” and that they had better not be singular. I say they might have said this, for it would be no argument. And looking for a practical answer in this eminently practical age, I should like to know how many of the reforms of various kinds of which we are all proud were brought about and worked by men who were not singular for many a long day. But they might have had a still more subtle and refined reason for obedience. By this single compliance, they might have said in their hearts and said to one another, they should “conciliate” the king, and so be able to do him spiritual good afterwards! But, after all, the very best of their conceivable arguments would come to this. They must sum it up into this simple question, “Shall I do evil that good may come?” They said “No.” What was right they knew; what might be the result of doing it they did not know, and it was no concern of theirs. Obedience is our business. Its result, with all reverence I say it, is God’s business. Our next step He generally makes plain enough. This was their practical faith, and this must be ours, if we would have the form who walks with us in the midst of our fiery trials--whether seen or hidden--to be “the form of the Son of God.” Thesemen were promoted to place; why? Because they had shown themselves to be “a power.” And “a power” they would have been--in spite of Nebuchadnezzar and every other king who ever lived before or since, whether they got the places or not. Why? Because against royalty, against public opinion, and in the face of death, they acted according to their conscience, and trusted to that God whose candle within them they knew that conscience to be. The alternative presented to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego is essentially the same as that which presents itself often to everyone, high and low, young and old. We all have to face it, not once, but ten thousand times in life. And we do know that when that Book is opened, the dead--amongst whom you and I must one day be numbered--shall be judged, as we now judge Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, “according to the things that are written in that Book.” (J. C. Coghlan,
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Daniel 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany