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Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people.
The Proclamation of Peace to all Nations
How changed the spirit and deportment of Nebuchadnezzar from what they were on the plains of Dura. Then, we saw him exulting in the pride of power, and girt with the terrors of tyranny. Then, we saw him in a passion, hot as the furnace he had kindled. Now, nothing but thoughts of peace are in his heart, and the law of kindness is on his tongue. Then, we saw him erecting an image to his idol. Now, we are called upon to listen while he extols and praises the God of Heaven. In early life, when the habits are young, the spirits buoyant, the mind elastic and versatile, a change of character is comparatively easy, and of frequent occurrence. But after a man has passed the middle stage of life, as Nebuchadnezzar had now done, changes are so difficult, and so rare, that we are accustomed to consider his character as fixed. Changes effected upon it, afterwards, even when produced by Divine grace, are very marvellous. To change the character in youth is like altering the channel of a river. To change it in old age is like turning the waters of a river backwards, and making them run upwards, to their source, when they were about to be emptied into the sea. Whether Nebuchadnezzar was truly converted unto God is a question that may afterwards come in our way. Without making any assertion on that head, for the present, it is quite apparent that his character is not only greatly altered, but much improved. The occasion of this change in the character of Nebuchadnezzar was a very remarkable dispensation of the Almighty. He was degraded from his throne, and deprived of his reason, and driven from the dwellings of men, and dwelt amid the cattle in the field. This discipline was severe, but it was salutary. He learned more among the beasts than ever he had learned among men. Is it not a wonderful instance of Divine grace to see the man who had spent so much of his time in war become the advocate, the apostle, the dispenser of peace! The design of this proclamation was to make publicly known the wonderful dealings of God towards himself. Many persons have recorded the more remarkable passages of their history, from a love of fame, from a desire to be spoken of while they are living, and to be remembered after they are dead. No such motive could possibly actuate Nebuchadnezzar. The occurrence, which he was about to relate, was one of the most humbling nature. That which incited Nebuchadnezzar to make his proclamation was a hope that it might be productive of good. “I thought it good to show the signs and the wonders which the high God hath wrought toward me.” It was good for the Divine glory. It showed the greatness of Jehovah, that there was none like him among the sons of the mighty, when he could thus abase the greatest and the haughtiest man upon the earth. It was good for the warning and instruction of mankind. It cried aloud to all transgressors, “Fear and sin not; for if such things be done in the green tree, what will be done in the day.” When this haughty spirit, this son of pride, was thus brought down, it cried aloud to all, “Be clothed with humility.” Thin proclamation is addressed “to all people, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth.” We are not to suppose, from this, that Nebuchadnezzar still aspired to universal dominion over his fellow-creatures. There is reason to think that such ambitious thoughts were now dead within him. The proclamation is addressed to all nations, because he considered that a knowledge of the remarkable dispensations of the Most High towards himself might be of universal benefit. To publish this showed an excellent spirit in Nebuchadnezzar--a spirit more concerned for God’s glory than his own--more anxious about the welfare of his subjects than about his ownreputation. It is easy to proclaim our own excellencies, but, surely, God must touch the heart before we are willing to promote His glory at the expense of our own. When his reason was restored, and he considered the whole way in which God had dealt with him, Nebuchadnezzar is filled with astonishment. “How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders!” Nebuchadnezzar had now reigned about forty years. During that period he had journeyed far, and seen much of the Divine doings. On the plains of Dora he had seen a noble testimony lifted up for God. He then, also, saw a visible manifestation of God, and witnessed a very wonderful miracle performed in behalf of the faithful witnesses for His glory. We might have supposed that the evidence afforded by such a manifestation, and such a miracle, was sufficient to have carried conviction to every rational mind. It must, however, be remarked that it is not from want of evidence in support of religion that any continue in unbelief; and it is not by evidence alone that any man can be truly converted unto God. The evidence in behalf of religion is of a moral nature, for the practical reception of which there is requisite a certain moral condition of mind, and where this is awanting, evidence, however powerful, will have no more effect in softening the heart than sunshine has upon a rock. Accordingly, Nebuchadnezzar saw all these miracles of Divine power and wisdom, and received from them only slight and transient impressions. But now, like one who had been all his days blind, and got his eyes opened behold the glory of the Lord, he cries out in astonishment, “How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders!” Jehovah is not only glorious in holiness, and fearful in praises, He is a God “ever doing wonders.” To a finite mind His works as Creator must, of necessity, appear marvellous, because of the incomprehensible power and wisdom with which they are all stamped. Every man who is truly converted will be filled with wonder at the doings of the Lord. He will see His loving kindness to be a “wonderful loving kindness,” and His condescension to be infinite. And it is one sign of being benefited by the dispensations of Providence when we are led to wonder, and admire, and adore the hand of God. There may be nothing in our history so extraordinary as there was in that of Nebuchadnezzar. But in the life of the humblest individual, in his life who has fewest vicissitudes, there will appear, when it is seriously considered, evidences of Divine care, wisdom, power, long-suffering, sufficient to constrain him to cry out, “O how great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders!” How often has He disappointed our fears! How often has He exceeded our hopes! If Nebuchadnezzar, on discovering the meaning of one small act of Providence, was filled with such astonishment, how high will their admiration rise, how rich will be their satisfaction, how profound their reverence, who shall have the whole plan of the universe unfolded to their consideration! If he on earth, will not they much more in Heaven sing, “O how great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders!” God had done much for Nebuchadnezzar. He had raised him to the highest place on earth--He had made him a king of kings--had given success to his counsels,victory to his arms, and bestowed on him every temporal blessing which a mortal could possess. In the day of prosperity God is too generally overlooked. Such was the effect of prosperity on Nebuchadnezzar. He felt and spake as if he were omnipotent, as if there was no power in the universe above his own, as if he were a god of gods, as well as a king of kings. But behold and adore the power of Jehovah! In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, He makes this proud and presumptuous creature, who feels himself more than a god, less than the meanest of his subjects, less than a man--He makes him a companion of the beasts of the field, and continues him in that situation for seven years. Behold and adore the sovereignty of Divine grace, in sanctifying this affliction! Many who never praised God for their prosperity have praised Him for their adversity, have thanked and adored Him that ever they were afflicted. This was the case with Nebuchadnezzar. He who never praised God for raising him to the throne, adores and magnifies His name for driving him from the dwellings of men. Joyous chastisement! Blessed degradation! Blessed the eclipse of reason to him! By being deprived of his reason, he was taught the right use of his reason. The minions that dwelt in Nebuchadnezzar’s court had never approached him without saying, “O king, live for ever.” Accustomed to the perpetual incense of their flattery, it is probable that he forgot his mortality, he forgot that changes might come--that changes would come. Now, however, he sees that God is the only monarch who shall live for ever, and His kingdom the only one that shall never be subverted by the storms of time. “His kingdom,” says he, “is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion from generation to generation.” Change and vicissitude reach not the throne of the Creator. “His kingdom shall for ever stand, His throne through all ages.” The life of Nebuchadnezzar had been prosperous from its commencement, but his prosperity never appeared to be so complete as it was immediately before the terrible calamity of which we have an account in this chapter. His wealth is immense--his power is unbounded--all his enemies are conquered, all his provinces are submissive. Crownedwith victory, the veteran warrior was at rest in his house, and flourished in his palace. But a more than ordinary share of prosperity is often followed by some great disaster. The time of their greatest prosperity is often the period which God selects for punishing the proud and lofty ones of the earth. (William White.)
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
The Kingdom of God
I. A FEW WORDS ABOUT THIS KINGDOM--the antecedent is in the verse immediately preceding our text, in which the monarch talks of “showing the signs and wonders that the high God had wrought towards him.” He had not yet got quite into our school, and into the use of the phraseology of the servants of the living God, who call Him the “Most High God.” But by-and-bye you will find this same man learning that phrase also, and putting it forth. However, he calls Him here “the High God,” higher than his own god, higher than all the idols and gods of the heathen, higher even than himself, and he would fain have been a god. Glory to our covenant God, that this is a suitable and proper appellation, for the kingdom is His. The point I wish to establish is, that Jehovah’s kingdom of grace is perfectly distinct from all the kingdoms of the world. We might say much concerning the kingdom of nature, and show how He rules that, as He did in the instance of those three persons, so that even fire should lose its power, and they walk about in it unhurt. And if He were not the God of the kingdom of nature, He could not control and govern it. And, first of all, my Lord says, His kingdom is “not of this world”; it is not carnal, it is not in the might and power of human potentates, it is not submitted to the authority” of carnal minds, it is not that which the enemies of Jesus Christ are to lay their hands upon as if they had authority and offices appointed unto them in it. And this will in which the kingdom is founded is of ancient date. Look back to the earliest history we possess, and the account given of what real godliness was in Adam’s days, in Abel’s days, and in Abraham’s days, and we shall find that the kingdom then, and for ages before, was founded in the settled purpose of eternity., in the council of peace, between the persons of Deity. Moreover, it is absolute in the Divine mind--“With whom took He counsel?” or whom did He consult on the matter? Where is the being that gave advice, or communicated understanding to Him? No, His will is absolute law. Probably it would be found a rather dangerous experiment to make the will of a created being absolute law; but there is no such danger with God. We are nowhere so safe, so happy and secure, as under the guidance, control, and management of Jehovah’s absolute will. Moreover, it is a kingdom that has always been advancing, according to the absolute sovereignty of His own will. I know that the powers of darkness have done, and are now doing, all in their power to stop its progress. The more His people were afflicted the more they multiplied and grew. This kingdom, founded in the Divine will, is organised with infinite wisdom. There are privileges, advantages, comforts, pleasures, and usefulness pertaining to the organisation of a Christian church. Believers should not be like a scattered flock of sheep, not knowing one another; but should be knit together as one in heart, in love, and in bearing one another’s burdens. The organisation I mean is that which consists of the people, the principles, and the privileges, all of which are in accordance with, nay, organised by, infinite wisdom. Upon what principles has Jehovah organised His Church, His kingdom upon earth? One word would serve as a title page, a running title, to the whole statute book of the kingdom; and that word is “grace.” It is a grace kingdom. All its principles, doctrines, laws, and statutes emanate from the fulness of grace in the Father’s heart, in the Person of the Son, according to the register of the Holy Ghost, Grace makes the characteristics. Moreover, as regards privileges. Here a vast amount of illustration opens to my view; but I must limit myself to only one or two remarks. This blessed kingdom of our God has privileges for all its subjects, who are declared to be made “kings and priests unto God.” Moreover, if we speak of the privileges under which the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is organised, we find a vast revenue of promises, all of which are “yea and amen” in Jesus Christ, and are to the glory of God in the experience of every subject of His grace. Let us pass on to mark one thing more respecting this kingdom; I mean its unchangeable character; for my text says expressly that “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.” It shall know no variation.
II. THE INTERESTS OF THIS KINGDOM, which are great and rare, and concern the monarch and the subject both. I shall only mention two or three of those interests; and if one of them fall, the monarch is injured as well as the subject. The interests, then, are mutual, But whilst we speak of the interests of the kingdom, we must not lose sight of its dignity. All its subjects are dignified characters; and yet all their dignity is concentrated in their glorious sovereign. All His subjects are brought out from the world, washed and made clean, forgiven freely, justified perfectly, accepted cordially, “received graciously, and loved freely.”
III. DESCRIBE THE NATIVES OF THIS KINGDOM. There is a peculiar description of them given by Haman, when he sought the destruction of God’s Church in the time of king Ahasuerus, and the subtle Jesuit cried, “O king, live for ever,. there is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws, therefore it is not for the king’s profit to, suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed.” And what was the reason? Why, that “their laws were diverse from all people.” Now this I think a fine testimony to come from the mouth of so inveterate a foe of God’s people, with regard to their peculiar character as natives of His kingdom. “Their laws are diverse from all other peoples’.” Now, if grace has not made you to differ from the world, if it has not distinguished you as a new creature in another character I fear it has done very little for you. But, though our laws are diverse from all others, we mean to abide by them, God helping us, and to rejoice in them. When the Jews were apprised of this wicked conspiracy, what course did they take? Did they attempt to alter, modify, or change their laws? Did they attempt to amalgamate their laws with those of the people around them? Did they say, “Well, instead of having a sacrifice once a-morning, let us have one once a-week.” No, they would not think of the least alteration. And there stood the people of God adhering constantly to the laws of God.
IV. THE GENERATION SPECIFIED IN SUCCESSION--“His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion from generation to generation.” Here, be it observed, that we are very fond of a line of succession; but it must not be carnal and fleshly; it must not be secular; it is a spiritual line of succession. This one line of succession has been specified in the Scripture in a text which I have already cited--“instead of the fathers shall come up the children.” Whether they were born in antediluvian times, or in the Mosaic times, or under the prophets’ ministry, or under the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, or during the apostles’ days, or down to the present hour, their family likeness has always exhibited, and always will exhibit, spirituality, separation, and subordination. But they are not only spiritual and separate, but subordinate to the monarch. They have touched His sceptre; they have obtained life Divine from Him. Now mark the subordination--“and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” “Thy will be done” is the favourite motto inscribed upon their banners; “not as I will, but as thou wilt,” shouted their glorious Captain, and they reiterate the cry. The will of Jehovah is the law of their life. (Joseph Irons.)
I saw and behold a tree in the midst of the earth.
The Fall of the Great Tree
I. UNDUE EXALTATION OF SPIRIT MAY BRING DEGRADATION OF THE FLESH. Rich men often look over a vast domain which they call their own, and the sight of their outward and visible possessions may inflate their spirit with pride, as air forced: into a bladder will expand it to its utmost extent Yet much that they look upon may have been bought for them by the blood and brain and sweat of others, the thought of whose labour ought to prevent the vain-glory of the possessor. This was the case with this giant king of the olden times (v.30.) And he bestowed no thought on the outstanding debt due to the human beings who had really build the city. If he had looked beyond that which was immediately before him, he would have seen the captives whom he had taken in war toiling to raise for him the stately buildings, those who had wrought for him, and had been repaid with scanty food and an iron rule. “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built:” But he “feared not God, neither regarded man.”
II. THE DEGRADATION OF THE FLESH MAY LEAD TO A RIGHT EXALTATION OF SPIRIT (V. 34). There are many people whom prosperity fails to bring to a right state of heart before God, and then chastisement becomes a necessity. God is willing to try the rod when nothing but the rod will bring the desired end. There are many men in the world who are much less overbearing towards the weak after they have been knocked down by a stronger arm than their own.
III. A DOXOLOGY WILL SPRING FROM A RIGHT EXALTATION OF SPIRIT (V. 37). Praise from a soul that has been humiliated in body and smitten in circumstance is the best sign that it has come into a condition of sound humility, and that the affliction has not been in vain. But praise is the outcome of pain when the pain has been followed by healing. So with Nebuchadnezzar. He passed through a painful experience, but it issued in bringing him to the feet of the Eternal God. Lessons:
1. Divine punish merit may become Divine healing. Diseases require treatment in proportion to their severity, and of all soul-disease there is none more difficult to cure than pride, “which is an abomination to the Proverbs 16:5). But in the case before us, as in many others, the chastisement of the sin became the instrument of its cure.
2. Those who have most sympathy with God are the most bold in declaring the conditions of His mercy. Daniel feared not to tell his king of his sins, and to warn him that repentance was the only way to escape judgment. (A. London Minister.)
The Tree of Pride
There is no narrative in the Scriptures which we may not apply to ourselves.
1. Is there not some portion of that old Babylonish pride in your hearts? You have never committed the same sins as the insane king, it is true. But have you, ever been tried as he was--brought up in the midst of royal luxury, taught to regard all men as beneath him and subject to his will, and made absolute from childhood, so that his slightest wish was law? If not you have nothing to boast of, and yet those sins you count so little may be as great as his were to him. That love of dress, that greed of moneymaking, the forgetfulness of common mercies, the neglect of religious duty, are but developments of the same disease which afflicted him. “Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches?”
2. How often have we seen this literally fulfilled--the edifice of pride, which had been erected by the toilsome labour of one man, dashed to the ground in ruin, while the possessor sees his children, bankrupt of youth and innocence, ignorant and regardless of the only treasure they can carry with them into a better world?
3. Can there be a more useful antidote than this chapter for the materialism which prevails, for fraud in high places, for public dishonesty, the mixture of luxury and bankruptcy and business immorality which threaten to sweep away the barriers of right and truth? What can we apprehend from such scenes but the stern and solemn voice of the watcher, “Hew down the tree?” Surely, then, this record speaks to us to aim at greater purity and simplicity of manner, at greater economy--for a reckless spendthrift must be dishonest, as he spends what he does not earn. We should deny ourselves in the way of vain show, and not be guilty of the folly of endeavouring to outdo each other in finery, in great parties, in luxurious living and magnificent extravagance. The spending of a half-year’s earnings in a single day is nothing but insanity. (J. Medley, D.D.)
This matter is by the decree of the watchers--the word of the holy ones.
A Watcher and a Holy One
The word for watcher became an ordinary term in the Syrian church for angel; and Ephrem Syrus classes the watchers with the Seraphim and Cherubim as a special order of Heavenly beings. The use, however, of the word in the Syrian church was probably borrowed from this passage, and it is interesting to find in the Babylonian mythology a complete explanation of its use. For as there are “watchers” mentioned also in the literature of the Parsees, or Persian fire worshippers, it has been argued that the Book of Daniel was a late book, which had borrowed its doctrines of angels from Zoroaster. Our enlarged knowledge of Babylonian literature has revealed to us the fact that they believed in a vast hierarchy of spiritual beings of every rank, some belonging to the earth and some to Heaven; and among these the seven spirits, to whom the seven planets were entrusted, held an important place as the guardians of the universe and of the house. There were also seven warder spirits who kept watch at the gates of Hades. Each dwelling also had special watchers, whose office it was to drive away the wicked and all enemies, and who could oven inflict upon them the penalty of death. There have been brought home to our museums figures coarsely fashioned in bronze of these watchers; while in the cuneiform inscriptions there are found solemn forms, directing where, with magical rites, each one of these guardian beings was to be placed, and detailing his attributes of office. The being, therefore, which the king saw in his dream was one of his own guardians, a warder spirit under whose protection he had been placed. (R. Payne Smith, D.D.)
The Most High
There was something new to the king in this appellation. He had thought of many gods. The heavens were to him a repetition of the earth. There were beings there of every kind and class, good and evil, powerful for mischief, partial, capricious, but useful if propitiated. He thought that these beings existed for man’s sake. He was to learn of one God, for and by whom all things exist, and who rules in the kingdom of men. He supposed that men such as himself, kings and princes, ruled, and that the gods would help or try to frustrate these earthly rulers according to file treatment which they themselves received. He had never conceived such a thought as that which is so natural to us, that while man proposes God disposes of earthly things. Even the philosophical Greeks supposed that the Deity was subject to the rule of necessity or fate. Zeus might hold the balance, but the scale would go up or down independently of his will. But during these seven years there was to be a growth of knowledge in the king’s mind, until he had mastered the truth that the earth is the Lord’s and that all things on earth are as He wills and by His permission. (R. Payne Smith, D. D.)
Decrees and Demands of the Watchers
I. First, THE APPELLATIONS; the watchers and the holy ones. Now here I am obliged again to differ from the commentators, some of whom speak of these watchers and holy ones as being created angels or glorified saints. The saints in glory have entered into rest, and cannot interfere with, nor be disturbed by, earthly affairs. The angels, it is true, are emphatically called “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation”; but where is the Scripture which gives the least idea of either saints or angels having the prerogative of decreeing and demanding? We have many instances of angels being sent as messengers of vengeance and of mercy, but the prerogative of decreeing and demanding belongs only to Jehovah! I, therefore, conclude that these watchers, these holy ones, are the blessed, glorious, undivided Trinity in unity, distinct in personality, indivisible in essential eternal union. All the solicitude which paternal love can possess--all the affection which can be supposed to exist in the heart of a bridegroom or husband, and all the tenderness and care which the very name of the Comforter implies put forth to watch over and preserve the Zion of our God: this accounts for her safety, and opens to her a never-failing source of consolation, for so long as Jehovah wears the sacred appellations of the watchers and the holy ones, the most vigilant enemies of His Church must be disappointed and frustrated in their malicious assaults because they cannot elude omniscience. The holy ones must cease to be holy ones before they can neglect their charge. These watchers watch over the church publicly, personally, and perpetually. Their public watchings are sometimes for signal judgments and sometimes for special mercies Jeremiah 31:28). Now who is so blind as not to see that the watchers have been watching over the professing churches in dear old England. Moreover, the Lord watches over His people personally as well as collectively, as it is written, “The Lord is thy keeper, the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand” (Psalms 121:5). So that while these holy watchers take special charge of the church as a body, protecting her, providing for her, and present with her; every member, however obscure, is as much His care as the whole body, for the body would not be complete if the least member were missing. He watches the book where all their names are written--He watches the dates there recorded when they are to be regenerated--He watches the instruments and the providences which He has decreed to employ. So that our blessed watchers are never off the watch, though we often are, then let earth and hell assail by day or night, Israel is safe because omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence belong to our watchers, our holy ones, the covenant God of Israel. We ought also to bear in mind that these Heavenly watchers are quite aware of, and well know both the friends and the foes of, the church; so as to be prepared to suppress the one and to succour the other. You and I may be taken by surprise, but our holy watchers cannot. Does the appellation of “the holy ones” find a response in your experience? Does the nature, yea, the very life of these holy ones dwell in you? Then it must and will manifest itself in holy aspirings, holy feastings, holy actions and the like, as it is written, “but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15).
II. Let us now proceed to notice THE LEGISLATION SET FORTH IN OUR TEXT in the words “decreeing and demanding,” throughout the wide range of Divine government in the worlds of nature, providence, and grace; and who, I ask, can be trusted to decree and demand, but these Almighty watchers, these holy ones? This glorious Triune Jehovah alone doeth what seemeth Him good in the armies of Heaven and among the inhabitants of earth. Of Him only can it be said, “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast”; for “the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.” So that what the watchers decree, the holy ones demand throughout the world of nature. Hence the Psalmist assures us that fire and hail, snow and vapours, stormy wind, mountains and all hills, fulfil His word (Psalms 148:8). Yea, when He decrees the reversing of nature’s order for any special purpose, He also demands its accomplishment; as when the sun stood still while Joshua completed his victory over Israel’s enemies (Joshua 10:1-43); and when the sun went backward ten degrees by the sun-dial of Ahaz to confirm the Lord’s promise of adding unto the king’s days fifteen years (Isaiah 38:8). Let us now turn from the world of nature to the world, of providence, and see how Divine legislation rules there without human interference; yea, against human hostility. The history of the patriarch Joseph was a striking exemplification of this principle. The watchers had decreed that he should
rise to an eminence above all his brethren for the purpose of saving Egypt from desolation, and the chosen tribes from perishing in the time of famine; but at every step of his advancement human hostility seemed determined to frustrate that decree. Just glance at the history of David in confirmation of the grand truth which we are dwelling upon. “The decree of the watchers” was that he should be King of Israeli that he should slay Goliath and vanquish the Philistines; but everything human seemed to militate against that decree. Take one more sample of sacred history to illustrate this point, the history of Paul. The decree of the watchers concerning him is recorded thus, “He is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel.” Yet, before the demand is made, “he is breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” But what an imperative demand was that word of the holy ones, “Saul! Saul!” which invincibly struck him to the ground, changed his heart, and made him cry out, “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?” Still, human hostility determines upon reversing the decree of the watchers, and perverse man sets himself to overturn Divine legislation by conspiring against the life of Paul--yea, against the progress of Christ’s Kingdom; but what do all their conspiracies effect, but the very furtherance of that great work which they aimed to destroy? Having thus surveyed the worlds of nature and providence as under this Divine legislation, we will turn our attention to the world of grace; and here our text will be the running title of the statute-book, and the farther we read the more deeply shall we be convinced that decrees and demands made up the whole amount of legislation by which the world of grace is governed. The whole system is ushered in with this royal proclamation, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I wilt show mercy” Exodus 33:19).
III. We will now attend, in the third place, TO THE LESSONS OF INFORMATION SET BEFORE US IN THIS HIGH AND HOLY PROCLAMATION. And the first lesson of information is that there is but one sovereign Ruler of all worlds, all beings, and all things; To throw off Divine authority, and the absolute sovereignty of Jehovah, is the bent and determination of fallen man; “because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Moreover, His redeemed, grace-taught subjects may well rejoice even now that all nations, all kings, yea, all worlds shall know that the Most High ruleth over all; so that all the great events, the revolutions, the rise and fall of empires are subject to His control, and subservient to the decree of the watchers, and to the demand by the word of the holy ones. Now let us learn a second lesson of information from this subject, the entire dependence of the creature upon these Almighty watchers. (Joseph Irons.)
The Fortunes of Kings and Empires are in the Hand of God
God was pleased to humble Nebuchadnezzar, and to make him an example to the world and to himself of the frailty of all human power--the instability of all human greatness. Strange as it may seem, notwithstanding Daniel’s weight and credit with the king--notwithstanding the consternation of mind into which the dream had thrown him, this warning had no permanent effect. He who was not cured of his overweening pride and vanity till he was overtaken by the threatened judgment. This judgment the text refers to the “decree of the washers,” and the “word of the holy ones.” The intent of the matter is to give mankind a proof, in the fall and restoration of this mighty monarch, that the fortunes of kings and empires are in the hand of God--that His providence perpetually interposes in the affairs of men, distributing crowns and sceptres, always for the good of the faithful primarily, ultimately of his whole creation, but according to His will. It is a mistake to regard these “watchers” and “holy ones” as angels. They are none other than the Three Persons in the Godhead. “Watchers” describes them by the vigilance of their universal providence. “Holy ones” by the transcendent sanctity of their nature. The assertion in the text is that God had decreed to execute a signal judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar for his pride and impiety. To make the declaration more solemn and striking, the terms in which it is conceived distinctly express that consent and concurrence of all the Persons in the Trinity in the design and execution of this judgment, which must be understood indeed in every act of the Godhead. It is the express assertion of the text that God governs the world according to His will. If this were always, present to the minds of men, they would never be cast down beyond measure by the successes of any enemy. And a firm belief in God’s providence will moderate our excessive admiration of the virtues and talents of men, and especially of bad men. (Bishop Horsley.)
This dream I, Nebuchadnezzar, have seen.
I. THE SYMBOL.
1. A tree (v. 10). An image common in both Old and New Testament. The image of prosperity; and that both of the righteous, as in Psalms 1:3, and of the wicked, as in Psalms 37:36 (Prayer Book ver.). In this latter passage note the verbal coincidence between it and Daniel 4:4.
2. A tree growing to an immense size (v. 11-13). Like that in Mt Ezekiel 17:22-24; Ezekiel 31:3-9. Significant of wide dominion.
3. A tree condemned by a decree from Heaven (v. 13, 14), reminding us of the Baptist’s words (Matthew 3:10), and of our Lord’s (Luke 13:7; Matthew 21:19).
4. A tree spared (v. 15-17); though to be cut down to its stump, it was not to be entirely destroyed, but left to shoot forth and grow again.
II. THE INTERPRETATION.
1. The Chaldean magi could not explain its meaning (v. 6, 7).
2. Daniel, being called, felt it to be so terrible that he hesitated to reveal it (v. 18, 19). Like Samuel with Eli (1 Samuel 3:15).
3. He broke the dread news gently. Led the king’s mind to review his vast power and majesty (v. 20-22). Pointed out his forgetfulness of God in the midst of his earthly splendour (v. 25). Announced the judgment that God had decreed against him to bring down his pride (v. 24).
4. He then became a “preacher of righteousness,” in exhorting the king to repentance and amendment, if perchance the chastisement might be averted (v. 27).
III. THE FULFILMENT.
1. The king is not ashamed to acknowledge the supremacy of the King of kings, whose royal Heavenly decree was accomplished even upon the mighty monarch of the world (v. 28).
2. But not till a day of grace had been mercifully given. Twelve months passed by, and Nebuchadnezzar was still revelling in his pride and self-exaltation (v. 29, 30).
3. The terrible judgment then fell suddenly upon him (v. 31-33). He became mad, and like a brute beast, for a period denoted by the mystic expression “seven times,” which probably means the time of the perfecting of God’s purpose concerning him.
4. At the end of this time he was restored to reason and to royal dominion. The lesson had been learnt. He gave God glory, and acknowledged Him as King (v.34-37). Conclusion. From this page of Old Testament history let us learn:
1. How the effect made upon us by religious impressions wears off in course of time. God has to repeat His revelations and providential dealings.
2. How many ways God has of warning us.
3. How long a time God gives sinners in which to come to repentance.
4. How pure is the fulfilment of His word. (T. H. Barnett.)
Then Daniel . . . was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him.
The Symbolical Tree
Being troubled by his dream, Nebuchadnezzar summoned the wise men of Babylon into his presence to explain its meaning. They heard it, and were silent. Daniel arriving afterwards, the king recites his dream a second time. That holy man no sooner heard the dream than the meaning of it was unfolded unto him by the Spirit of inspiration. And if Nebuchadnezzar was troubled by the vision, Daniel is not less troubled by a discovery of its meaning. We cannot, however, suppose that Daniel’s agitation was caused by dread of Nebuchadnezzar. We cannot suppose that he was afraid to deliver the message with which God had entrusted him. His perturbation of mind may be accounted for upon principles more accordant with his high character. In interpreting the vision, he had to denounce a judgment from the Lord against the king; and Divine judgments are such as to strike every pious mind with awe. To utter them, is to bear the burden of the Lord. There can be little doubt that Daniel was attached to Nebuchadnezzar, and that this attachment was the cause of his trouble. This agitation of mind is, therefore, highly honourable to Daniel. He would not violate his conscience at the king’s command; but men who are loyal to God will always be found to be most loyal to kings. Let adversity come, and they will then find in what hearts the truest loyalty resides. They will find that men like Daniel, though they may refuse to comply with their sinful commands, will be the first to weep for them. We read not that one of all the princes, the governors, the captains, and the sheriffs, that bent before the idol on the plains of Dura, were in the least affected by Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation. Seeing his faithful servant thus agitated, Nebuchadnezzar endeavoured to compose his mind. “The king spake and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee.” Thus encouraged, Daniel proceeded to discharge his difficult and solemn duty. The design of this calamity was to teach Nebuchadnezzar that God giveth the kingdoms of men to whomsoever He will. These kingdoms may be acquired by valour, they may be transmitted from a long line of ancestors, yet still they are the gifts of God; and He bestows them in adorable sovereignty. The kings and the princes of the world can give no ultimate reason for the fact that they occupy such exalted stations, except by tracing it to the good pleasure of the Almighty. And God not only appoints the lot of kings; He appoints the lot of all men. We cannot give a rational account of anything about our condition, and especially of what is good about it, apart from the will of God. The fact of this calamity being sent in order to teach Nebuchadnezzar the supremacy of God, reminds us how apt mankind are to forget this truth, and to act as if they were sovereign and independent, Though every object in creation, and every event in providence, speak to us of God, of His power, of His wisdom, of His sovereign majesty, yet how much is He overlooked! How greatly is He forgotten! In the formation of our plans, in the exertion of our influence, in the employment of our faculties, how seldom is He recognised! This arises from the corruption of our nature; from its unbelief of Divine things; its enmity to Divine holiness; its insubordination to Divine authority. In the present disordered state of human nature, two things contribute greatly to make men forget the sovereignty of God. The first of these is the invisibility of the Divine nature, and the consequent invisibility of the Divine agency. A second reason why men so much overlook the Divine supremacy is the manner in which God governs the world. In ruling His intelligent offspring, God deals with them as creatures possessed of reason, will, and conscience. In fixing their lot in the world, He makes use of their own talents, passions, plans, and efforts. We never can, in any instance, separate the controlling influence of God from the free agency of man. Hence, because the affairs of the world appear to be carried on solely by the operation of secondary causes, we are apt altogether to forget His presence and His power. From the fact of this calamity being sent to teach Nebuchadnezzar the supremacy of God, we learn that it is of great importance to keep this truth constantly in remembrance. Notwithstanding that Nebuchadnezzar was elected to the throne of Babylon by God, he had to use means with as much earnestness and diligence as if his kingdom had not been a gift from the Most High. He had to employ vigilance, and skill, and perseverance, to undergo much anxiety, endure many hardships, encounter many dangers, fight many battles, storm many towns. And notwithstanding that there is an ordination to eternal life, he who would obtain it must use means just as if there was no ordination. He must watch, he must strive, he must fight. (W. White.)
There was silence in the king’s chamber whilst the prophet of God meditated on God’s mysterious message to the king, and considered how he might best impress upon the king the meaning of the Divine sentence. So for that while, during which Daniel sat mutely pondering the matter, we cannot doubt his heart was lift up to the throne of the Heavenly Grace to obtain for himself from the Holy Ghost the “power to speak as he ought to speak”; and for the king his master a teachable disposition, and such a penitential submission to the Almighty, as might ensure him forgiveness and mercy. The “one hour” during which Daniel is said to have been “astonied” is an indefinite note of time. Daniel was “astonied and his thoughts troubled him,” because in the first place I think (as the LXX expression for his “troubled thoughts” will suggest), Daniel had to unravel and reason out in his own mind the mysterious intimations of the dream, and make it clear to himself, before he ventured to speak. Then, in the second place, the thought of all the indignities and suffering implied in the terms, which described the impending madness, might well make a tender-hearted man hesitate to announce the details of such a calamity about to fall on one whom he regarded with admiration and gratitude. Daniel grieved to think that one who had promoted him to a share in his glory, and to the honour of governing the chief of his provinces, should be in danger of such a terrible reverse! And then again--as he thought over the humiliating decree of Heaven, this questionwould rise in his mind--how would the king receive the announcement? If Nebuchadnezzar required such a chastisement for his pride, would he be in the temper to listen patiently to the declaration of such a rebuke from the God of the Jews, whom as yet he had not learnt to honour? But Daniel knew (in the conflict of his feelings) how to gain courage and strength; and how to “set his face as a flint,” and deliver without flinching the word of the Lord. If the Spirit of God was in him, could it be there except he prayed? Now see how God had strengthened him! Not only did Daniel interpret the dream, but (with an earnest concern for the king’s welfare) he dared to speak to him of his sins--which were bringing this dreadful punishment upon him! And Daniel could do this with a clear conscience, since he was ruling his province well himself to the benefit of his people, and doing his best to “shew mercy to the poor”--not living in luxury at their expense, nor exalting himself to their hurt.
I. IN HIS ANXIETY TO HELP HIS ROYAL MASTER, DANIEL PRESENTS A CONSPICUOUS EXAMPLE OF THE VALUE AND POWER OF SYMPATHY. During that “one hour,” as he sat “astonied,” mutely contemplating the abstruse subject, on which the king not only demanded an explanation, but asked for it with such evident desire for relief from a pressing anxiety and trouble--Daniel felt for the king; and with all his heart he laboured to find words which would meet the case, and which should not merely solve the mystery, but should at the same time touch the king’s conscience and heart. He studied the case with the penetrating interest of a good physician. As he contemplated the pitiful sight of the grand monarch become a grovelling maniac, driven from the dwellings of men, and left to the full sway of his mental aberration--Daniel could not but feel as Elisha felt when he “settled his countenance steadfastly” upon Hazael till he wept at the thought of all the misery which God had showed him the murderer of Benhadad and the usurper of his throne would cause. Daniel yearned to impress the king with the same vivid apprehension of impending danger as he himself had, that it might lead him to an effectual repentance. Sympathy is one great element of success in winning souls to God; without sympathy religious influence is scarcely possible. In the present state of society, when at the same time that class-distinctions are becoming less rigidly marked class feelings are often being deeply stirred, and when the lowest grades are gladly accepting the newly invented ministrations of men and women from amongst themselves--it is of paramount consequence to the church that it should be plainly seen her ministers have a real love and concern for all, however far removed in the social scale. How is this sympathy to be cultivated? Few are intensely sympathetic by nature; others must supply the default of nature by much “stirring up of the gift that is in them” through the laying on of hands. True Christian sympathy proceeds from love of souls; it is the result of having mastered the fact that every soul is of value to Christ, who gave Him blood to redeem it. The sympathy of Jesus Christ can only be reflected in our ministry for Him, when we are willing to study each particular soul’s need; and that upon our knees in prayer. If the message we have to deliver is to be regarded by those who listen to us, they must perceive that we believe it ourselves; and, in the next place, that our thoughts trouble us with sorrow for those whom our words condemn. Daniel (as he pondered over the future of Nebuchadnezzar) evidently perceived further terrors than the insanity which was to reduce the king to such a vile estate; he feared his waking from the dust of the earth, in the latter day, to “shame and everlasting contempt.” Hence his earnestness. But it might seem as if Daniel’s sympathy was wasted, since we are told of no immediate results. Not so however; though the king may have remained unaffected by it till his reason was restored to him, after the “seven times had passed over him,” still it is clear he then submitted to be taught by the man of God, whose word had not failed, whose heart he knew he might trust.
II. In the second place, DANIEL MAY BE LOOKED UPON AS THE THOUGHTFUL AND REVERENT STUDENT OF GOD’S WORD. The Bible is full of mysteries, which it is our bounden duty to look into; and full of difficulties which must be faced. Thoughtful and educated men in every congregation are demanding of the clergy not only more heart, but more intelligence and more culture. They have grown tired of sermons that shirk the difficulties which perplex their own minds. “Knowledge is power,” but there is no power like the power of the Holy Ghost. The mere cultivated intellect is no adequate weapon wherewith to fight against sin.
III. Again, we cannot fail to see in Daniel (to whom God had given such insight into Divine mysteries) THE TYPE OF ONE WHO IS PURE IN HEART AND PURE IN LIFE. At the period of his life which we are considering, Daniel allowed himself (it would appear from what he says in the tenth chapter) a moderate use of “pleasant bread” with flesh and wine for his usual diet; when, however, he was the recipient of Divine communications, he fasted, and (as a strict observer of the law) he would not fail to east often. But we remember, when he was only a boy of 14, with a wonderfully precocious faith, he had denied himself all the dainties of the king’s table lest he should be defiled by what had been offered to idols. He knew that “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” and God’s word, heard in his own heart, was “abstain.” We learn from the first chapter that God gave him for his reward (above and beyond the skill in all learning and wisdom which his three companions were blessed with) “understanding in all visions and dreams.” How good for the Church of England it would be if those who are to be her future ministers would make that noble venture of faith; “Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days, and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.” Happy those who, when called in the exercise of their office to rebuke sin in others, have no rebuke of conscience to make the words falter on their lips! Daniel’s thoughts troubled him; but no regrets for his own misconduct made him dumb, nor mingled with his sad forebodings as to the fate of one whom he saw pursuing with headstrong course the road to ruin. (W. Morrison.)
Moments, of Astonishment
“Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him.” There are moments of astonishment in all true ministries. The word “hour” should be replaced by the word “moment”: Then Daniel was astonished for one moment. But into one moment how many hours may be condensed! Into one feeling a whole lifetime, with manifold and tragical experience, may enter. We have nothing to do with mere time in calculating spiritual impression, spiritual service, spiritual enjoyment. Daniel was not a man to be easily affrighted; the astonishment which befell him was moral, imaginative, not in the sense of fancying things that did not exist, but in the sense of giving realities their largest scope and meaning. He was astonished that such a fate was awaiting king Nebuchadnezzar. It was like a blow struck upon the very centre of his forehead; when he saw what was going to befall the king he was struck, as it were, with a spear of lightning, his voice faltered, as did the fashion of his countenance. He had a message to deliver, and yet he delivered it with tears that were hidden in the tone of his voice. He was not flippant; he was solemn with an ineffable solemnity. Never was he in such a position before. Only the Divine Spirit could make him equal to the responsibilities of that critical hour. Many words we can utter easily, but to pronounce doom upon life, any life, old man’s or little child’s, is a task which drives our words back again down the throat. We cannot utter them, yet we must do so; we wait in the hope that some relief will come, but relief does not come from this burden-bearing in the sanctuary of life. The preacher is often as much astonished as the hearer, and as much terrified. In proportion as the preacher is faithful to the hook which he has to read, expound, and enforce, will he sometimes come to passages that he would rather not read. It would be delightful if we could expel the idea of penalty from our human intercommunion. Men have tried to fill up the pit of hell with flowers, and all the flowers have been consumed. It would be delightful to hide by concealment of any kind the horrors that await the wicked man, but to hide those horrors is to aggravate them. It can be no joy to any man to go forth and say, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” No man could utter such words but in obedience to the election and ordination of God. It is easy, if we consult our own flesh and sense and taste alone, to hide the Cross of agony and shame; but he who hides the Cross hides the salvation which it symbolises, and without which it is impossible. It is not easy for any man, Jonah or Daniel, Hosea or Joel, to say unto the wicked, It shall be ill with thee. We would rather live upon the other side of the hill, where the sun smiles all day, where the flowers grow as if they would never cease to unfold some new secret of colour and beauty, and where the birds trill a song from hour to hour, as if growing in capacity as they multiply in service. But the hill of the Lord is many-sided; we should be unfaithful and unjust if we did not recognise its multifold aspects, and show them to those who have come to see the reality and the mystery of the Divine Kingdom amongst men. Daniel looks wondrously well in the moment of his astonishment. The man’s best self is now in his face. How quiet he is, and what singular tenderness plays around the sternness which befits the message that he is about to deliver! What a mixture of emotion, what an interplay of colour, what an agony of sensation! yet Daniel is a true man, and he will speak the true word, come of it what may, so far as he himself is concerned; furnace of fire or den of lions, he must speak the word which the Lord has given to him. Why do we not follow his example? Why do we try to take out of the Divine word all things offensive? It would be easy to pander to human taste, and to flatter human vanity, and to assure the half-damned man that the process cannot be completed, but that after all he will be taken to Heaven and made a seraph of. Who can tell lies so thick, so black? Let him eschew the altar and the Cross. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)
The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.
God the Sovereign of all Kingdoms
That this world owes its existence to the creating power of God, and that He established its laws, and put its every wheel in motion, is a truth so evident that it has extorted the consent of all mankind. But did He then exhaust His omnipotence? And has He been inactive ever since? Did He cast it off His hand, as an orphan-world, deprived of His paternal care, and left to shift for itself? In the rational world, events are frequently brought to pass by the instrumentality of free agents; but still they are under the direction of the universal cause; and their liberty is not inconsistent with His sovereign dominion, nor does it exempt them from it. Though He makes us of secondary causes, yet He reserves to Himself the important character of the Ruler of the universe, and is the Supreme Disposer of all events. This is a truth of infinite moment, and fundamental to all religion. But if Almighty God does not govern the world, and order all the affairs of men according to His pleasure, where is the expediency or necessity of imploring His blessing and protection?
I. THAT THE MOST HIGH IS THE SOLE DISPOSER OF THE FATES OF KINGDOMS, AND THE EVENTS OF WAR, IS DEMONSTRABLE FROM HIS PERFECTIONS. We may infer from His wisdom that He formed the world, and particularly man, for some important design, which He determined to accomplish; but could He expect that this design would be accomplished by free agents, left entirely to themselves, without any direction or control from Him? Or would it be consistent with wisdom to form creatures incapable of self-government, and fit subjects for Him to rule, and yet exercise no government over them, but leave them entirely to themselves? Justice is an awful and amiable attribute. And on whom shall He display it, but on rational creatures, who are capable of moral good and evil? Indeed, the display of justice on particular persons may he deferred, as it generally is, to another state; but on societies, as such, it cannot be displayed but in this life; for it is only in this life that they subsist in that capacity; and, therefore, guilty nations must feel Divine judgments in the present state, which supposes that God disposes of them as He pleases. His goodness, that favourite perfection, is diffusive and unbounded; but how shall this be displayed in this world, unless He holds the reins of government in His own hands, and distributes His blessings to what kingdom or nation He pleases! If He do not manage their concerns, His mercy cannot be shown in delivering them from calamities; nor His patience in bearing with their provocations. His power is infinite, and, therefore, the management of all the worlds He has made is as easy to Him as the concerns of one individual. He knows all things, and is everywhere present; and can He be an unconcerned spectator of the affairs of His own creatures, and see them run on at random, without interposing? We may as well say in our hearts, with the fool, “There is no God” (Psalms 53:1), as entertain such mean ideas of Him, as an idle being, whose happiness consists in inactivity. He will display His perfections in the most God-like manner, and this was His design in the creation of the universe; and since He cannot do this without exercising a perpetual providence over it, we may be assured He will do “according to His wilt in the armies of Kenyon, and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Daniel 4:35). Indeed, there is something unnatural in the idea of a creator who takes no care of his own creatures.
II. THAT GOD IS THE SUPREME DISPOSER OF THE FATES OF KINGDOMS, AND OF THE EVENTS OF WAR, IS DEMONSTRABLE FROM THE REPEATED DECLARATIONS OF SCRIPTURE; and this alone is sufficient proof to those that believe their Divine authority. This great truth, in one form or other, runs, through the whole Bible. Sometimes the Divine government is asserted to be universal, supreme and uncontrollable. Our God is in the heavens; He hath done whatsoever He pleased (Psalms 115:3). The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens; and His Kingdom ruleth over all (Psalms 103:19). He doeth according to His will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, what doest thou? (Daniel 4:35). Now His universal government, which is so strongly asserted in these passages, implies His particular government of the affairs of kingdoms and nations; and the Scriptures declare that the care of Providence extends to the most minute and inconsiderable parts of the creation; and, therefore, much more does it extend to the affairs of men and the fates of kingdoms. He giveth the beast his food, and the young ravens that cry (Psalms 147:9): Behold, the fowls of the air; they sow not; neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Hence Christ draws the inference now in view, “Are not ye much better, or of more importance, than they?” The Scriptures farther expressly assert that the promotion and degradation of princes, the prosperity and destruction of kingdoms, are from God. “Promotion,” says the Psalmist, “cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south: but God is the judge; He putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psalms 75:6). Hence pious warriors have confided for victory in the providence of God, and been sensible that without Him all their military forces were in vain. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” And observe difference; “They are brought down and fallen; but we, who put our trust in the Lord, are risen, and stand upright” (Psalms 20:8; Psalms 33:16-17). Again, we find many instances in the sacred writings of God’s over-ruling the conduct of men, even of the wicked, accomplish His own great designs, when the persons themselves had nothing in view but their own interest. Who could have had any raised expectations from the sale of Joseph, a poor helpless youth, as a slave into Egypt? His brethren had no other end in it than to remove out of their way the object of their envy, and their rival to their father’s affection. But God had a very important design in it, even the deliverance of the holy family and thousands of others from famishing. And, therefore, Joseph tells his brethren, “It was not you that sent me hither, but God” (Genesis 45:8). The crucifixion of Christ was the most wicked action that ever was committed on this guilty globe; and the Jews freely followed their own malignant passions, and were not prompted to it by any influence from God, who cannot tempt to evil. But I need not tell you that this greatest evil is over-ruled for the greatest good of mankind.
III. IT IS THE COMMON SENSE OF ALL MANKIND THAT THE AFFAIRS OF KINGDOMS, AND PARTICULARLY SUCCESS IN WARS DEPEND UPON GOD. Read over the historical parts of the Old Testament, and you will find it the common sense of the Jews that they should never engage in war without first consulting God, and imploring His blessing. And since Christian kingdoms have been formed, we find the same sense prevailing among them, even in the darkest times. Nay, the very heathens were taught this by their reason, as one of the plainest dictates of the light of nature. They had a Mars and a Minerva; the one the god, and the other the goddess of war. They never engaged in war without anxiously consulting oracles, and offering a profusion of sacrifices and prayers. Now that which is common to all mankind, in all countries, in all ages, and of every religion, seems to be implanted in their nature by its author; and, consequently, must be true.
IV. THE INTERPOSITION OF PROVIDENCE ITS FREQUENTLY VISIBLE IN THE REMARKABLE COINCIDENCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES TO ACCOMPLISH SOME IMPORTANT END IN CRITICAL TIMES. Can we suppose that mere natural causes, that act without design, or that free agents, who act as they please, and who have different views, different prejudices, and contrary interests and inclinations we suppose that all these should conspire to promote one design unless they were under the over-ruling influence of Divine providence? Must not such a remarkable and even preternatural concurrence of various circumstances convince us of the truth of Solomon’s remark, “There are many devices in the heart of man; but the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand!” (Proverbs 19:21). Both sacred and profane history may furnish us with many instances of such remarkable interpositions of Providence. The first critical time which I would call to your remembrance, is the Spanish invasion in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, 1588. The Spaniards, enriched with the gold of the new world, America, then lately discovered, and their king enraged against England with all the malignity of a papist and a disappointed expectant of the crown, fitted out a fleet of such a force as the world had never before seen. They proudly called it the invincible armada; and, indeed, it seemed to deserve the name. “The seas were overspread with their burden, and the ocean groaned with their weight.” England then was but weak by sea, and in no condition to make a defence; so that she seemed on the very brink of popery, and slavery, and ruin. But she had little else to do but to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13). Scarce had they displayed their sails to the inviting gales, when He who holds the winds in His treasure us let them loose upon the face of the deep. They were scattered--they were dashed in pieces against one another--they foundered in the mighty, waters. And of this mighty fleet there was hardly one left to carry back the dismal news. And was not this “the Lord’s doing, and marvellous in our eyes?” (Psalms 118:23). Did He not make the winds, in their courses, fight for England? If any of you should ask, “In what manner does He do this? Or how is it possible He should do it, when we see no sensible appearances of His controlling the laws of nature, or restraining the liberty of men? Natural causes produce their proper effects; and men fight against men; and perceive they are free to act or not to act, as they please. Where, then, is there any room for the agency of Providence?” I answer, it is the excellency of the Divine government to accomplish its purposes without throwing the world into disturbance and confusion by great breaches upon its established laws; it accomplishes them either by continuing the course of nature or by altering it in so gentle and easy a manner that it is hardly, if at all, perceivable. And as to men, God carries them on to effect His designs, without offering the least violence to their free and rational nature; and sways their minds so gently that while they are performing His orders they often seem to themselves to act from principles wholly within themselves. What a surprising, mysterious government; what a perfect administration is this! Yet, I think, we can form some general ideas how the Lord manages the affairs of men, and particularly determines victory in the field of battle as He pleases. The event of war often depends in a great measure upon the winds and waves, clouds and rain. And why may not He, by a secret touch of His hand, order these so as to favour one party and incommode the other? The fate of war greatly depends on the prudence of counsels, and the courage of the soldiers; and why may we not suppose that He who formed the souls of men, and knows all their secret springs of action, and how to manage them--why may we not suppose that He may imperceivably direct the minds of the one party to concert proper measures and darken and confuse the understandings of the other, to take measures injurious to themselves, and advantageous to the enemy, though they appear right to them, until the event shows them mistaken? He may suggest hints of thoughts, and secretly bias the mind to a certain set of counsels.
1. If God rule in the kingdoms of men, and manage the affairs of the world, then we should live upon earth as in a world governed by Divine providence. This rebellious temper may show itself about the smallest things. When you find fault with the winds or weather, the heat of summer, or the cold Of winter, whom do you find fault with? Is it not with Him that is the Disposer of these things?
2. If the affairs of nations are at the disposal of the King of Heaven, then how dreadful is the case of a guilty, provoking, impenitent nation!
3. That we should humble ourselves before the King of kings, and take all proper means to gain His protection. If God dispose the victory as He pleases, then it is most fit, and absolutely necessary, that we should seek to secure His friendship.
4. If God govern the world by means of second causes, it is our duty, according to our characters, to use all proper means to defend our country, and stop the encroachments of our enemies. (S. Davis, M. A.)
The heavens do rule.
The All-embracing Providence of God
“The heavens,” emblem of that Divine government that encircles the universe, the all-embracing superintendence of Almighty love.
I. It rules MIND as well as MATTER. The whole material universe, organic and inorganic, from the smallest atom and the tiniest insect, are under its absolute direction. There is no chance in the formation, posture, or motion of any particle of the creation. But “the heavens do rule” mind as well as matter. All the impulses, thoughts, and volitions of every intelligent mind are under Divine control, The “heavens do rule” matter by force, and mind by motive.
II. It rules the MINUTE as well as the VAST. Great and small are relative terms. In the eye of God they have no existence; and what we call little not only influences the great, but reveals as much too of the interest of the Almighty love.
III. It rules the EVIL as well as the GOOD. The “heavens do rule” sinners as well as saints, devils as well as angels. “The wrath of man shall praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He will restrain.”
1. A word to the materialist. Why be so foolish as to regard matter as at once the subject and the sovereign, the ruled and the ruler?
2. A word to the rebellious. Why oppose the Divine? You cannot master the heavens. Their bursting storms will shatter your bark, and kindle lightnings that will scathe you.
3. A word to the Christly. Let faith in the all-embracing Providence inspire you with a heroism which shall brave all enemies, a magnanimity that shall raise you above the crushing power of the greatest trials.
Wherefore, O King, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee.
Daniel gives counsel to the king like a man of God, directing him to break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities or oppressions by showing mercy to the poor, if it might be a lengthening of his tranquility, and thus in some degree mitigating the punishment that was coming upon him. We see here brought out some of the excellencies of Daniel.
1. The kindness of his heart. In the yearnings of compassion which he felt when he heard the king’s dream, and discerned its import. He was troubled with tender concern for the king, though he was an oppressive and haughty monarch. This is the true spirit of benevolence and piety, for it should ever appear in the exercise of some compassion and kindness, even towards those who have brought upon themselves tokens of the Divine pleasure.
2. The wisdom with which he was endowed. He was enabled at once to discern what God designed to communicate by this dream of the king. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” “The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way.”
3. The faithful spirit of this servant of God. Daniel stands before this mighty monarch of Babylon; he knows that his passions are strong, and that his pride is as great as his power; yet, guided by his God, and looking up, no doubt, for support from above, he ventures to give counsel to the king, exhorting him to the duties of penitence and reformation. He gave him clearly to understand that it was a rebuke from the great Supreme Ruler for his sins of pride, impurity, and oppression. As Daniel had been faithful to his God and his king, he could leave the matter in the highest hands, however he might be treated by an earthly monarch. (Thoreau Coleman.)
The Valley of Humiliation
In all cases, when God visits an individual with chastisement, sin is the procuring cause, and reformation is the end in view. When warned of coming calamity, repentance is the only means by which it can be averted, and the best frame in which to endure it, if inflicted. Having interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which was prophetical of evil to that monarch, Daniel exhorted him “to break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities by showing kindness to the poor.” Very awful was the threatening denounced against Nebuchadnezzar, to be not only degraded from his throne, but deprived of his reason, and have his dwelling among the beasts. A denunciation, infinitely more awful than this, has gone forth against every son and daughter of humanity. Let us then break off our sins by righteousness, and our iniquities by showing kindness to the poor. In exhorting Nebuchadnezzar to this, Daniel could only hold out a peradventure of his tranquillity being lengthened. But we are warranted, in the name of God, to assure every sinner, that in the way of returning to God, the punishment denounced against sin shall not only be suspended for a time, but cancelled for ever. This is genuine repentance. This is genuine religion. Holiness of life, springing from holiness of heart. We may suppose that Nebuchadnezzar would be greatly troubled by the interpretation of his dream. Whether his soul was benefited by it does not appear. Probably the impression, though strong at first, became gradually more faint. Day after day passed, and brought him nearer to the period when the calamity must occur. Instead of becoming alarmed by their approach to death and eternity, we every day see sinners becoming more hardened and callous. At the end of twelve months, Nebuchadnezzar walked in the palace of his kingdom. The place, in which he was walking, is generally supposed to have been the famous hanging gardens of Babylon. These were one of the most stupendous erections ever devised by genius for the gratification of pride. A stranger, gazing on this astonishing spectacle, must have felt his heart swell within him. No wonder, then, that the mind of its proprietor was moved. All that he beheld was his own. Much of it had been made by him, and it was all made for him. “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” In these expressions, we discern ambition with her lofty eyes, and her presumptuous tongue, and her selfish heart. He looks upon himself as the author and the end of all. No reference to Divine providence in bestowing this--no reference to the Divine glory in using it--no indication that he felt the awful responsibility of one to whom so much had been entrusted. It is all viewed in reference to himself. But oh! even Babylon was little, when considered as the only portion of an immortal soul. The poorest of God’s children, the least of all saints, is infinitely better provided for than Nebuchadnezzar. All things show the vanity of the world, considered as the portion of man. At the moment when Nebuchadnezzar cried aloud, “Is not this great Babylon which I have built,” there were, probably, few men in his empire who would not have panted to be in his place. But the next moment, the lowest, the vilest, the most wretched slave in the monarchy of Babylon would not, on any account, not for a crown--not for a kingdom--not for a world--have been Nebuchadnezzar. The next moment Nebuchadnezzar is amadman. O the uncertainty of all beneath the sun! But power is nothing, and wisdom is nothing, and courage is nothing, when God is the adversary. When it is said that a beast’s heart was given to Nebuchadnezzar, we are not to suppose that his rational soul was extinguished, and that a beast’s heart was instead thereof transfused into his body. His reason was not annihilated, the use of it was merely suspended. By a Divine infliction on the sensitive part of his nature, he ceased to have the sensations proper to a man, and began to feel as if he were an ox. It is well known that, in certain diseases of the nervous system, persons often lose the feelings common to mankind, and look upon themselves as if they were formed of other materials than dust, and placed in other circumstances than those which they actually occupy. Swayed by hope, some have fancied that they were kings, though occupying the humblest stations. Others, under the predominating influence of fear, have fancied that they were formed of such fragile materials that they would be destroyed by moving. Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been exposed to a similar derangement. His sentient nature obtained a predominance over his rational. He fancied he was an ox. He felt and acted as if he had been one, imitating its actions, submitting to its treatment, shunning the society of men, dwelling in the open field, and eating grass for his food. At the end of seven years his understanding returned to him. What a change would this be! It would be more than health after sickness, more than liberty after a long captivity. It would be like awaking from the dead, as if he had undergone the fabled metempsychosis, and after existing, for his allotted period, as an inferior animal, he had entered upon the higher destiny of a rational being. He now ceased to look down to the earth as an ox. He looked up to the heavens as a man. He did more. He looked, above the moon and stars, above the thrones of angels, unto God. From this passage we may learn the value of sanctified affliction. “No affliction for the present is joyous, but rather grievous.” Sorely was Nebuchadnezzar tried. He was brought lower than ever we read of another in sacred or profane history. This seemed very bad for him, but in reality it was very good. It; was the best thing that ever befell him on earth. Had he not been smitten down by this humbling stroke, he would have remained proud and presumptuous to the end of his days. But God brought him low, that he might raise him to a higher elevation than the throne of Babylon. He was evidently a very changed man, and there is every reason to hope that he was a new creature. One of the best tests of saintship is to meet God with exercise suited to His dispensations. And did not Nebuchadnezzar act suitably to the case of one who has been sorely chastised, and then delivered from affliction? Does not this proclamation bear upon it the stamp of genuine religious feeling? Does he not praise God for correcting him? And could an unrenewed man do so? Is not his conduct changed? Formerly he was a man of war; now, he says to all nations, peace be multiplied unto you. Formerly, self was his end; now, he makes use of his royal station for promoting the glory of God and the good of men. But this decree was issued after mature deliberation. In it, we see the peaceable fruits of righteousness, which affliction afterwards produces. We may also learn, from this passage, that God adapts his corrections to the sins of those to whom they are sent. It is said that God does not afflict willingly, and it may be said, with equal truth, that He doth not afflict at random, nor arbitrarily. Every individual, and especially everyone who, like Nebuchadnezzar, has a strongly marked character, has what may be called his master passion, his imperial sin, to which all the rest are subordinate. This is the stronghold of sin, the citadel of the city. And as s city can only be permanently recovered from the hands of an enemy by forcing the citadel to surrender, so the soul of man can only be recovered to the love of God by the subduing of this besetting sin Or ruling passion. Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment was continued until he learned that the Most High ruleth among the kingdoms of men. So soon as this lesson was taught the discipline was removed. From this we may learn that God will continue his corrections as long, but no longer than is needful Affliction is a Divine ordinance, for the improvement of which we are responsible. In many instances, besides that of Nebuchadnezzar, it has been the means, in the hands of God’s Spirit, of awaking sinners to a sense of their condition. But there are few vows worse kept than those which have been made in the day of trouble. With the return of health solemn impressions wear away, the world fills the heart, and leaves no room for God. The king of Babylon will rise up in judgment against all who have been afflicted, and whose afflictions have not brought forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness. (W. White.)
Is not this great Babylon, that I have built.
The Pride of Nebuchadnezzar
First, we have not so wonderful an opinion of God, or of His word, or of His heaven, as we have of our own acts, although we be never able to do half that Nebuchadnezzar did. Secondly, this is our manner, to attribute all to ourselves, whatsoever it be, riches, honour, health, or knowledge; as though all came by labour, or policy, or art, or literature. If we cannot draw it to one of these, then we think it fortune, although we understand not what fortune is. If we did count ourselves beholden unto God for them, then we would find some time to be thankful unto Him. Lastly, when we overview these matters, this is our solace and comfort, to think these are the things which make me famous and spoken of; and then we end as though it were enough to be pointed at, “Is not this great Babel?” That which one loves seems greater and more precious above all which he loveth not, although they be better than it; so did these buildings seem to Nebuchadnezzar. One would not think that a house were a matter to make a king proud, although it were never so fair; stone walls are not so precious that he should repose all his honour upon lime and mortar. Therefore, as the faithful soul looketh up to God, or upon the Word, or up to Heaven, and saith to itself, Is not this my hope? is not this my joy? is not this my inheritance? so the carnal man, when he looketh upon his buildings, or his ground, or his money, saith to himself, Is not this my joy? is not this my life? is not this my comfort? So, while he pores and gapes upon it, by little and little the love of it grows more and more in his heart, until at last he hath mind on nothing else. This was the first dotage of Nebuchadnezzar; the second was, “which I have built by the might of my power.” What a vaunt was this, to say that he built Babylon! when all histories accord that it was built by Semiramis before Nebuchadnezzar was born. Therefore, why doth he boast of that which another did? The answer is easy. We see that everyone doth labour to obscure the fame of others, that they may shine alone, and bear the name themselves, especially in great buildings; for if they do but add or alter anything in schools, or hospitals, or colleges, they look straight to be counted the founders of them, and so the founders of many places are forgotten. So it is like that Nebuchadnezzar did add or alter something in this city, and therefore, he took all to himself, as the fashion hath been ever since. Lastly, whom he putteth in “for the honour of my majesty,” he showeth that he was of Absalom’s humour, who, although he had deserved shame, yet he would have fame. So when Nebuchadnezzar came to himself again, he showed that when he sought his own honour, honour departed from him, and he was made like a beast; but when he sought God’s honour, honour came to him again, and he was made a king. Thus you have heard what Nebuchadnezzar spake in secret, as though God would display the thoughts and pride of such builders. These are the meditations of princes and noblemen; when they behold their buildings, or open their coffers, or look upon their train swimming after them, they think as Nebuchadnezzar thought, “Is not this great Babel?” Is not this great glory?
Is not this the train that maketh me reverenced in the streets? Are not these the things which shall make my children rich? Is not this the house that shall keep my name, and cause me to be remembered, and make them which are children now to speak of me hereafter? Now Babel is destroyed, and the king that built it laid in the dust; had it not been better to have built a house in Heaven, which might have received him when he died? Thus you have heard what the voice spake from earth; now you shall hear what the voice spake from Heaven; for it followeth, “While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from Heaven, and said, O king, to thee be it spoken; thy kingdom shall be taken from thee, etc. God will warn him no more by dreams nor by prophets, as He did; but His judgments shall speak Job 33:14). The first note in this verse is the time when God spake from Heaven. “Pride.” saith Solomon, “goeth before the fall”; so when pride had spoken, then judgment spake, even while the proud word was in his mouth. See how God shows that these brags offended Him, and, therefore, He judges while he speaks. How short is the triumph of the wicked! When they begin to crow, God stoppeth their breath, and judgment seizeth upon them when they think no danger near them. We cannot sin so quickly, but God seeth us as quickly. How many have been stricken while the oath have been in their mouths! as Jeroboam was stricken while he struck, that they might see why they were stricken, and yet all this will not keep us from swearing. (H. Smith.)
Danger of Prosperity
I. WE SEE WHAT SHOULD BE THE END OF ALL GOVERNMENT (v. 11, 12). A great man is often symbolized by a tree in ancient and Oriental writers. The king’s tree gave shelter to some, a home to others, and protection to all. As the shade and fruits of trees protect and support the beasts that seek shelter under them, so government should protect and support their people. The end of every government should be the greatest possible amount of freedom and happiness to all the people. It should protect the weak, give shelter to the oppressed, hope and employment to the poor, and provide for the diffusion of useful knowledge. By the stump of the roots remaining is meant that his kingdom should not be destroyed or alienated from him during his affliction. A regent, probably his own son, Evil-merodach, governed for him during his insanity.
II. This history teaches us another thing--THAT PROSPERITY IS DANGEROUS. It is not always the beggar that loses his soul. The man who has just lost all his property is oftentimes not in as much danger as the man who has just gained a large fortune. It requires more care to hold a full cup than an empty one. “Adversity may depress, but prosperity elevates to presumption.” On the lofty pinnacle, where all is sunshine, we need a special power to keep us, a special arm to sustain us. Let me warn you, then, to remember that prosperity is not always permanent. Commercial disasters often come in a way and at a time least expected. The tendency of prosperity is to lead to dangerous expenditures and speculations. What now seems so promising may result in disappointment.
III. THAT PRIDE IS IN ITSELF AND IN ITS UTTERANCES AN EXCEEDINGLY DANGEROUS THING, AND ODIOUS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. “And those that walk in pride, He is able to abase” (v. 29-35).
IV. We have here one of the most striking and instructive lessons of GOD’S POWER TO HUMBLE THE PROUD that is recorded in the Bible. Babylon’s mighty monarch had made many successful campaigns, and obtained great glory. He was the head of the mightiest kingdom and ruler over the greatest city then in the world; but his riches and his fame, his treasures and his power, could not preserve his peace of mind. His well-appointed guards and numerous army could not keep him from being terrified by dreams. The majesty and all-governing influence of God are here displayed in his acknowledged, absolute, undisputed sovereignty over the world. God’s victory over the mightiest and proudest conqueror was easy and complete. How utterly in vain, then, for the impenitent to hope to escape from the presence of God! (W. A. Scott D.D.)
Pride Goeth Before Destruction
I. THE FALL OF PRIDE WARNS YOU OF THE SINFULNESS AND DANGER OF PRESUMPTION AND VANITY. “Pride goeth before destruction.” “Those that walk in pride, He is able to abase.”
II. IT IS A GREAT MISFORTUNE TO BE DEPRIVED OF REASON. It is one of the greatest calamities that can befall men in this life. You should be thankful for the use of reason and speech, and for the flowings forth of human sympathy. These are all God’s gifts to you. You should be careful not to impair your understanding by neglecting to use it, or by abusing it.
III. The king of Babylon TESTIFIES TO THE BENEFITS OF SANCTIFIED AFFLICTION. No doubt Nebuchadnezzar found, as David did, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” There are lessons in affliction that we never can learn in prosperity. When God hides the sun from us He reveals to us a thousand suns by night. You know that on a sick bed, or in the moment of an unexpected shipwreck, in the hour of bitter and sorrowful bereavement, vows and resolutions are formed which, if kept, would lead to great zeal in behalf of religion.
IV. YOU ARE HERE TAUGHT THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD. The king was walking on his palace top, and he said to himself, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built?” And, at the end of days, he “lifted up his eyes unto Heaven.” In both instances God was nigh unto him. He heard the thoughts of his heart in his pride, and he heard the whispering of his soul in his penitence. There is not a thought that flutters in your hearts--there is not a purpose in your mind formed for to-morrow or for the future--there is not a secret spring of wickedness arising in any bosom--there is not a design that is cherished in the secrecy of any heart, either for good or evil, that you can hide from God. His eye pierces the darkness--His ear hears in silence--His laws and His presence are everywhere. He is the final Judge who will bring every secret thing to light, and judge every man according to the thoughts of his heart the words of his mouth, and the deeds of his body, whether they be good or whether they be evil. (W. A.Scott, D.D.)
Impious and Ruinous Exultation
I. HERE IS AN IMPIOUS EXULTATION. “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom?” Here:
1. There is no recognition of the services of others. “I have built.” Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men had worked hard in the undertaking; and without them it would never have been accomplished, if begun, Personally the king did nothing but order, and yet he takes to himself the credit. This conduct is repeated every day. Men say, I have made a fortune, I have built mansions, I have won battles, etc. The services of others are not taken into account.
2. There is no recognition of the help of God. Who gave him the workmen? Who gave him the materials? Who gave him the time? God. And yet He is not mentioned. What impiety then is there in this boasting!
II. HERE IS A RUINOUS SELF-EXULTATION. “While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from Heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from thee.” Whilst he was glorifying himself as the greatest of kings, he was hurled down into companionship with cattle. It is often thus. Just when a man has reached the great object of his ambition, and is flushed with exultant pride, ruin befalls him. When the rich man was saying to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up,” etc., the voice came to him, and said, “Thou fool.” “When,” writes Dean Milman, “John XXI., Pope of Rome, was contemplating with too great pride the work of his own hands, and burst out into laughter, at that instant the avenging roof came down on his own head.” Thousands of examples can be quoted. It has been said that every wave of prosperity has its reacting surge, and we are often overwhelmed by the very billow on which we thought to be wafted on to the haven of our hopes. “This is the state of man,” says Wolsey; “To-day he puts forth the tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms, and bears his blushing honours thick upon him; the third day comes a frost, a killing frost; and--when he thinks, good easy man, full surely greatness is a-ripening--nips his root, and then he falls.” (Homilist.)
Pride and its Punishment
Nebuchadnezzar had reigned over the kingdom of Chaldea for forty years. At the end of this long lapse of time, sated with victory, and weary of excitement, he determined to dwell at Babylon, and gather about him, in this city of his greatness, enduring monuments of his wide-spread renown. In enlarging upon this portion of Nebuchadnezzar’s history, we shall be guided by the three prominent points.
I. HIS SIN. It was no crime in Nebuchadnezzar that he was a great man. There was no harm at all in being the ruler of a mighty kingdom, provided that his elevation to so high a place had been accomplished by honest means. His sin was pride. His success, in everything he undertook, called forth no gratitude to God. His constant prosperity only hardened his heart. He drank with greediness the fulsome flatteries with which fawning courtiers filled his ears. Pride has its degrees. It is measured by circumstances. None of us can reach the giddy height where Chaldea’s monarch stood. The hero, of nerve and judgment, and military skill, who can direct the movements of armies, and plan the successful assault, and head the fierce onset, is proud of this. The man of letters, who can read with fluency the languages of the dead, and tell the measure of the stars, and trace out the pathway of comets, is more than gratified with his complete success. The individual possessed of neither genius nor learning, but who, by plodding industry and far-sighted investments, or by lucky speculations, gathers up a heap of gold, gazes upon it with heartfelt satisfaction, as the fruit of his labours. We need not go into the higher
ranks of life to witness the effects of pride. They may be found in the humblest mechanic, the farmer, the day-labourer of any sort. Deuteronomy 8:11-17.)
II. HIS PUNISHMENT. Daniel had foretold it in these dreadful words: “O bring Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken,” etc. No further time is allowed for repentance. The day of mercy had gone by. The same hour was the sentence carried into execution. Had trembling princes bowed before his throne, anxious to win his favour, or turn aside his wrath? Now is he banished from the abodes of men, an object of pity or contempt; “and none so poor to do him reverence.” Did a hundred provinces send in their yearly tribute, to swell the coiners of the king, and purchase dainties for his festive board? Grovelling in the dust, crushed in mind, lost to all the tastes and habits of a man, “he did eat grass like an ox.” Had the carved and gilded roofs of magnificent palaces shielded him from the heat and cold? Not even a tattered tent was left. His body was wet with the dew of Heaven, and the pitiless storm spent its fury upon his defenceless head. Isaiah 14:12.) The degree of punishment is determined by thedegree of wide. Few can be guilty to the extent that Nebuchadnezzar was. Few can fall so terribly and so low. But pride is always hateful unto God. Pride will certainly be punished. (Proverbs 16:5; St. James 4:6; Proverbs 29:23.) Can you call to mind no instances, within your own remembrance, in which pride has been most signally punished? Can you think of no one who boasted of the abundance of his wealth, afterward crippled by misfortune, and brought down to want and beggary? Jeremiah 9:23-24.) One stage more in Nebuchadnezzar’s history is left.
III. HIS REPENTANCE. Seven long years of wretchedness accomplished that blessed work. Listen to his own touching account of it: “At the end of the days I lifted up mine eyes unto Heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever and ever.” With humble and contrite heart he now confessed that God’s judgments, although so terrible, had been good and just. This sincere acknowledgment received its merited reward. The glory and greatness of his kingdom was again restored. How kind and merciful is God! The first and faintest prayer of the returning penitent he heard in Heaven. Does the possession of money fill your heart with delight, and lessen your desire for bettor things? God will find means to take it away. Are the powers of mind which He has given used only to advance your selfish purposes, or turned against the cause of truth? The palsy or madness may be near to put an end to your hopes. (J. N. Norton.)
He was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen.
This chapter, which is a rescript to all the provinces of his empire, was written by king Nebuchadnezzar. It is a frank, affecting, and instructive chapter of autobiography.
I. PRIDE WARNED. Success had crowned Nebuchadnezzar, and now he “was at rest in his house, flourishing (as a tree) in his palace.” But “a dream which made him afraid” came to him. Astonished to silence stood Daniel before the king. He hears the dream, and he knows the meaning of it. Wonder, pity, sorrow, as for a friend, locked Daniel’s lips in silence. At last he finds voice, and stammers out the wish that the strange impending doom had been for the king’s enemies rather than for the king. The cry of the holy one, “Hew down the tree,” was to find bitter fulfilment in the king’s experience. Strange warning for the ear accustomed to flattery. Daniel is more than a court official. He will be faithful adviser of the man. He would have him escape the coming doom. The cause of the approaching calamity was not physical, but moral. “Break off thy sins by righteousness,” etc. The Divine threatenings are conditional. If the sinner repent, punishment is averted. Nebuchadnezzar is warned. He has a year’s grace. Let him use it well.
II. PRIDE EXULTANT. The king was warned in vain. The year of grace left him as it had found him. “His heart was lifted up,” and his mind hardened in pride. As he walked on his palace roof, which overlooked Babylon, he cried, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” By his own might he has done it all. “God is not in all his thoughts.” What of us? Pride is not confined to king’s houses or bosoms. Of what are men not proud? Are we free from this sin? Let us question ourselves.
III. PRIDE BROKEN. A man, smitten with the melancholy madness known as lycanthropy, he imagined himself an animal, and that animal an ox. This form of insanity is still known to medical science. Insane upon one point, he may have been sane upon every other. With beast imagination, he may still have preserved his consciousness of personal identity. This strange double consciousness! He felt like an ox; he knew he was a man. And so, with beast-heart, he wandered an outcast from his glory. Till seven times (perhaps years) passed over him, he dwelt with beast-heart among the beasts, and then reason returned. He looked up--sign that it had returned. He praised the God he had forgotten. Humbled, he was humble. No proud boasting now. He makes his boast in the Lord. And what have we worth having that we have not received? Let us live in the constant recognition of God as the fountain of all our blessings, and so escape the ingratitude of pride. From this sin, as from every other, only One can save us. In the Almighty, the lowly Saviour, let us find our refuge. He can forgive us for the past. He can aid us to watchfulness for the future. He can--he waits--to aid us to resist this and every sin. (G. T. Coster.)
The Fall or Nebuchadnezzar
“After twelve months,” saith Daniel, that is, twelve months after God had warned this king by dreams, and by Daniel, to repent his sins, he was strutting in his galleries, and thought what sin should be next, as though he had never heard of dream or prophet. By this computation of sin, wherein the months are observed so exactly, how long Nebuchadnezzar rebelled after he was warned, Daniel shows what reckoning God keeps of our months, and weeks, and days, which He gives us to repent, as He did Nebuchadnezzar, and what an account we shall make of them, as Nebuchadnezzar did. Daniel names there twelve months, as though he would speak of a great matter, and shows how worthy Nebuchadnezzar was to be punished, because he might have reformed his life since he was warned; for there were twelve months between his dreams and his punishment. When dream and Daniel had done what they could, now God calls forth His judgments, and bids them see what they can do, and commands them to chase Nebuchadnezzar, until he have lost his kingdom, until he be driven out of his palace, until he be fled into the wilderness, until he be degenerate like a beast, until his subjects, and servants, and pages make their sport, and gaze and wonder at him, like a fool which goeth unto the stocks, or a trespasser, which is gazed at upon the pillory; so the king was debased, when God heard him but vaunt of his buildings. Therefore, let us take heed and be careful after what sort we speak, and what words slip from us, lest God take us in our lies, or oaths, or slanders, or ribaldry, as he took Nebuchadnezzar when his tongue walked without a bit, for if he had supposed that God had been so near, and that He would have answered him as He did, he would have held his peace, and laid his hand upon his mouth, rather than pay so dear for a vain word, which did him no good when it was spoken. The second note is of the judge, “A voice came down from Heaven,” the controlling voice came down from Heaven. God is most offended with our sin, for Nebuchadnezzar might have spoken more than this, before any other man; and no man could control him, because he was king, and kings delight in greater vanities than buildings, yet no man saith, Why doest thou so? When the voice from earth spake vainly, the voice from Heaven spake judgment. Here is the King of Heaven against the king of earth; the voice of God against the voice of man; a Divine wrath warring with a human pride; the fire is kindled, woe to the stubble. Now he comes to the arraignment, and calls him to the bar: “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee be it spoken.” Here a king is arraigned in his own kingdom, and no evidence given against him; but as though he had witnessed against himself, as all sinners do, God condemneth him out of his own mouth, and to open his ears, he calleth him by his own name, “O king Nebuchadnezzar,” as the prisoner is called when he holds up his hand at the bar. How doth this speech differ from Nebuchadnezzar’s speech. His words were but words, but God’s words were, “He spake and it was done.” For “in the same hour that which was spoken was done,” saith Daniel, and whatsoever the voice threatened unto our sins, or unto the sinner, shall be done at first or at last. This voice came from Heaven, and, therefore, it spake home; not like them which glide by the faults of princes, and whisper behind their backs, as though they would reprove them if they durst, but for fear lest the prince, or councillor, or judge, or magistrate should take it as he means it, and think that he aims at them; which makes them speak in parables, as though they would cast a veil over their reproof, and eat their message before they have spoken it. The Holy Ghost teacheth us here to reprove, so that whosoever sinneth may know that thou speakest to him. Now the decree goeth forth that Nebuchadnezzar shall be king no more, “Thy kingdom is departed from thee.” Now followeth the execution of His judgment, for Daniel saith, “The same hour all this was fulfilled.” Then was fulfilled, “the pride of man shall bring him low.” Even in the hour that Nebuchadnezzar advanced himself more than before, in the same hour he was brought under all his subjects, all his servants and pages; so he which setteth up can pull down, he which gave can take, he which made can destroy. Therefore, let no man vaunt, though he were a king, of his house, or land, or farm, or children, but know that he should have nothing, if God did not regard him more than others; and think when thou dost read this story, whether thou be not as proud of thy wealth as Nebuchadnezzar was of his palace, whether thou be not as proud of thy children as Nebuchadnezzar was of his kingdom: whether thou be not as proud of thy parentage as Nebuchadnezzar was of his honour; whether thou be not so proud of thy learning as Nebuchadnezzar was of his train. If thou be so proud, then God doth say no more, “O king, to thee be it spoken,” but, O subject, to thee be it spoken, these blessings shall be taken from thee. For, hath God taken no man’s kingdom from him but Nebuchadnezzar’s? Now, if any man long to be resolved how this king was changed to a beast, he must not imagine any strange metamorphosis, as though his shape were altered, or his manhood removed, or that he put on horns and hoofs, as poets feign Actaeon; for the voice doth not say that he should become a beast, but that he should dwell with the beasts. Daniel cloth not say that his head, or arms, or legs were transformed; but that the hair of his head, and the nails of his fingers, did grow like eagles’ feathers, and like birds’ claws, as every man’s hair and nails will do if he do not pare them. Lastly, Nebuchadnezzar saith not that his shape was restored unto him, but that his understanding was restored unto him; all which declare he was not changed in body, but in mind, not in shape, but in quality. A savage mind came on him, like that which drove Cain from the company of men (Genesis 4:12), and he became like a satyr, or wild man, which differeth not from a beast but in shape; though he was not turned to a beast, yet this was a strange alteration to be so changed in an hour, that his nobles abhorred him, his subjects despised him, his servants forsook him, none would company with him but the beasts. Consider this, all that advance yourselves against God, and despise His word, as Nebuchadnezzar did. This was to show that God makes no more account of the wicked than of beasts, and, therefore, the Holy Ghost calleth them often by the name of beasts; showing now that sin and pleasure make them like beasts. When they have abused their wits often, and perverted their reason, at last God taketh their understanding from them, and they become like beasts, loathsome to themselves and others. Many such beasts we have still like Nebuchadnezzar, who were fitter to live in the desert among lions, where they might not annoy others, than in towns amongst men, where they infect more than the plague. (H. Smith.)
Nebuchadnezzar’s Distraction Considered and Improved
The great God, in order to describe his own power, calls upon Job to “behold everyone that is proud, and abase him. Look on everyone that is proud and bring him low, and tread down the wicked in their place; then will I confess unto thee, that thine own right hand can save thee “ (Job 40:11);thereby intimating that it is the prerogative or peculiar glory of God to humble proud oppressors, and that one look of His,ye can bring them down.
I. THE CALAMITY ITSELF. In order to show how awful and remarkable this was, it will be necessary a little to consider the dignity of this monarch, and the state of his affairs. Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon, the capital city of the Chaldean empire. He had been engaged in successful wars against the Tyrians, the Jews, and other neighbouring nations. He had overrun almost all Asia, and carried his arms into Africa. He had brought the Chaldean empire to the highest pitch of power and grandeur, and enriched his capital with the plunder of all the neighbouring nations.
II. THE CAUSE OF THE CALAMITY. And that was his pride. This vice provoked God to make him such a miserable spectacle. This unhappy monarch was strutting about contemplating its grandeur, and thinking himself a god, surveying the glories of his own creation, when this mortifying change came upon him. He lived about a year after this restoration, and one would hope he kept in this good mind, and died under the serious impression of these important truths. And it was happy for him to have lost his senses for a time, if it was the means of saving his soul. Having thus viewed this very affecting and miserable spectacle, let us receive instruction from it; and endeavour to enter into the following useful reflections upon this surprising event.
1. Let us reverence the almighty power of God, so illustriously displayed in it. “Where the word of a king is,” saith Solomon, “there is power.” Nebuchadnezzar’s royal word had been accompanied with power to raise the grandeur of Babylon, and to conquer and impoverish whole nations. But when the royal word of the King of kings “fell from heaven saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom is departed from thee; the same hour was the thing fulfilled” (v. 31). And all his wise counsellors, skilful physicians, and mighty forces, could neither prevent nor remove the affliction. How easily can God bring down the highest! See how easily God can destroy the brightest genius, and confound the most subtle politician. This story is a glorious and everlasting proof of his supremacy and irresistible power. In this view let us consider it, and reverence the Almighty God. Nebuchadnezzar takes pains to inculcate these ideas of God upon all to whom this decree is made known.
2. See bow abominable prides is in the sight of God. It is the observation of a noble writer that this story is one of the finest, most humbling, and most instructive lessons to human vanity that ever was exhibited to it. It shows how detestable pride is in the sight of God, and informs us (they are Nebuchadnezzar’s own words) that “those who walk in pride, God is able to abase.” So his royal proclamation concludes; and it is a truth that we should never forget. “Pride was not made for man.” It is unreasonable and absurd for a creature weak, dependent, and sinful, to be proud, a creature who derives all from God, owes everything to Him, and lives and moves and hath his being in Him. There are other instances of the loss of understanding besides this of Nebuchadnezzar, which are very mortifying to human vanity; instances where the faculties decayed by age, and where there appeared no immediate hand of Providence in them. Are you proud of your wit and sprightly parts? Think of Swift, who, having been generally admired for them, though in some instances he had abused them to vilify human nature, insult our present happy establishment, and ridicule many serious and exemplary Christians, became at last a mere child, had not the sense of a brute to feed himself, and was shown by his servants, for gain, as a curiosity. Are you proud of great learning and profound skill in the sciences? Think of Swisset, a celebrated German mathematician, of whom it was said by his learned contemporaries that “his capacities were almost above human.” Yet in the advance of life he lost his understanding so far that he could scarce count twenty, and used to weep because he could not understand the arguments and demonstrations which he had published. Are you proud of honour, courage, conduct, and high reputation? Think of the great Duke of Marlborough, who, after he had been for so many years the pride of England, the terror of France, and wonder of Europe, became an idiot, and had not understanding sufficient to perform the common actions of life. Are you proud of wealth and power; your buildings, equipages, and attendants; the numbers who are submissive and obedient to you? Think of Nebuchadnezzar. Amidst such affecting scenes, let not our eyes be lofty, nor our hearts haughty. Let us remember that “we hold even reason itself, that ennobling quality, that boasted prerogative and distinguishing perfection of human nature, upon a very precarious tenure; and, as one expresseth it, something with a human shape and voice hath often survived everything human besides.” Let us attend to that charge of God by Jeremiah: “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, neither let the rich man glory in his riches” (Jeremiah 9:23). We may learn:
3. How much are they to be pitied who have lost their understanding. After having considered the case of Nebuchadnezzar, let us think with compassion on others, who in this respect resemble him, that they are destitute of reason. This is the ease of those who are naturally idiots, and never discovered any considerable degree of rational thought, or manly actions. It is the case of those who, by violent disorders of body, are become delirious, or so overwhelmed with melancholy, that they think and judge wrong of themselves, and take everything by the worst handle. This is the case of many in the decline of life. Their faculties decay; they outlive even themselves, and become children a second time.
4. How thankful should we be for the continued exercise of our reason. “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty hath giver him understanding.” It is God’s constant visitation that preserveth that spirit, and continueth the exercise of our faculties. Whoever seriously considers the intimate connection between the soul and body, and how easily and frequently the faculties of the mind are affected by the disorders and injuries of the body, will see constant cause to magnify the goodness of God, that there are not more persons deprived of their understanding; or who have it weakened to such a degree as to render them useless and burthensome to others. It is really astonishing that there are not more idiots and mad people, considering how tender and delicate the texture of the brain is, which is the seat of the soul and its sensations; considering how many accidents children are liable to, even under the care of the loudest mothers, much more while in the hands of mercenary nurses, from whom tenderness for other persons’ children can never be expected, after they have put off all tenderness for their own. If our understandings remain, and our spirits are not wounded, we have ten thousand times more reason for thankfulness than complaint.
5. How careful should we be to preserve our reason, to improve it, and employ it to the best purposes! Understanding and knowledge is the highest natural perfection. Reason is the distinguishing glory of men above the brutes; and we should carefully avoid everything that tends to destroy or impair it. In this view I must solemnly warn you against gluttony and drunkenness. Every excess hurts the soul. It was Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment to have “a beast’s heart given to him”; it is a pity that any rational creatures should make beasts of themselves. There is nothing which is a greater enemy to the understanding than idleness. The faculties of many rust away for want of use or employment. They doze away their senses and become stupid and unprofitable. Finally, let us be careful to improve our understandings continually, by reading and reflection, by conversing with the wise and good, and especially by meditation on Divine things, and daily fervent prayer to the Father of lights and wisdom. Let us employ our faculties in a manner becoming rational creatures. Reason was given us that we might know God and ourselves; that we might contemplate His works and consider His doings; that we might know and practise the duties of our connections and relations in life, and especially study the glorious Gospel, which is able to make us “wise unto salvation.” (Job Orton.)
The mental alienation of Nebuchadnezzar was undoubtedly the form of madness known as “lycanthropy,” in which the habits of animals are in some form assumed by the insane person. (Lycanthropy means literally the change of a man into a wolf.) Instances of those afflicted in this way eating grass, leaves, twigs, etc., like the great king, are familiar to medical men. Nor is it uncommon for the mind to lose its balance in some direction, in one raised so far above all other men as a mighty despot, and so irresponsible. Many of the Caesars undoubtedly suffered this terrible penalty of solitary greatness, nor are theirs the only instances of the kind in history. That any allusion to such a humiliating calamity should be found recorded in the Babylonian annals is not, however, to be expected. It would be carefully guarded from the knowledge of chroniclers as a state secret. But that some terrible illness seized Nebuchadnezzar is strangely proved by the recent discovery of a bronze doorstep, presented by him to the great temple of El Saggil, at Borsippa, one of the suburbs or divisions of Babylon. It speaks of his having been afflicted, and of his restoration to health, and may well have been a votive offering to the gods on his recovery from the attack mentioned by Daniel. Nor is this at all inconsistent with his recorded homage to Jehovah. Though he honoured the whole of the gods, his inscriptions show that, in a restricted sense, he always worshipped one god especially. While he built temples to various divinities, and acknowledged not only the “great gods,” but at least thirteen besides, he also speaks constantly of the “Chief of the gods,” the “King of the gods,” the “God of gods.” He might, therefore, have, for a time, transferred to Jehovah, perhaps as another name for Merodach, the homage hitherto rendered to the Babylonian idol. (Cunningham Geikie, D.D.)
A King Eating Grass
1. What an incongruous thing it is for a king to be eating grass. It is good for cattle, but not fit for man. Yet the scene is as common as daylight. When I see a man of regal nature made to rule in realms of thought, capable of all moral elevation, besotting his faculties, attempting out of low sensualities to satisfy his immortal energies, coming down off his throne of power into brutalities, sacrificing his higher nature to his lower nature, coming down, and coming down, until all his influence for good is gone, I cry out, “There is a king eating grass like an ox.”
2. Conviction is not conversion. Who is this man who makes the boast about Babylon? The very man who, under the revelation of dreams that
Daniel made from Heaven, deeply humbled himself while he confessed that God is a God of gods cad a Lord of lords; yet behold that humbling and arousing did not result in a radical change. Conviction is merely a sight of sin; conversion is a view of pardon. Conviction is the pain, conversion is the messenger that cures it. Thousands have experienced the former who never experienced the latter.
3. Pride is the precursor of overthrow. He who is down cannot fall.
4. What a terrible thing is the loss of reason! In this world of sad sights, the saddest is the idiot’s stare. Strong drink is the cause of more insanity than anything else.
5. How quickly turns the wheel of fortune, from how high up to how far down went Nebuchadnezzar. Of all fickle people in the world, Fortune is the most fickle.
6. Learn the comforting truth, that afflictions are arrested as soon as they have accomplished their mission; and
7. Connected with the most distressing judgments of God where are displays of Divine mercy. God might justly have left Nebuchadnezzar in the field, but infinite compassion brought him back to the palace. (T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.)
Mental Faculties Suspended
There is no ground for concluding that the king was turned into an ox--that is absurd--or that he was made literally a beast of the earth; but that his reason was taken from him. God laid his finger on the brain, and all its intellectual and moral action was instantly suspended. When we think what a delicate structure the brain is, and what an immensity of things depend upon it, we wonder that it does not give way oftener than it does. The king’s last thoughts were connected with his first. I have read somewhere that when persons had lost, or had suspended for a season, the power of reasoning, or had become what is commonly called maniacs, as soon as they are restored by the removal of the pressure that prevents the action of the mind--for it is not the mind but its physical channels that are disordered by mania--the last thought that they had before they were struck with mania is the very first thought that occurs the instant they recover; and that, though a period of years has elapsed, they are utterly unconscious of their flight or number, and refer to old events as recent. I have read of a sailor, a portion of whose brain was carried away by a shot; the part of the brain injured I cannot specify. This man was for years a maniac. After some six years he recovered, and the first words he uttered were, “Is the ship ashore?” When he was struck the ship was nearly on shore; the orders at the time referred to this, and of this he was speaking. So his last words were the first he uttered on recovering, and he was entirely unconscious that years had elapsed. In Nebuchadnezzar’s case there was a suspension of the faculties of the mind. (John Cumming, D.D.)
History of Nebuchadnezzar
I. THE LEADING EVENTS IN HIS HISTORY. Nebuchadnezzar was the son of Nabopollassar, and succeeded that monarch in the government of Chaldea in the year of the world 3399. He attacked and overcome Jehoiakim, robbed him of his treasures, and afterwards subdued and destroyed him 2 Kings 24:1). He also took Zedekiah captive, put out his eyes, and bound him in chains, arbor having put his sons to death in his presence. He plundered Jerusalem of its riches. The vessels of the temple he placed in the temples of his idols at Babylon.
II. THE MORE STRIKING FEATURES OF HIS PERSONAL CHARACTER.
1. He was a public notorious idolater. Yea, he was a maker and patroniser of idols (Daniel 3:1).
2. He was noted for his relentless cruelty. Case of Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:7). Also casting into the fiery furnace the Hebrew children (Daniel 3:22).
3. He was distinguished for his insatiable ambition.
4. He was also proud, haughty, and impious. Hence his language respecting his gods (Daniel 3:14; Daniel 4:30).
III. AS THE SUBJECT BOTH OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT AND MERCY. God brought His judgments upon him. His affliction:
1. Was insanity.
2. Was Divine. God‘ entered into the lists with him.
3. It was severe. Loss of property, of friends, of health, reputation, etc., often distressing.
4. It was singularly appropriate to his crimes. He made himself as God; God made him as a brute. He boasted of his glory; God made him utterly despicable.
5. Limited and followed by Divine mercy. Had it not, he would have been utterly consumed. God’s mercy did not utterly forsake him.
6. Produced reformation. Hence he blessed God; and praised and honoured him that liveth for ever. Learn:
1. The universal government of God.
2. The wickedness of pride.
3. The greatness of Divine mercy.
4. The importance of the Divine favour. (J. Burns.)
Daniel 4:34; Daniel 4:37
I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up mine eyes unto Heaven.
An Unlikely Convert
I. HIS CONVERSION OUT OF A STATE OF HEATHENISM. There was a mass of idolatrous opinion and vicious custom, in the midst of which Nebuchadnezzar was brought up, and by which he was configured. He was ill-placed so far as an opportunity of conversion, or a radical change of heart and life, are concerned.
II. HIS CONVERSION, OUT OF A STATE OF WORLDLY PRIDE. He was uniformly prosperous. He had no change, no checks, no defeats; therefore, he was filled with the thought of himself, so as to shut out the thought of a higher.
III. THE UNUSUAL MEANS EMPLOYED IN SECURING HIS CONVERSION. He had to be humbled. His reason was taken from him, and he became like a beast in his habits. It was the greatest humiliation that could have been sent on earth’s monarch.
IV. THE EVIDENCES NEBUCHADNEZZAR GAVE OF HIS BEING CONVERTED.
1. There is no reason why grace should not have worked in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart. Full and accurate knowledge is not an essential for salvation. Nebuchadnezzar was not entirely shut in by heathenism; for in the course of his life he was brought into contact with the servants of God, and he would learn from them the part assigned to him in prophecy.
2. We are not to expect too much in the way of evidence. It was not to be expected of one who was in Nebuchadnezzar’s position that he would be the saint John or Paul was. His antecedents and surroundings would operate against him, so that there would be only an imperfect development of grace, and he would do many things a Christian knows to be wrong.
3. We have a very imperfect record of what he was after conversion; but what we have is encouraging. Nebuchadnezzar disappears from our view here under a favourable light. We remark then
(1) In the way of evidence of his conversion, his clear recognition of the Divine sovereignty. That is implied in the description of God as the King of Heaven, One whose sovereignty was not connected with a single planet and baulked here and there by others, but who had the whole dome of Heaven, and, therefore, the whole range of earth, under His potent sway. Indeed, there is no more frequently quoted or more satisfactory expression of the Divine sovereignty than that which we have from the mouth of Nebuchadnezzar (v. 34, 35). He felt that he had been in the grasp of that sovereignty; he had been sovereignly humbled, and he had been sovereignly delivered. Now it is true that a recognition of the Divine sovereignty is not enough to save us, but there must be something like this in every saved person. As it is true of the sinner that he says, “I am my own; who is Lord over me?” so it is a mark of a converted man that he recognises that God has a propriety in him, and a right to dispose of him for His own glory. We remark
(2) That he had a clear recognition of the righteousness of God’s dealings with him. All whose works are truth, and His ways judgment. He was not the erring, fickle tyrant such as he had been taught to regard the objects of his worship; but He was One who, truthfully observing all that takes place, and above all possibility of deception, applies a just and equal test to every man’s conduct, and appoints for him what is right. We do not suppose that he saw the righteousness of God in many of its bearings, that he could spell out a tenth part of what we can do; but he did not rest in the general idea of righteousness, but felt it in its application to himself, that God had not gone beyond right in degrading him as He had done to the condition of a beast. To have learned such a lesson as that from his life, was that not the mark of a saved person? We remark
(3) That there was the clear recognition of what had been the blot and sin of his precious life, what he calls walking in pride, and a humbling of himself for it. “As the rhetorician, being asked what was the first thing in the roles of eloquence, answered, pronunciation; what was the second, pronunciation; what was the third, still he answered, pronunciation--so if you should ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I would answer firstly, and secondly, and thirdly, and for ever, humility.” There is nothing more insisted on in Scripture, and there is nothing in which hypocrites so grossly fail in; and, therefore, when we see it present we may entertain a good hope regarding a man. Nebuchadnezzar could not have such an emptying of his own goodness, such a realization of personal violence as we may have, to whom have been disclosed the holiness and the love of God in the cross of Christ. But if he abased himself according to his light, accepting of the mercy of God, he would be accepted of God according to the words, “God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation,” etc. There is a beautiful exhibition of humility in what the whole of this fourth chapter is--a royal proclamation. It begins, “Nebuchadnezzar the king unto all people, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth.” Its design was to magnify God in his humiliation and in his restoration to his reason and to his kingdom; and it is an unvarnished record, concealing nothing, extenuating nothing. If Nebuchadnezzar gained admittance, why may not we? There is no restraining of the Spirit, no loss of virtue in the blood of Christ, no withdrawing of the Divine promise. Let us strive then to enter in while the door of mercy is standing open. (R. Finlayson, B.A.)
Restitution of Nebuchadnezzar
First, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled as God humbleth His enemies; now he is humbled as God humbleth His children; that although he had more honour than he had before, yet he is not proud of it as he was before, but crieth with the prophet David Psalms 115:1), “Not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but unto thy name, give the glory.” In these verses two things show themselves st the first view, that is Nebuchadnezzar’s restitution, and his thankfulness in his restitution. First, he showeth the time when he was restored, in these words, “At the end of these days,” then he showeth the manner how he was restored, in these words, “I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up my eyes to heaven, and mine understanding was restored to me.” In his thankfulness, first, he extolleth God’s power in setting him up, and pulling him down, and raising him again; then he commendeth God’s justice and truth, which deserves to be praised for His judgments as much as for His mercy, as though he rejoiced that God hath made him like a beast, that he might die like a man. “At the end of these days.” As Daniel noted the time of his pride when he walked in his palace, to show how pride grows out of buildings, and wealth, and apparel, and such roots, so he noteth the time of his fall, “while the words were in his mouth,” to show that he was punished for his pride and, ignorance, that he might know where to begin his conversion, and abate his pride. And when he had taken away the cause, then God would take away the punishment, so likewise he noteth the time of his restitution, “at the end of these days,” that is, after seven years were expired, to show how long the sickness of pride is in curing, and to show
how everything was fulfilled which was prophesied, even to the point of time. Yet another note is set upon this beast; lest we should think that God only regardeth the season, and thinks seven years’ punishment enough for such a sin, he saith not barely, that his understanding and honour was restored unto him when seven years were ended, but that they were restored unto him when he began to lift up his eyes to Heaven, to show that this blessing came from above, and that He which had humbled, him had restored him again; as if he should say to all that are cast down with sickness, or poverty, or infamy, or any trouble whatsoever in body or mind, He which hath humbled you will raise you, as He hath done me; but you must look up unto Heaven, and lift up your hearts to Him, and then your understanding, and comfort, and wealth, and pleasure, and health, and liberty, and good name, and all, shall return unto you again, like Job’s sheep, and camels, and oxen, in greater number than he had before. Like a man which is wakened out of a long trance, now: he began to stir and lift up his eyes. When the heart is once lift up, it will lift up the eyes, and the hand, and voice, and all to Heaven. He which never looked up to Heaven so long as his comfort was upon the earth, now his mind is changed, his looks, and gestures, and speeches, and all are changed with it, as though God would show a visible difference between the spiritual and carnal, even in their looks and gestures, as there is between a child and an old man. The spiritual minds are heavenly, and look up, because their joy is above. Now he talks no more of his palace, nor his power, nor his majesty, though it be greater than it was; but he looked above his own palace to another palace, from whence that terrible voice came down unto him, “Thy kingdom is departed from thee”; which expresseth his contrite heart and wounded spirit, how many passions battled within, as if he should chide himself and say, Unthankful man, my power ever descended from above, and I ever looked upon the earth and mine honour came down from Heaven, and I never lift up mine eyes before; but now, saith he, go up, my voice, and my hands, and my eyes. How long will ye pore upon the earth like a beast? So he lifted up his eyes unto Heaven. After he had lifted up his eyes, he beginneth to pray, and praise, and give thanks to God, which showeth that he did not only lift up his eyes, but his heart too (Psalms 25:1). Now God thinks the time long enough; and as He reformed the ground after the flood with fruit, and herbs, and flowers again, so He reformed Nebuchadnezzar with understanding, and beauty, and honour again. As when he repented himself and said, I will drown the earth no more Genesis 8:21), so I will chase Nebuchadnezzar no more. Now he knows a King above him, he shall be a king again; now he seeks my honour, I will give him honour; now he magnifieth him that debased him, I will return to exalt him. So the voice which thundered from Heaven, “Thy kingdom is departed from thee,” sounds again, “Thy kingdom is restored to thee.” Thus the displeasure of God is but an interim, until we know something that we should know, and then Nebuchadnezzar shall be king again, then the sick man shall be whole again, them the bondman shall be free again, then the poor man shall be rich again. His mercies are called everlasting, because they endure for ever (Psalms 136:1-2); but His anger is compared to the clouds because it lasteth but a season. Now the first cure of the king’s restitution was of his mind. “Mine understanding,” saith Nebuchadnezzar, “was restored unto me.” To show what an inestimable gift our understanding and reason is, whereby we differ from beasts; for which we cannot be thankful enough, therefore he records it twice, as though his heart did flow with gladness, and his tongue could not choose but speak often of it, as a man thinketh and speaketh of that which he loveth: “Mine understanding was restored unto me,” etc. That which was first taken away was first restored again, which so soon as it was gone, he was counted a man no more, but a beast. After he had said “Mine understanding was restored to me,” he annexeth, “mine honour was restored to me”; so he grew to a king again. As he was wont to put on one robe after another when he was a king, so when God would make him a king again, first he puts upon him the robe of understanding, as it were the foundation of a king, like the princely spirit which came upon Saul (1 Samuel 10:9); and when he had a prince’s heart, then God gave him a prince’s power, and proclaimed, like a voice from Heaven, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babel; so gloriously he rose again like the sun, with a triumph of his restitution, and welcome of his subjects, like the shout which went before Solomon (1 Kings 1:34). Here a wise man may study and wonder, like Elisha, when his master was rapt to Heaven. For as though a snuff had been taken from the ground, and set in the candlestick again, and shined brighter than it did before; so Nebuchadnezzar was raised from the dust and set in the throne; even now no man cared for him, and now no man dare displease him. That which Solomon saith in Proverbs 16:7, “When the ways of a man please the Lord, he will make all his enemies at peace with him”; so when Nebuchadnezzar pleased the Lord, God gave him grace with men, and his glory was augmented: “My glory was increased,” etc. That is, he received not only his kingdom, and power, and honour again, but he received usury of them. When he sought God’s honour, and cared not for his own, honour was increased, according to that (1 Samuel 2:30), “I will honour them that; honour me.” Now he hath received grace, let us examine his thankfulness. Now let us see the parts of this king’s confession, that we may see how his thankfulness did answer to his sin. Before, he had robbed God of his honour; now, as though he came to make restitution, he brings praise, and thanks, and glory in his mouth. First, he advanceth God’s power, and saith that His “kingdom is an everlasting kingdom”; in which words he confesseth that God was above him, because that his kingdom was not an everlasting kingdom, but a momentary kingdom, like a spark, which riseth from the fire, and falleth into the fire again. Therefore, he showeth what a fool he was to vaunt of his kingdom, as though it were like God’s kingdom, which lasteth for ever. Secondly, he magnifieth the power of God, and saith that God “doth what he listeth both in heaven and earth,” and nothing can hinder him, or “say unto him, What dost thou?” Under which words he confesseth again that God was above him, because he could not reign as he listed; for when he thought to live at his pleasure, he was thrust out at doors, and God said not to him, Wilt doest thou? but “Thy kingdom shall depart from thee.” Therefore, he showeth what a fool he was to vaunt of his power, as though it had been like God’s power, which cannot be checked. Thirdly, he commendeth the justice of God, and saith that His works were all truth, and His ways were all judgment. Under which words he confesseth again that God was above him; for his ways were all errors, and his works were all sins, as the end proved. Therefore, he shows what a fool he was to vaunt of his works, as though they had been like God’s works, which cannot be blamed; therefore, he concludes, “I Nebuchadnezzar praise, and extol, and magnify the King of heaven.” Such a schoolmaster is affliction, to teach that which prophets and angels cannot teach. Thus you have seen pride and humility, one pulling Nebuchadnezzar out of his throne, the other lifting him into his throne; whereby their which stand may take heed lest they fall, and they which are fallen may learn to rise again. (H. Smith.)
He doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven.
The Unconquerable King
I. Consider THE DOCTRINAL INSTRUCTION here given to us.
1. We have here plainly stated the doctrine of the eternal self-existence of God. “I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever.” “We,” as a venerable Puritan observes, “have more of nothing than of being,” but it is God’s prerogative to be. He alone can say, “I am God, and beside me there is none else.” He declares “I lift up my hand to heaven, and say I live for ever.” He is the one only underived, self-existent, self-sustained Being. Let us know of a surety that the Lord God whom we worship is the only Being who necessarily and from His own nature exists. No other being could have been but for His sovereign will, nor could it continue were that will suspended. He is the only light of life, all others are reflections of His beams. There must be God, but there was no such necessity that there should be any other intelligences. God is independent--the only being who is so. We must find food with which to repair thedaily wastes of the body; we are dependent upon light and heat, and innumerable external agencies, and above all and primarily dependent upon the outgoings of the Divine power towards us. But the I am is self-sufficient and all-sufficient. He was as glorious before He made the world as He is now; He was as great, as blessed, as Divine in all His attributes before sun and moon and stars leaped into existence as He is now and if He should blot all but as a man erases the writing of his pen, or as a potter breaks the vessel he has made, He would be none the less the supreme and ever-blessed God. Nothing of God’s being is derived from another, but all that exists is derived from Him. God over liveth in this respect, that He undergoes no sort of change; all His creatures must from their constitution undergo more or less of mutation. That He lives for ever is the result, not only of His essential and necessary self-existence, of His independence, and of His unchangeableness, but of the fact that there is no conceivable force that can ever wound, injure, or destroy Him.
2. In our text we next find Nebuchadnezzar asserting the everlasting dominion of God. He saith, “Whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation.” The God whom we serve not only exists, but reigns. “The most high God, possessor of heaven and earth hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all.” As David said so also say we, “Thine, O Lord, Is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.” “The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.” The Lord is naturally the ruler of all, but who shall pretend to rule over Him? He is not to be judged of man’s finite reason, for He doeth great things which we cannot comprehend. Events appear to fly at random like the dust in the whirlwind, but it is not so. The rule of the Omnipotent extends over all things at all times, Nothing is left to its own chance hap, but in wisdom all things are governed. Glory be unto the omnipresent and invisible Lord of all. This Divine kingdom appeared very plainly to the once proud monarch of Babylon to be an everlasting one. The reign of the Everliving extends as other kingdoms cannot, “from generation to generation.” The mightiest’ king inherits power and soon yields his sceptre to his successor; the Lord hath no beginning of days nor end of years; predecessor or successor are words inapplicable to Him. Other monarchies stand while their power is unsubdued, but in an evil hour a greater power may crush them down. There is no greater power than God; yea, there is no other power but that which proceeds from God, for “God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God”; hence His monarchy cannot be subdued, and must be everlasting. All the elements of His kingdom are most conservative, because radically right. Oh, happy subjects, who have such a throne to look to! Oh, blessed children, who have such a King to be your Father!
3. Nebuchadnezzar, humbled before God, uses, in the third place, extraordinary language with regard to the nothingness of mankind. “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing.” This is Nebuchadnezzar, but his words are confirmed by Isaiah, “Behold the nations are as a drop of a bucket,” the unnoticed drop which remains in the bucket after it has been emptied into the trough, or the drip which falls from it as it is uplifted from the well, a thing too inconsiderable to be worthy of notice. “And are counted as the small dust of the balance”; as the dust which falls upon scales, but is not sufficient to affect the balance in any degree whatever. “Behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing.” Whole archipelagos He uplifts as unconsidered trifles; This triple kingdom of ours He reckons not only to be little, but “a very little thing.” Of what account at this day are all the antediluvian millions? What are the hosts of Nimrod, of Shishak, of Sennacherib, of Cyrus? What recks the world of the myriads who followed the march of Nebuchadnezzar, who obeyed the beck of Cyrus, who passed away before the eyes of Xerxes? The nations are nothing in comparison with God. As you may place as many ciphers as you like together, and they all make nothing, so you may add up as many men, with all their, supposed force and wisdom, as you please, and they are all nothing in comparison with God. He is the unit. He stands for all in an, and comprehendeth all; and all the rest are but so many valueless ciphers till His unity makes them of account. We shall, when we get to Heaven, make it part of our adoration to confess that we are less than nothing and vanity, but that God is all in all; therefore shall we cast our crown at His feet, and give Him all the praise for ever and ever. Herein is His greatness, that it comprehends all littlenesses without a strain; the glory of His wisdom is as astonishing as the majesty of His power, and the splendours of His love and of His grace are as amazing as the terror of His sovereignty. He may do what He wills, for none can stay him; but He never wills to do in any case aught that is unjust, unholy, unmerciful, or in anyway inconsistent with the perfection of His matchless character. We turn now to the next sentence, which reveals the Divine power at work sovereignly. “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” This is easy to understand in reference to the celestial host, for we know that God’s will is done in Heaven; we devoutly pray that it may yet be done on earth after the same fashion. The angels find it their heaven to be obedient to the God of Heaven. If God does not rule everywhere, then something rules where He does not, and so He is not omnipresently supreme. If God does not have His will, someone else does, and so far that someone is a rival to God. I dare not believe even sin itself to be exempted from the control of Providence, or from the overruling dominion of the Judge of all the earth. Let us now consider the fifth part of the text--“None can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” I gather from this that God’s fiat is irresistible and unimpeachable. We are told by some annotators that the original has in it an allusion to a blow given to a child’s hand to make him cease from some forbidden action. None can treat the Lord in that manner. None can hinder Him, or cause Him to pause. He has might to do what He wills. So also says Isaiah: “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?” Man is powerless, then, to resist the flat of God. Usually he dues not know God’s design, although he blunderingly thinks he does; often in opposing that apparent design he fulfils the secret design of God against his will.
II. Now consider its PRACTICAL INSTRUCTION.
1. I think the first lesson is, how wise to be at one with Him!
2. How encouraging this is to those who are at one with God! If He be on our side, who shall be against us? “The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
3. How joyful this thought ought to be to all holy workers!
4. How this should help you that suffer! If God does it all, and nothing happens apart from God, even the wickedness and cruelty of man being still over-ruled by Him, you readily may submit.
II. What is THE RIGHT SPIRIT in which to contemplate all this?
1. The first is humble adoration. We do not worship enough. Worship Him with lowliest reverence, for you are nothing, and He is all in all.
2. Next let the spirit of your hearts be that of unquestioning acquiescence. He wills it! I will do it or I will bear it. God help you to live in perfect resignation.
3. Next to that, exercise the spirit of reverent love.
4. Lastly, let our spirit be that of profound delight. I believe there is no doctrine to the advanced Christian which contains such a deep sea of delight as this. The Lord reigns! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Majesty and Government of God
I. THE MAJESTY OF THE ONE LIVING AND TRUE GOD. He is here styled “Most High,” is said’ to “live for ever,” and “all the inhabitants of the earth” are declared to be a reputed as nothing” before Him. He is the Most High; that is, He is exalted, not only in authority and power, of which I shall speak afterwards, but in the perfections of his nature, above every other being in the universe. I need not say, no man, but no angel, no archangel, no being whatever, can vie with Him in any perfection Isaiah 40:25). In Him they are absolute. In them they are a merestream, derived, and that from Him. In Him they exist as in their fountain, underived. In them they are dependent, and that on Him; in Him independent. In them they are mutable; in Him immutable. In them they are finite; in Him infinite. In them they are temporal; in Him eternal. For, to pass from the consideration of these perfections to His existence; He “liveth for ever.” This implies--His strict and proper Eternity. His existence is from everlasting, as well as to everlasting. He is without beginning, as well as without end. How mysterious! Therefore, “all the inhabitants of the earth,” nay, and the highest creatures, “are reputed as nothing.”
1. They are as nothing compared to Him. Dead and unorganised matter is as nothing compared with the vegetable creation, the herbs, plants, flowers, fruits. One vegetable is as nothing compared to another; suppose the moss on a building to a cedar in Lebanon. All vegetables are as nothing compared with animals which are endued with sensation, voluntary motion, perception, instinct, or discretion. One animal, suppose a worm, or mite, is as nothing compared to another, suppose to an eagle, a lion, an elephant, a whale. One man far exceeds another; Sir Isaac Newton far exceeded an uninstructed peasant, or the Apostle Paul a wicked profligate. Men in their present state are as nothing compared to angels, or to what they themselves shall be in a future state. But all are as nothing to God. For, what is a shadow to the substance? What is a candle to the sun; a drop to the ocean; a grain of sand to the globe of earth? What is a finite being, however exalted, to an Infinite? especially a being so limited as man, a worm, a blast, a shade, a clod of clay, a speck of dust? What is a created and dependent being to one uncreated and independent? What is the work to the workman? the creature to the Creator? the clay to the potter?
2. They are as nothing without Him. They are as nothing to help. Favoured, befriended, and surrounded by the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God, we need not fear the ignorance or weakness of man.
3. They are nothing in themselves. They are nothing in duration. “As for man his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth” Psalms 39:5; Psalms 90:4; Psalms 103:15).
II. HIS GOVERNMENT.
1. It is everlasting. As He liveth for ever, so His dominion is, if not from eternity (for a king supposes subjects) yet to eternity. As He is the Most High above every other being in the excellencies of His nature, so His authority and empire are unlimited over every other.
2. HIS SOVEREIGNTY is absolute and unconfined, and His power irresistible. His will is His law. None can resist His purpose.
3. His government is wise, just, and good, yea, infinitely so.
III. THE USE WE SHOULD MAKE OF THIS DOCTRINE. We should make the same use of it which Nebuchadnezzar did. We should “bless the Most High, and praise, and honour him that liveth for ever,” etc. To be more particular--we should learn to admire and adore His infinite condescension and love in so peculiarly noticing and regarding us Psalms 8:4; Job 7:17-18). We should observe the ground afforded us for trusting in Him at all times, and in all situations and circumstances. (J. Benson.)
Of God, as the Governor and Judge of the Moral World, Angels, and Men
I. God is the sovereign lord and governor of angels, who are described by the Apostle to the Hebrews as ministering spirits. They are spirits, that is, rational and intelligent agents, perfectly free from the gross incumbrance of matter; though upon occasion capable of assuming bodies, and appearing in human shape, as they frequently did under the Old Testament. The angels are endued with greater and more excellent perfections than man, as they not only discern between good and evil, but know all things that are in the earth (2 Samuel 14:17; 2 Samuel 14:20). They excel in strength, and on account of their great activity and swiftness of motion are represented with wings flying through the midst of Heaven (Jeremiah 8:13). The angels are divided into the good and the evil.
II. We proceed to consider the government of God over MANKIND, or the inhabitants of the earth. Man is a free agent, endued with a power of determining hi own actions; not a machine, or piece of clockwork moved by weights and pulleys, but so far free as to be accountable for all his actions, and consequently the subject of moral government. The government of God over men may be divided into providential and rectoral.
1. The providential government of God is His directing and influencing the actions of men and the occurrences of the world, so as to make them subservient to the purposes of his own pleasure. It is absurd to suppose a creature to act independently of his Creator. We are to act upon the stage of life, are lively demonstrations of the wisdom of the Creator; but when God has furnished us with these qualifications it is not to be supposed that He turns us loose to act at random, but like a skilful mariner at the helm of the ship, influences and directs our conduct to serve the purposes of His government. The fortuitous actions of men are managed and overruled by an infinitely wise God; the archer draws his bow at a venture, but the arrow is directed by a higher hand between the joints of the harness. The Divine influence extends over the whole universe, from the highest angel to the smallest and most inconsiderable insect. No second cause, though never so powerful, can act independently on the first. Though God is not visible to our bodily senses, He is present in all places, and interests Himself in all human affairs.
2. We are to enquire into God’s rectoral government, and to consider Him as the sovereign lawgiver and judge of His rational creatures; and:
1. What laws has God established and settled for the government of mankind?
(1) God has appointed the moral law, or the light of nature, as a rule of duty to his reasonable creatures (Romans 2:14-15). Every man’s conscience is a law to himself, and will accuse or excuse him according as he acts agreeably or disagreeably to its dictates; and though it must be confessed that the light of nature is dim and imperfect, yet it remains a rule still. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments, and is divided by our Saviour into these two branches: the love of God and of our neighbour (Matthew 22:37-38). These two capital precepts are obligatory upon all mankind, because they are the result of that Light which enlightens every man that comes into the world. Everyone’s conscience must condemn him if he hates God, or does to another that which he would be unwilling to have done to himself in the like circumstances, whether he has his Bible to consult or not. They are also unchangeable, because founded not only in the will of God but in the nature of things no change of circumstances or force of human laws can dispense with our observation of them.
(2) There are laws of a mixed nature, which, though not evident by the light of reason, yet when revealed appear most consonant and agreeable to it. They are an improvement of the moral law, and render it more beautiful and perfect; such are those precepts of our blessed Saviour (Mat 15:44). Natural reason, in its highest improvements, did not dictate these things to the wise and learned philosophers of ancient times; but being taught, and commanded by our blessed Saviour, they appear highly deserving of our regard, and are binding upon all Christians, not only as part of our Master’s will, but from their own intrinsic fitness and excellence.
(3) There are also positive and ritual laws, which depend entirely upon the will of God, and are obligatory only because He enjoined them; such were the rites and ceremonies of the Old Testament as circumcision, the paperer, sacrifices, purifications, the distinction of meats, etc., which had their uses, not from any inherent virtue, but from the appointment of God.
2. We are to consider in what manner God has provided for the due observation of His laws.
(1) God has provided for the honour of His laws by extraordinary rewards and punishments.
(2) God has further promised all necessary assistance to these who sincerely endeavour the discharge of their duty; for since the fall of our first parents no man is of himself able perfectly to fulfil the law of God.
(3) Besides the necessary assistance to duty, God has promised to subdue our indwelling corruptions, and to check the malice and rage of Satan. The seeds of wickedness in the hearts of men would produce most direful effects in the world if they were not under a Divine restraint. If our blessed Saviour spoiled principalities and powers when He hung upon the Cross, much more now He is upon the throne will He reign, till He has put all His enemies under His feet.
(4) God is pleased further to excite in His people’s hearts such good motions and dispositions as make the ways of religion appear both reasonable and pleasant. For which purpose He not only enlightens their minds and awakens their consciences by His Holy Spirit, but makes them willing in the day of His power, which is the primary cause of their conversion to God.
3. We are to consider the account to be given of our obedience to the Divine laws.
Practical remarks on this discourse:
1. This view of the Divine government may lead us to a contemplation of the infinite perfections of that Being who does whatsoever He pleases in both worlds. If the most consummate human wisdom and policy is requisite to govern a small kingdom among men, how much surpassing ours must that wisdom be that conducts the affairs of the whole universe, and whose providential influence extends equally to the meanest insect and the noblest seraph! How great must be His power who reigns sovereign over all the worlds, and whose government is without limit, or control.
2. We may learn from hence the nature of the Divine government over the rational world; which, though absolute, is nevertheless directed by the other perfections of His nature, and suited to the different capacities of His creatures. It is not fit that sovereign and irresistible power should be lodged in the hands of earthly governors. All God’s determinations and acts of government are under the direction of infinite wisdom, justice, and goodness; He cannot do an unwise, an unreasonable, or an unkind thing, but is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. He governs His creatures by laws suited to their moral natures.
3. The consideration of the Divine direction and influence over all human affairs may administer some relief to good men under the afflictions and troubles of the present life; “Affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground.” Chance and fortune is the language of atheists; but if there is a God, there must certainly be a Providence, which had the direction of everything that comes to pass.
4. We may observe from hence the excellency and perfection of those laws by which God governs His reasonable creatures (Psalms 19:7). Every part of our conduct is under a law; our very thoughts, as well as our words and actions; the law of God forbids concupiscence, or committing adultery in the heart; it forbids evil-speaking, and assures us that every work will be brought into judgment.
5. Since we are to pass under so strict and impartial a trial, what obligations are we under to the Lord Jesus for the covenant of grace, by which penitent sinners are assured of pardon and acceptance through the merits of His death. How hopeless would our condition be if our happiness depended on our perfect obedience.
6. Though the law of works is no longer a covenant of life, it will always remain a rule of duty. “Think not that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets, I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil it.” And again, Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the Romans 3:31). (Daniel Neal.)
Principles of Moral Government
Principles are elementary and constant truths. They are the ground-work, the beginnings, in accordance with which all things exist and have their course. In a series of facts, they are its rules, its original causes, its ultimate ends. In a course of arguments, they are its boundaries, and determine its methods. In a system of doctrines, they are its axioms, its postulates that cannot be denied. Of some principles we have an intuitive knowledge. They are written in our hearts, the law of our instinctive nature. We do not learn them. They do not come into our minds through the avenues of sense. But we know them, so as to act upon them, from the first. Of other principles we gain knowledge through an induction of facts more or less extensive. We compare various facts with each other, and designate the points in which they all agree, or the causes which have operated alike to produce them, or the issues to which they invariably tend. The greatest part of human study is to discover the principles of the innumerable events and movements that make up so much of the present and the past. But there are other principles than those with which we become acquainted either intuitively or inductively. They are revealed to our faith. We accept them, we act upon them, we know them because we believe in God and in the gospel of His Son. They are not, indeed, inconsistent in any particular with truths of which we become cognizant in other ways; but they are above such truths. At the present period, and especially in communities where the gospel has been preached with power, and many churches of the faithful are gathered, the principles of revelation have been stated so often and so explicitly as to have commanded in general the nominal assent of unconverted men. Many of these men have in consequence applied to them their methods of reasoning and their rules of faith. The result has been that the teachings of the Holy Ghost have been subjected to the tests of mere carnal philosophy, and the life has been burnt out of them in that ordeal. The inductive understanding and the intuitive reason--to adopt a modern distinction--have usurped the place of faith. In the text, God is declared to be the ruler and governor of the universe. His government is a moral government, because He, a Spirit, is infinitely right; because His law is holy, just, and good; because all beings to whom it applies directly are free, moral agents; and because the whole inferior creation, animate and inanimate, actually and prospectively, stands related to His moral system.
I. I remark in the first place, THAT IT IS A PRINCIPLE, OF MORAL GOVERNMENT THAT THERE IS NO APPEAL FROM THE AUTHORITY OF THE SOVEREIGN. That is supreme and final. There was no God before God, there is none beside Him, and there will be none after Him. His sole supremacy is declared over and over again in the Scriptures. It is asserted in the first commandment of the law given on Sinai. In the whole course of the Jewish Theocracy it was the theme of prophet, psalmist, and all holy men. Even the kings of the Gentiles were forced to assent to it. Said Nebuchadnezzar upon his recovery, “I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what doest thou?” This authority of God is supreme in respect of His commands. That He has commanded is warrant enough in all cases for obedience. No being on whom His commands are laid has any right, on any pretence, to question their justice, or to hesitate in his own obedience. If He commands all men everywhere to repent, then no sinner has any excuse for an instant’s impenitence.
Whatever may be the reasons that influence God to give the command, the command itself is reason enough for our obedience. No being in the universe could justify himself in his neglect to obey a single precept of the Almighty. Again, God’s authority is supreme in respect of His own purposes. Whatever they are, He had a right to conceive, and He has a right to execute them. He has a right to make His Divine purpose and energy paramount to the will and activity of any free agents angelic or human, working in them accordingly to will and to do of His good pleasure. The creation cannot complain that it was created; the church cannot complain of its salvation; the wicked world cannot complain of its destruction. Once more, God’s authority is supreme in respect of our faith. As whatever of preceptive truth He has revealed is entitled to our unquestioning obedience, so whatever of doctrinal truth He has revealed is entitled to be held by us as an axiom in all our reasonings. But it should be remembered that in none of these particulars is God’s authority arbitrary. That is not implied by its supremacy. God never commands, never purposes, never reveals anything against reason, or without reason, however it may be altogether above and beyond reason. His supremacy pertains to His infinite perfections, and because they are infinite.
II. It is a principle of moral government THAT ITS METHODS CORRESPOND PERFECTLY WITH THE CHARACTER AND ATTRIBUTES OF GOD, AND ARE PRECISELY ADAPTED TO THE NATURE OF THE BEINGS SUBJECT TO IT. In the whole administration of the universe, the wisdom, holiness and goodness of God are displayed. There is not a movement throughout the entire economy of creation and providence which does not attest the excellent glory of God. Any contradiction between the nature and’ the works of the Supreme Being would confound the whole system of the universe. If there is a God, Jehovah, His government must be in all particulars accordant with His character. Such as He is, it must be. But it is also adapted to the nature of its subjects. It is adapted to them in its general idea and chief element. That is holiness, absolute and entire rectitude. All rational beings naturally respond to this idea. They cannot help doing it. It is a necessity of their nature. They may respond negatively as well as affirmatively; by hating as well as by loving; by disobedience as well as by submission; but respond one way or the other they must, just as surely as they exist, and think, and feel. This is a fact without exception in Heaven, earth, or hell. Again, God’s government is adapted to its subjects in its requirements. It requires them in the first instance to be right, to be holy. Is not this a suitable requirement for every rational creature that God has made? Is it not proper for him, in view of all his faculties and all their relations, to be holy, to be conformed to the will of God? Whenever God makes specific requisitions upon men, are these requisitions ever contrary to our nature as that nature was originally constituted? Because we are wrong, is it improper that we should be required to be right? Because our fathers were sinners, is that a reason why we should be free from moral obligation? Because Adam sinned, and so brought the curse upon us and all his descendants, are they justified in sin? Will any man’s conscience excuse him on that ground? Again, God’s government is adapted to its subjects in its sanctions. Does not the connection between holiness and happiness, and between sin and misery strike the mind as most appropriate? Would it not be doing violence to rational natures to reverse this order, and make holiness productive of misery as its genuine result, and sin productive of happiness? If then God’s government is precisely adapted to the nature of all its subjects, it may be asked where is the fault that so much disorder and misery exist in a world that He governs? I repeat the question, where is the fault? Is it in God? What in Him is at fault? Shall He be less holy, less wise, less good; for more holy, wise, and good He cannot be? If He were other than He is, would you, a rational being, trust Him any longer, and in your joy give Him praise, or in your despair cry out to Him for help? Is the fault in His law; admitting, for the instant, that the law of a perfect being could be imperfect? What provision of that law will you change? What principle of His government will you modify? Shall the idea, the element of holiness be struck out of it? Do the experiments which Satan made in Heaven, and Adam made in Paradise, give much encouragement to such a change? Shall the requirements of the law be annulled or qualified? If you would like this for yourself, would you like it for your neighbour? Is the law any too stringent for him? Would you be willing to live in this world, do you suppose you could live in it, if the restraint imposed upon the conscience of mankind by the stringency of the law were removed? And shall the sanctions of law be abrogated? Do you think it best for fire not to burn you, vice not to sting you, crime not to blast you, sin not to destroy you? Where then is the fault? Is it not in you; is it not in your father; is it not in Adam; is it not in man? “By one man sin entered the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Sin is the fault, the first sin and all consequent sins; the last sin, and all preceding sins. And no man may think to shift the blame of his sin, or of any sin, upon the law which is broken, or the God who is offended.
III. It is a principle of moral government THAT NONE OF ITS SUBJECTS CAN ESCAPE FROM IT. It controls the infinitude of space, the extent of eternity, and every creature whom God has made. Nowhere, nowhen, and nohow can a moral agent pass without its scope. You cannot escape from it by reason of the feebleness of your powers and the fewness of your talents. If you have but one talent, or half a talent, or the infinitesimal fraction of one, if you are not verily a brute whose spirit goeth downward, then are you a subject of moral government, you ought to be right, you are guilty for being wrong, you can be saved only through the blood of atonement and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. You cannot escape from it by reason of the might of your intellect, and the multiplicity of your endowments. They will not enable you to set up against God and in distinction from Him. Nor can you escape from God’s government by reason of your circumstances and relations. It would be needless to say anything on this point, if it were not for the practical infidelity of so many persons in regard to it. No man can be so situated as to avoid responsibility to God. The subject is responsible to God, however related he may be to the magistrate. The soldier is responsible to God, however his superior officer may say to him, “Do this,” or “Do that.” The office-holder is responsible to God, however his movements may be directed by higher authorities. The man of business is responsible to God, however he may be connected with his associates. The son is responsible to God, however he may have inherited his father’s disposition and been controlled by his influence. Wherever a moral being is, the law is, and there does moral government extend. If he be in Heaven, God is there; if he make his bed in hell, God is there; and if he fly on the wings of the morning as fast and as far as light can travel, still God will be with him, and God’s law rest upon him.
IV. It is a principle of moral government THAT THE SIN OF ONE INDIVIDUAL ENTAILS INJURIOUS CONSEQUENCES UPON THOSE WHO ARE RELATED TO HIM, even if they had not concurred in his particular sin. God treats mankind as a unity; if one sins, others suffer. A vicious man will bring sorrow upon all connected with him. Very few, if any persons, have not experienced some inconvenience if not positive suffering on account of another’s transgression. Let us notice another class of illustrations. When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram offered strange fire before the Lord, the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. When Achan commited trespass in the matter of the accursed thing, the army of Israel was smitten before the king of Ai. Let us glance at another class of illustrative facts. A man is pointed out to your notice in the midst of a crowd. There is nothing peculiar in his appearance, and you can hear of nothing disreputable in his character, and of nothing good or bad of and in himself that should mark him for observation. Why, then, is he pointed out, and gazed at with curious eyes, as if he were a monster? He is a murderer’s son.
V. It is a principle of moral government THAT THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF ONE INDIVIDUAL, ENTAILS BLESSINGS UPON THOSE WHO ARE ASSOCIATED WITH HIM. By reason of a virtuous and holy man, his parents, his wife, his children, his friends, his neighbours, and his country are blessed of God. God would have spared Sodom, had ten righteous men been found therein. But the chief instance illustrating this truth is the blessing that comes upon the believer through his connection with Christ.
VI. Lastly, it is a principle of moral government THAT THE WHOLE COURSE OF PROVIDENCE TENDS TOWARDS THE JUDGMENT OF THE GREAT DAY OF THE LORD. God’s government dues not consist in meeting emergencies as they arise. There is to God no emergency, no contingency, that calls for new combinations and unexpected exertion on His part. Nor does any event occur out of place, and devoid of relation to other events, and to the general plan of the universe. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” He will yet maintain the integrity of His administration. He will yet rectify the disorders that prevail, and set up amid more than earthly splendours, and with demonstrations of almighty power and holiness, the throne of Him, before whom “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.” Not one sinner in all this multitude can escape the wrath to come, but by faith in the sacrifice of atonement. The earth is filled with wars and rumours of wars. But all is coming right now. The judgment is hastening on, and the hosts of earth and hell are marshalling therefor. Ere long the ends of moral government will all be answered, and “The kingdom, and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High God.” (J. K. Lord.)
The Government of the World
I. GOD’S GOVERNMENT IS HIMSELF. “He doeth.” Human governments are not men, but systems. Men govern by institutes or laws. Not so with God.
He is the essence of all forms, the spring of all movements, the force of all forces.
1. The science that comes between us and God is a false science. That is the truest science that brings God nearest to our reason, our consciousness, our soul.
2. The science that comes between us and God is a baneful science. A constant conscious contact with God is essential to our spiritual life, development, perfection, and blessedness.
II. GOD’S GOVERNMENT IS IRRESPONSIBLE. “He doeth according to His will.” He has no one to counsel, to persuade, to restrain, or to stimulate Him. He is absolutely free..
1. The righteousness of His procedure. Men are often bound to do the right, not for the fight’s sake, but because they are answerable to higher authorities. But God does the right because it is agreeable to His nature. The fact of His irresponsibility reveals in the strongest light
2. The benevolence of His heart. Were He a malevolent Being, being absolutely irresponsible as He is, He would make the universe one great hell; but the whole universe overflows with happiness. How glorious is God!
III. GOD’S GOVERNMENT IS UNIVERSAL. “In the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.”
1. He controls all the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. Men are more disposed to see Him in the unusual and the strange, than in what is common and uniform. Men see Him in the manna, but not in the cornfields; they hear Him in the booming thunder, but not in the whispering breeze; they feel His touch in the forked lightning, but not in the solar floods. Albeit He is in all common objects and events.
2. He controls the spiritual as well as the material. “The army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.”
3. He controls the evil as well as the good. (Homilist.)
The Providence of God Elucidated
These words were spoken by a very extraordinary character, on a very remarkable occasion. They are the confession or testimony of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, when his reason, which for a length of time had been judicially suspended, was restored to him by Almighty God.
I. The first point which the text virtually presents to our attention is UNLIMITED RECOGNITION. It is one of the leadings principles of Deism that the great Creator, having furnished mankind with a code of laws written on the conscience, and tending, if faithfully obeyed, to ensure general happiness, retired from the scene of human actions into the solitude of His own being, or perhaps to hold converse with other intelligences more lofty and more dignified than man. With the Deist, however, as we have no feeling in common, so have we no point to discuss. Having a better light than his wintry moon-gleams to guide us, we go immediately to the volume of revelation, and there we learn that “the eyes of the Lord are in every place”; that the attribute of omniscience is not, as the Deist would persuade us, a sleeping attribute, but that it is exercised in all the plenitude of its waking cognizance, in connection with the affairs of this our world. “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord?” He holds the aspect and the attitude of kings and potentates; He looks upon the proceedings of statesmen and governors. In the unwearied exercise of the same glorious attribute, the same Holy One walks in the midst of the churches, taking cognizance of what is passing among them; surveying ministers and people; noting how far the spiritualities of the kingdom of grace are infused into their several constitutions. The thought of God’s recognition of all things and all events is at once simple and sublime. It is a source of terror to the sinner, and a ground of consolation to the saint.
II. The doctrine set forth in the text comprehends UNIVERSAL AGENCY. Jehovah is not a mere looker on. The piercing glance of His omniscient eye is accompanied with the active and incessant workings of His Divine hand. Hence the prophet exclaims, “Is there evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” And the passage under consideration speaks of God “as doing according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.” This branch of the subject is much too copious to be discussed at large. If followed out, it would lead us through the whole range of creation, natural and moral, and would scarcely afford a resting place for the sole of the foot, while the physical powers of discussion remained. I shall, therefore, confine the few remarks I have to offer to Divine agency as it stands immediately associated with the general concerns of the church, and with the private interests of those individuals who compose its members. When God would lead His ancient people through the windings of that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, His promise was, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” And hence the history of the Israelites, during their memorable journey to the promised land, is, from first to last, an exemplification of His protecting and interposing agency. The infidel scoffs, and the sceptic sneers, when we affirm that the world exists for the sake of the church, and that all human affairs are bearing upon the consummation of the Divine purposes in behalf of an elect people. And yet, to an enlightened, reader of the Scriptures, no truth can be plainer than this. Trace the history of the four great empires, the Chaldean, the Medo-Persian, the Macedonian or Grecian, and the Roman. The plans and the purposes of the Great Eternal are ripening amidst all the distraction of a fallen world. His master-design runs, like a golden thread, through the mazy intricacies of human infatuation. It flows on, like a pure and peaceful stream, which neither mixes with the muddled waters through which it passes nor is disturbed by their commotions. Again, the agency of which we are speaking is particular as well as general. The contemplative mind will, at once, perceive that it must be so of necessity, inasmuch as the most important and the greatest events are, in numberless instances, suspended upon the insulated movements of individuals; and, therefore, if God does not attend, to their concerns, He must cease to attend to the concerns of empires and to the destiny of worlds. The Christian is no more at his own disposal, or subject to the caprice of his fellow-mortals, in regard to the occurrences of life, than he is in connection with his future and final destiny. He is as much the child of Providence as he is the child of grace. His history, like the spangled heavens, is studded with bright indications of the Divine presence. He looks backward with gratitude, and he looks forward with confidence. Here, however, we must again remember that the great principles which actuate our heavenly Friend, in His dealings with His people, are enshrouded in the impenetrable darkness of His incomprehensible nature. The “why” and the “wherefore” are not made known as a matter of course; neither, on the other hand, do they return upon us like a rebounding echo, to be lost in eternal silence, and wasted in a dreary vacuity. Do I ask why? A voice from Heaven replies, “What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” Do I say, wherefore? The answer is: “Be patient, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” One of the finest views which revelation affords us of the greatness of God, is that which represents Him as bringing light out of darkness, order out of confusion, and holiness out of sin.
III. The third point which our subject leads us to notice is SOVEREIGN VOLITION. Not only are chance and fatality excluded from any share in the concerns of mankind, but every other power is likewise excluded, save what may be employed, or permitted to operate, in subordination to Him who is alone independent and almighty. “None can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” Connected with this point, in its moral bearing, I am aware of a gigantic difficulty. How, it may be asked, is it to be accounted for, seeing that God is at once infinite in power; in holiness, and in compassion, that He permits the world to exhibit its present aspect of moral irregularity? Why does He not, at once, exert His sovereign sway in crushing the monster sin, and reducing the whole of His intelligent creation to the obedience of His eternal truth? True it is that omnipotence could, in a moment, hush the groans of nature, and stay the march of iniquity, and heal the desolations which overspread the earth. But it is equally true that, inasmuch as omnipotence does not thus exert itself, there is a reason amply sufficient, though hid in the impenetrable recesses of unbounded wisdom, why it should be otherwise. The view, however, which Scripture affords of sovereign volition, as an active and operative principle, demands our closest attention. Where God’s will resolves itself into the form of a determination, it has all the force of an irresistible law, and all the certainty of an unalterable decree. “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” God permitted the children of Abraham to be carried captive into Babylon; but He willed that, after a period of seventy years, they should return to their own land; and for that simple reason they did return. Need I add that volition is certainty, as it bears upon the circumstances and prospects of individual believers?
IV. On the last point proposed to be noticed, viz., UNIMPEACHABLE RECTITUDE, I add’ but avery few words. “The ways of the Lord are equal.” He never violates one attribute in order to exalt another; perfect equity runs through all His proceedings, and pervades the whole system of His moral government. In each particular dispensation, whether it affects empires, churches, families, or individuals, all is right. Not a single mistake nor a single defect finds admission into the administration of His providence. In His sovereignty there is nothing that is arbitrary; in His vengeance there is nothing that is unjust; in the afflictive visitations with which He tries His people there is nothing that is unkind.
1. It is calculated to pacify fear. Why art thou cast down, O believer, and why art thou disquieted within thee? Is it because evil men abound, and because apostate spirits walk up and down in the earth? Is it because the church is assailed by the weapons of an unhallowed warfare? or is it because some family comfort is placed in jeopardy, or some favourite interest threatened? Remember, “the Lord reigneth”; this is enough for thee to know.
2. The subject is calculated to suppress rebellion. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Hear ye, then, the voice which says, “Glorify ye me in the fires.”
3. The subject of God’s directing and overruling providence is abundantly calculated to cherish Christian confidence. The covenant of grace is “ordered in all things and sure,” and the whole system of providence grows out of its perfect and unalterable arrangements. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things.” (W. Knight, M.A.)
The Providence of God
The text asserts the absolute control and superintending providence of Almighty God over the universe He has made; a momentous truth, demanding the fixed and devout attention of every individual in this assembly.
I. In the first instance, it may be necessary to consider THE EVIDENCE OF THE EXISTENCE, OF A WISE, GOOD, AND EFFICIENT PROVIDENCE OVER HUMAN AFFAIRS.
1. The proof that Jehovah superintends and governs the world is equal to the proof that He made it; creation and providence must stand or fall together. That the system of things which surrounds us--so beautiful, so stupendous--is the production of an all-wise, all-powerful, and all-benevolent hand, must be evident to an observer, even comparatively ignorant and defective. The argument from a Creator to a providence is simple and conclusive; not intricate and metaphysical, but obvious to the plainest capacity. Could it be worth Jehovah’s while to create what it is not worth His while to survey and govern? Every unprejudiced mind must answer, No.
2. The proof of a superintending and gracious providence, over human affairs at least, is equal to the proof of human redemption. This is the memorable argument used by an inspired apostle; hear the happy principle he assumes, and the delightful consequences he deduces: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Has He exhibited such prodigies of compassion and power to raise us to His Heaven, and will He leave us unguided, unprotected, while we sojourn on earth?
3. This momentous and pleasing truth is a constant doctrine in the word of life. In God “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that” (James 4:15). But nowhere is it expressed with such beauty and power as in our blessed Lord’s discourse on the mount.
4. That Almighty God inspects, controls, and governs the world is a truth not left to be discovered by a process of difficult ratiocination; not founded on the teachings of revelation merely; it is a truth attested by the bright, bold, unquestioned, and unquestionable seal of fact. We may instance this:
(1) In the detection of secret crime.
(2) We may adduce as a second instance that character of retribution which marks so many of this world’s events.
(3) The good hand of our God is no less visibly, no less affectingly seen in those surprising escapes, those wonderful deliverances which many in this audience have doubtless experienced. These are proofs of a Divine providence,, immediate, direct, and personal; to forget, or to dispute them, were as ungrateful and wicked as it were unreasonable and absurd.
II. Although the evidence of the existence of a wise, good, and efficient Providence is so full and satisfactory, IT MUST BE ADMITTED THAT ITS DISPENSATIONS ARE OFTEN INSCRUTABLY, and to the feelings of our nature, painfully mysterious. Sometimes they are found in sad collision with the most tender and virtuous of our affections; as for example in the death of children. Sometimes they are opposed to what seems the truest interest and welfare of a family; as in the death of some parents. Sometimes the dispensations of Providence clash with the purposes and exertions of our most Christian benevolence, at least in appearance. What shall we say to the early death of some Christian missionaries? In some cases the superficial observer would be ready to conclude that there exists no superintendency or control over passing events; that either there is no God, or that God has abandoned the world to the caprice and misery of a blind chance. As, when the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.
III. Though mysterious, THE MOVEMENTS OF PROVIDENCE ARE EVER WISE, AND EVER GOOD.
1. Let it then be seriously reflected upon that the providence of God is a system, and a system of which we see, and can see, but a small part. In this respect it is like every other work of the infinitely wise Jehovah; nothing is wrought in confusion, nothing is left in disorder; harmony, order, and system pervade the whole. But then it is a system whose deep principles, whose stupendous objects, whose manifold operations, defy the puny comprehension of mortals. In a word, the provisions and workings of this system reach to moral things as well as natural, to angels as well as men, to the stupendous and ever-during realities of eternity as well as the transitory affairs of time. A plan like this must needs lie beyond the grasp of the human mind; the mighty whole is surveyed, is understood by the Infinite Mind alone. It becomes us, therefore, not to arraign the proceedings of Providence at the bar of our limited reason: not to question its wisdom in one event, or its goodness in another. Could we comprehend the whole, we should perceive the fitness and kindness of every part.
2. When surveying the more dark and afflictive dispensations of Providence, it should ever be kept in mind that all the dealings of God with men have a connection with religion, and are designed, in some way or other, to promote the spiritual kingdom of Messiah. This observation applies to those great events which involve the rise, revolutions, or fall of states and empires. This observation applies no less to events of a more partial and local description. We may go further and apply the remark to those events which concern us as families and as individuals.
3. The providence of God is indeed often mysterious; but it is that mystery which, sooner or later, will explain and develop itself. Like children, we are impatient to come at once to the close and catastrophe of events. Let us correct this folly; let us calmly wait until it shall please God to become the interpreter of His own proceedings. As the flower, when it first puts forth, appears wrapt in a close and unsightly cover, but warmed by the sun and freshened by the breeze, its leaves at length open, its beauties unfold, and its fragrance is wide diffused, so to the submissive and patient soul, the wisdom and goodness of the severest and most unpromising of the Divine dispensations shall sooner or later appear. In eternity, if not before, the ways of God to men shall be fully justified.
1. Take from it a lesson of gratitude. This Providence has ever been kind to you; and of its dealings you cannot, dare not complain.
2. Learn from this subject to exercise confidence, Let anxious, corroding, distressful care be driven from your soul; honour the providence of our God by a simple, childlike, affectionate confidence.
3. From the views of Providence we have been endeavouring to inculcate, learn submission. The ways of Heaven are laid before us for our admiration, and not for our animadversion. Finally, from all that we have said, learn that holy and happy art, which turns every occurrence to your religious, to your eternal advantage. In reality, nothing is a good to you but what brings you nearer to God, and makes you more meet for Heaven; and in reality, everything which so advances your soul’s interest is a good, however otherwise it may be regarded. (J. Bromley.)
In times of discouragement and trial, the church itself is not free from distressing doubts and anxieties respecting the overruling hand of God. The Psalmist could say, under the impulse of bewildering temptations, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” and Zion, in the hour of calamity, could pour forth the doubting and the doleful waft, “Surely God hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me!” The mind, buried in the depths of its present cares, and bowed down by the burden of oppressive and painful thoughts, is unfitted for taking those large views of the Divine character and works, which are alone just in themselves, and able to give calm and quiet to the soul. Who is there among the sons of the mighty, angel or archangel, cherubim or seraphim, that can understand the mind of the Lord? They see His works, they wonder, they adore, but they confess that He is “past finding out.” And “canst thou,” a creature lower than angels, lower by creation, lower still by the fall, “canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?” No. Show thyself a man, and acknowledge, with one whom you need not be ashamed to follow, “when I thought to know this, it was too hard for me.”
I. THE DOCTRINE OF THE TEXT. It embraces the Divine sovereignty and the Divine working. Much as men dislike the sovereignty of God, it may be argued from His very existence. Is He a self-existent, omnipotent, eternal Being, then absolute sovereignty is His essential and inalienable right We see this in the work of nature. Who created the earth? who preserves it and all that it contains? Do we not in Him live and move and have our being? Are we not dependent upon Him every day and at every moment? And is He not, then, the Supreme Governor? We see His sovereignty in the kingdom of grace. If we are now His people, what was there in any of us to merit His esteem? But the words also set forth the Divine working. Yet it is a doctrine which not a few have openly denied and many secretly disbelieve. That God has been at work in the world of which we are inhabitants, and in the mighty fields of space which spread around us, is too evident for most men to deny. And I must pass on to say that he who would exclude God from the world of providence might as well exclude Him from the world of nature. He who can attribute the events which are continually coming to pass to human agent, is not less an unbeliever than the man who ascribes the birth and being of the universe to the dance of atoms or an unknown chance. The Divine attributes of truth, righteousness, and holiness are just as clear in the arrangements of the moral world as the characters of His eternal power and Godhead are graven in strong and striking lines upon the natural world. The path of Divine Providence may be often trackless, yet here and there justice or mercy has raised a monument to mark its course. From a humble consideration of the mysterious method in which God is pleased to carry out His vast designs, we may learn many a valuable lesson; it may deepen our humility, it may call faith into more vigorous play, it may increase our admiration of a Being who, whilst wonderful in counsel, is excellent in working. Are we willing to stand by and see our hopes frustrated, our notions contradicted, and our views thwarted? Then have we learned what human wisdom could not teach, and what human pride would never stoop to learn. He works by means of His own choosing, and yet He works effectually. The process may be so slow that unbelievers shall take occasion to triumph, the means be so weak that the world shall laugh them to scorn; the mode in which He works shall be so His own that no ingenuity of man can comprehend it, and yet the issue of the whole is errs, “I will perform all My pleasure.”
II. Let us now consider the declaration of the text. “None can stay His hand or say, what doest Thou?” The declaration supposes opposition, and we ought to be prepared to witness a conflict. Doubtless, so far as power is concerned, this opposition might have been crushed in the bud by the omnipotence of Him against whom it is arrayed. But omnipotence has no need thus to anticipate the designs of its enemies. The throne and authority of God are not to be endangered by the collective force of all created beings, and, therefore, He can afford, shall I say, to let wickedness run its course, exert all its violence, to rise and swell to the utmost limits of its strength, to proceed for ages in its bold and impious career, and then with a word or with a look rebuke its arrogance, expose its native weakness, and lay its power in the dust “none can stay His hand.” The very opposition of men and devils shall but serve more abundantly to illustrate His omnipotence and wisdom. “Let Satan tear up the whole fabric of human happiness and virtue to its foundation; let man become the foolish ally of this his bitterest foe; let all nature be moved from its course; still I will counteract the mischief, will repair the ruin, will restore all things, will gain to Myself a glorious name, and ‘who shall hinder it?’” It is not to be denied that the whole history of the world, to the present time, is but the history of one continued effort to resist and thwart the purpose of the Most High. But this resistance, fierce as it has proved, has only served to unfold more clearly the nature of that purpose against which it has been turned. Truly, God foresaw how dreadfully the children of men would set themselves against Him when He sent forth His Son, His only Son, to seek and to save the long (S. Bridge, M.A.)
At the same time my reason returned unto me.
1. In his practical atheism. This man has no God, no being higher than himself. In all the achievements in which he glories there is no recognition of a supreme power. The perversion of this man’s reason is seen:
2. In his self-adoration. “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” There was nothing greater in the universe to this man than himself. What a perversion of reason was this! A poor, frail, dying, mortal regarding himself as the greatest being. Human reason is here presented as:
II. BRUTALISED. “While the word was in the king’s mouth,” etc. Reason perverted soon becomes brutalised, brutalised in its gratifications and habits. Look at the life of the beasts of the field.
1. What are their supplies? The productions of the earth, the grass, nothing else. What other supplies does the mere worldly man seek? What is of the “earth, earthy,” nothing else.
2. What are their animating impulses? The gastric, the gregarious, the sexual. What else are the governing impulses of worldly men?
3. What are their prospects? All present and material, nothing in the future or spiritual The fact is that all men who practically ignore God live the life of brutes. Human reason is here presented as:
III. RESTORED “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me.” With his restored reason there came three things:
1. Transcendant thought.
(1) He thought upon the existence of God. “I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured Him.” When reason returns, when the sinner comes to himself, he begins to think on God. He lifts up his eyes to the Infinite.
(2) He thought upon the dominion of God. He regarded His dominion as everlasting; “Whose dominion is an everlasting dominion”; as supreme; as utterly irresponsible to any. “None can stay His hand,” etc. With his returned reason there came:
2. Social elevation.. When man is restored to true reason he will rise to honour and immortality. With his returned reason there came:
3. Devotional life. Worship is at once the highest development and the highest delight of reason. (Homilist)
And those that walk in pride He is able to abase.
There is a grandeur and at the same time an awe cast around the history of Nebuchadnezzar which draws out the reverential attention of childhood, and the careful investigation of those who are interested in watching the course of human character and motive. His terrible invasion of the Holy Land; the way in which the Almighty seemed to go before and to follow him; the voice of prophecy, which proclaimed his advent from time to time; his evident fulfilment of God’s own designs with regard to his sinful people, and the remarkable pride of his disposition meeting with so signal a punishment from Heaven; all alike invest him with an importance which forbids us to pass him by in the study of the characters of the Old Testament.
1. See what his position historically was. He is a person of considerable interest in connection with the providential dealings of God with the human race. His name, his character, and his punishment, are alike a proverb. His connection with the Church of God and the people whom Jehovah loved, and the way in which he is made the subject of prophetic revelations, excite our surprise when we consider the marked manner in which his personal conduct is condemned and punished by a signal display of God’s chastening anger. His position, therefore, as well as his personal character, become matters of interesting consideration. The point with which we have to deal in this character is the paradoxical union of overbearing pride with the strong conviction of the almighty power of God. This was not only a convection, but a fully realised truth, and one which frequently affected the practice of the king in such a way as to induce him to alter his whole mode of life; nor only that, but to go to the humbling extent of recognising before his people the errors of his idolatry and the purity of the persecuted religion.
2. The first question we have to consider is the nature of pride itself. It is one of the most inexplicable of the feelings to which we are subject. It is by many looked upon as of the same family with vanity, though, perhaps, no two faults are more widely apart. It is often applauded in the same breath with self-respect and independence of character, on occasions when it is a simple scandal upon those attributes to class them with it. In some of its manifestations it is capable of defying God; in others it is simply reducible to that amount of self-reliance and manly energy which is one of the highest and noblest attributes of man. There are so many gradations of pride, and so many feelings akin to it, that one of the best ways of ascertaining its distinctive nature is seeing it by contrasts. Compare the pride of Nebuchadnezzar with that of Saul, and with that of Herod. Amongst the holy and eminent servants of God, Moses had the tendency towards the fault of Herod. Paul, perhaps, more than any other among the saints of God, resembles in natural character that of Saul; while the character that most resembles Nebuchadnezzar amongst the servants of God is that of Jehoshaphat. Saul’s was a character of genuine pride; one which firmly believed in its own inherent power of existence and action, independently of any superior authority or source; and if he professed belief in such, he only did so in conformity with national prejudice, or the associations of education. The pride of Nebuchadnezzar, on the other hand, rested on circumstances which were the adventitious accidents of his life; his empire, his successes, his vast dominion, and his prestige of conquest; while side by side with the pomp of circumstance he clearly saw the present Deity, acknowledged His power, and humbly bent beneath His vengeance we was not essentially proud, though “his heart was lifted Up within him.” With these two cases, what is strictly called pride ceases, for Herod’s case is one of vanity--a fault far removed from genuine pride. Pride recognises some positive, indefeasible claim to independence of action, and irresponsibility, and is pained rather than otherwise when others attribute to it its own quality. Vanity simply takes pleasure in being praised for the possession of what it very often does not possess, cares far less for having it then being thought to have it.
3. In the world there are many representatives of both these classes. There is the man who has the impression that he stands independent of any being or power. There is the man who bases his sense of independence on some special attribute or circumstance connected with his life. The modes in which these two men should deal with themselves are very various. Representatives of the former class are Saul, using Samuel but as a tool, and the Mosaic law but as a machine. There, too, in the elder world is Cato, the representative of Roman independence; and Diogenes, the cynic philosopher, who, wrapped round in the ragged mantle of humility, covered a boson essentially proud. Widely different, and vastly more numerous, are the followers in that other wake; men proud of something; an attribute, a talent, or a circumstance. Nebuchadnezzar, boasting of his vast dominion; Sardanapalus, tenacious to the death of indomitable purpose. Xerxes, proud of millions; and Leonidas, prouds of tens. Pompey, proud of being leader of the aristocratic East; and Caesar, proud of guiding the destinies of the more popular West. Alexander, boasting of worlds which left no more to conquer. If members of the former class would correct their faults, they must first try to realise definite and dogmatic Christianity; they must hold and gaze at the creed, as if it were a limited, impersonating form of truth revealed by God. They must get rid of their tendency to subjectivity and contemplation, leading them into scepticism or latitudinarianism in their views of religion, and consent to become dogmatic. They are worshipping an idol made without hands, even “self.” (E. Monro.)
There, is in this dream much of that incongruity which is characteristic of dreams; yet the turn of the angel’s words, whereby he indicated that the tree represented a man, and the moral purpose of the whole, as expressed in the concluding phrases, could not but impress the heart of Nebuchadnezzar; and even before he had received the interpretation from Daniel his conscience must have whispered that the tree was designed to represent himself. But his conscience only gave him a vague presentiment of its real meaning. When Daniel had interpreted the dream, he passed into the counsellor, and valuing the welfare of the monarch more than his good opinion for the moment, and fearing degradation for him more than the loss of favour for himself, he added these words, which are not more remarkable for the courtesy of their tone than for the sternness of their fidelity. “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.” We do not know how this wise advice was received. For a full year things went on as before. But though God’s retribution may come slowly, it comes surely, and ere long all that Daniel descried was realised. Much has been written by commentators in all ages on the illness of Nebuchadnezzar, but it is generally agreed that he became insane. The disease from which he suffered goes under the generic name, zoanthropia. After seven times had gone, the king lifted up his eyes to Heaven, and his understanding came to him gain, but came in a form more clear than before, for now he perceived that his greatness was not all his own. He discovered that he had nothing which he had not received, and he was disposed to give to the Most High God the glory of all he was, and all that he had done. With this recognition of the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, the only wise God, his reason came to him, and the glory of his kingdom and the honour and brightness of his court were restored. What did Nebuchadnezzar design by the publication of the decree in which these facts are here preserved? Did he mean to represent himself as having become an adherent of the Jewish faith? Probably, while acknowledging the supremacy of Jehovah as the Most High, he still clung to the worship and service of inferior divinities. His was but an imperfect conversion.
1. We have here a very solemn warning against pride and vainglory. With all his ability, Nebuchadnezzar had nothing which he had not received from God. Whoever plumes himself upon what he has done in the world, as if he were the author of it all, and not simply the instrument in the hand of God, is as really and truly proud and haughty as was Nebuchadnezzar here. The merchant who speaks of his business as the sole result of his ability, and calls himself, with supreme satisfaction, “the architect of his own fortunes”; the author who thinks of his book as the creation of his own genius; the statesman who looks upon his position as entirely self-made, the artisan who prides himself upon his foremanship; and the millionaire who, looking upon his glittering heaps, congratulates himself as the sole author of his gains--all alike are guilty of Nebuchadnezzar’s sin; for they have shut God out of their hearts, and they have not given Him the acknowledgment and the honour to which He is entitled. Then let us be “clothed with humility,” and, wherever we are, and whatever we have, let us acknowledge God.
2. An illustration of the proverb that “pride goeth before a fall.” Sooner or later the spirit which I have been now exposing will bring punishment upon him who cherishes it, and the punishment will be of such a nature as to make the sinner see and know the heinousness of his sin.
3. A beautiful illustration of fidelity in the proclamation of God’s truth. It cost Daniel a great deal to give this interpretation of the dream to the monarch. The king had been very kind to him. But necessity was laid upon him, and faithfulness, alike to Jehovah and to Nebuchadnezzar, required that he should speak the whole truth. Hence he gave the interpretation with the utmost exactness; and then, in the most courteous manner, he advised the king to repentance.
4. A loud call to us to thank God for the continuance of our reason. How seldom we think of this!
5. We are here reminded that the Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men. God is the King of kings. This our comfort amid the movements of our times. (W. M. Taylor, D.D.)
The Downfall of Pride
This is a very remarkable confession, considering it only as the acknowledgment of a mighty, and proud king, thoroughly and sincerely humbled before his God. The humiliation of so great a monarch in the sight of the whole world--both of the Jews, whom he had brought low, and of the Babylonians, who were inclined to make him an idol--was in itself a great example of God’s power over the hearts of men, and a powerful witness before the heathen to the name and honour of the true and only God. But the case is full of deeper and diviner meaning, when we regard Nebuchadnezzar as the type and pattern of the great anti-Christian power, the power of the world, opposed from the beginning to the Kingdom of the saints of the Most High, and the power of His Christ. In this light we see that the king’s humiliation was also a type and pattern of the complete victory, one day to be attained, of the Christian Church over all opposing forces. That Nebuchadnezzar was a type or pattern of the great anti-Christian power we may discern from the following considerations.
1. Babylon is in Scripture opposed to Jerusalem. It is the proper name of the city of the world, as opposed to the city of God.
2. Nebuchadnezzar was a king of extraordinary valour, wisdom, and spirit; a thorough sample or specimen of what this world entitles “a great man.” He had been influenced for good by a former dream: still the great change, from pride to humility, remained to be wrought in Nebuchadnezzar. A complete victory was obtained by God’s almighty grace and providence over the spirit of the world and of anti-Christ in the person of this great king . . . These astonishing providences of old, these dealings of God with His people on a large scale, are in reality and substance the same as His dealings with each individual among us. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Time. ”)
The Most High Able to Abase the Proud
I. WHO THEY ARE THAT WALK IN PRIDE. There is not a man, however near his walk may be with God, but he hath cause, abundant cause to deplore his self-seeking, his want of entire motive in following after God, and that sad admixture of self, that defiles all that he does, and all that he thinks. And, I believe, the nearer is the approach to the living God, the more is the soul made conscious of the hatefulness of that pride that lurketh within it. The cross is the great revealer of it. And yet, though believers in the Lord are ever constrained to mourn over the pride that is in them, they are not “those that walk in” it. This is the feature of the unregenerate soul: and it is true of all of them. I need hardly attempt to prove that the careless sinner “walketh” altogether “in pride’; for he setteth up his own will, his own pleasure, above the will, and above the pleasure, of God; he is his own rule, and his own master. The self-righteous formalist, who “goeth about to establish his own righteousness,” “walketh in pride”; it is a remarkable expression--he will a not submit himself to the righteousness of God”; he cannot stoop so low. Need I attempt to prove that the more lover of the world “walketh in” his”pride”? “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” mark out his features, and at once disclose his character. And what is that lofty, independent spirit, which the self-important man has, that will not for one moment allow that all he is, and all he has, and all he can do, belongs to God?
II. THEY THAT WALK IN PRIDE SHALL BE ABASED. God hath said it; and what He has said He will most surely accomplish. Both the apostle James and the apostle Peter make use of the same words: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble.” If you ask why so great a stress is laid upon this in God’s Word, it is because pride is infinitely hateful to God. There is in all sin that which stands opposed to God; but there is in pride that which insults Him, that which rejects Him, that which dethrones Him. And as destructive is it to the soul. For no proud, unsubdued spirit can ever see aught of beauty in Christ.
III. But now observe that GOD IS ABLE TO ABASE THEM. So Nebuchadnezzar knew. Truly he had lessons, awful lessons; he had proof, awful proof, laid upon him, that God “is able to abase.” There are some striking exhibitions of this same truth in the prophets. In the sixteenth chapter of Isaiah, we have a particular notice of proud Moab; observe, in the sixth verse, “We have heard of the pride of Moab (he is very proud), even of his haughtiness, and his pride, and his wrath”--so notorious, it Is mentioned thrice in one verse--“Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab; every one shall howl; for the foundations of Kir-hareseth shall ye mourn; surely they are stricken.” Look at the thirteenth of Jeremiah, and there see how awfully the Holy Ghost directeth us to Jerusalem (in the eighth and ninth verses), “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, Thus saith the Lord, after this manner will I mar the pride of Judah, and the great pride of Jerusalem: this evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart; and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing.” Remark what the Lord says of Babylon, in the fiftieth of this same prophet, the twenty eighth verse: “The voice of them that flee and escape out of the land of Babylon, to declare in Zion the vengeance of the Lord our God, the vengeance of His temple; call together the archers against Babylon; all ye that bend the bow camp against it round about; let none thereof escape; recompense her according to her work; according to all that she hath done, do unto her, for she hath been proud against the Lord, against the Holy One of Israel; therefore shall her young men fall in the streets, and all her men of war shall be out off in that day, saith the Lord; behold, I am against thee, O thou most proud, saith the Lord God of Hosts, for thy day is come, the time that I will visit thee; and the most proud shall stumble and fall, and none shall raise him up; and I will kindle a fire in his cities, and it shall devour all round about him.” Observe how again and again the Lord speaketh of her as most proud. I bessech you mark His dealings with His own people. They know it. Look at the great work of conversion. How He layeth low! For in what doth the life of faith consist? Many a believer here present can reply, “Dependent upon Christ for all I want and all I have; just as poor at the last as at the first; Christ my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; living upon Him for what He has done, receiving from Him what He has promised, and having not one thing in myself to recommend, me to His notice, but bringing my poor empty vessel to receive out of His inexhaustible abundance.” What is this but the “abasing” of those that did “walk in pride?” And what is the very life of a close walking with God? Why, it is but the continued denial of self. For what is the Spirit’s victory? It is but His victory over that nature of mine that would always lead me to self; it is but substituting, as it were, the love of Christ for the love of the creature. Truly God is able to do this; and no one but God is able to do it. Afflictions cannot do it--the deepest awe upon the conscience cannot do it--the most alarming representations of eternal woe cannot do it--and the most winning unfoldings of Divine glory cannot do it. The ministers of Christ cannot abase the soul of man--angels and archangels cannot; they can rejoice over the abased spirit, but abase the soul they cannot. It is the work of God, the eternal Spirit, and no one but Him. And by what simple means can He do it! By a word, by a thought, by a glance of the mind, by a conversation, by a text, or by bringing before us some glimpse of the cross of Jesus. And the same power doth it take to keep them low. He always abases, that He may exalt. How patiently, then, ought you to submit yourselves to the will of God! “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” And, above all, He would ‘have you learn the perpetual causes for abasement. That is hew we ought to reason--what cause have I for deep abasement, that I require it so much? (J. H. Evans, M.A.)
God Abasing the Proud
1. PRIDE AND VANITY. In one of our famous English universities an annual sermon is preached on “Pride.” No one will say that once a year is too often for a congregation, young and old, to be bidden to meditate on that thesis. Many learned things have been said and written upon the nature and essence of pride. Probably none of them could equal in impressiveness this account of pride-speaking, this repeated pronoun, the persona| and-the possessive: “Great Babylon, that I have builded by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty.” Whatever other definitions may be given of pride, certainly this is true of it, that it is the contemplation of self, a concentration in self, the having self in the throne of the being, as the one object of attention, of observation, of consideration, always, everywhere, and in all things. It is often assumed that this attention given to self is of necessity the contemplation of supposed excellence, that it is, therefore, so far as it is characteristic of pride, of the nature of self-complacency, or self-admiration, and yet some of the proudest of men have been at the very antipodes of self-satisfaction. It is the very consciousness of their own deformity, moral or physical, of their own inferiority in some prized or coveted particular of birth, gift, or grace, which has driven them in upon themselves in an unlovely and unloving isolation. Self-complacency is not the only form of pride. It is doubtful whether that self-complacency does not rather belong to the very different title of vanity. A beggar may be proud; a cripple may be proud: failure takes refuge in pride. Pride is self-contemplation, but not necessarily self-admiration; self-absorption, but not necessarily self-adoration. It is not quite evident from the words of King Nebuchadnezzar whether his besetting sin was pride or vanity. Something may turn upon the unanswerable question whether he thought or whether he spoke the “Is not this great Babylon?” I think that vanity always speaks. I doubt if the vain man ever keeps his vanity to himself. I am sure that pride can be silent; I am not sure that pride, as pride, ever speaks. If I would ascertain which of the two was Nebuchadnezzar’s failing, I should look rather to the hints dropped first in the Judgment upon him, and then in the account of the recovery. From the one I learn that what he had to be taught was that “the heavens do rule”; from the other I learn that he then first praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever. This decides me that, however pride and vanity may have mingled (if they ever do mingle) in his composition, pride was the differentia; that pride which contemplates self as the all in all of life and being, not necessarily as beautiful, of perfect, or happy; not necessarily as satisfactory, either in circumstance or in character, but as practically independent of all above and all below it,--the one object of importance, and interest, and devotion; knowing neither a superior to reverence, nor an inferior to regard. Vanity, though, or perhaps because, a poorer and meaner thing, is also a shallower thing, and less vital. Vanity may still be kind, a charity. Vanity may still love and be loved. Vanity, I had almost said, and I will say it, vanity may still worship. Vanity does not absolutely need to be taught the great lesson that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,” or “does according to His will in the army of heaven.” Pride and vanity both ask, “Is not this great Babylon?” but vanity asks it for applause from below, pride asks it in disdain of One above. But in all this we may not have found our own likeness. There may be some here who are not by natural temperament either proud or vain; and yet when I think once again what pride is, I doubt whether anyone is born without it. We may not dwell complacently upon our own merits. Certainly we may not be guilty of the weakness and the bad taste which would parade those supposed merits before others. Pride itself often casts out vanity, and refuses to make itself ridiculous by saying aloud, “Is not this great Babylon?” But the question is not whether we are self-admirers, but whether we are self-contemplators; not whether we are conceited in our estimate of gifts or graces, in our retrospect of attainments or successes, in our consciousness of power, or our supposition of greatness, but whether, on the contrary, we have constantly in our remembrance the derivation and the responsibility, and the accountableness of all that we have and are; whether there is a higher presence and a diviner being always in our view, making it impossible to admire or to adore that self which is so feeble and so contemptible in comparison; whether we are so in the habit of asking ourselves the two questions: “What hast thou which thou hast not received?” and “What hast thou for which thou shalt not give an account?” as to maintain always the attitude of worship, and the attitude of devotion within, and this superscription ever upon the doors and gates of the spiritual being, “Whose I am and Whom I serve.”
II. GOD’S JUDGMENT ON PRIDE. We have formed now from the history perhaps some idea of pride. We have heard what pride says to itself in the secrecy of its solitude. The same history shall suggest another thought or two about it, and the first of these is its penal, its judicial isolation. “They shall drive thee from men.” We are not going to explain away the literal, or at least the substantial fulfilment of this prophecy. Though it would be untrue to say that medical history furnishes a complete illustration of the judgment threatened and executed upon King Nebuchadnezzar, yet medical history does afford a sufficient likeness of it to render the fact, not credible only, for that its being written in the Bible would make it, but approximately intelligible. Some grievous forms of insanity in which the sufferer finds himself transfigured, in imagination at least, into an irrational creature, of which he adopts the actions and gestures, the tones and the habits, under which, in that harsh and cruel treatment of madness, from which even kings down to our own age were not exempt, the dweller in a palace might find himself exiled from the society and companionship of men. Something of this kind may seem to be indicated in this touching and thrilling description, and the use now to be made of it requires no more than this brief and general recognition of the particulars of the history from which it is drawn. He was driven from men; the Nemesis of pride is isolation. The proud man is placed atone in the universe, even while he dwells in a home. This is a terrible feature; this is the condemning brand of that self-contemplation, that self-concentration, that self-absorption, which we have thought to be the essence of pride. The proud man is driven by his own act, even before judgment speaks, if not from the presence, if not from the companionship, at least from the sympathy of his fellows. This isolation of heart and soul is the Cain-like mark set upon the unnaturalness of the spirit which it punishes. No sooner is self made the idol, than it shuts the windows of the inner being alike against God above and man below. “They shall drive thee from men.” Thou hast driven thyself from God! Another thought comes to us out of the history. Mark the words describing the discovery, “Mine understanding returned unto me; my reason returned unto me.” What was the first use of it? “ I blessed the Most High; I praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever.” It is deeply interesting to notice, and it fully accords with the observations of medical men, that the return of reason is here prefaced by a lifting up of the eyes to Heaven as though in quest of reconciliation and recognition. Yes, prayer is no stranger to the hospitals and asylums of the insane. Our moral is, the pride which will no worship is of itself an insanity. Worship is the rational attitude of the creature towards the Creator. Pride, dreaming of independence; pride, placing self where God ought to be; pride, tolling of the Babylon which it has builded; refusing to recognise any being above or below external to it, yet possessing claims upon it, is a non-natural condition. Before it can recover intellect it must look upward. The first sign of that recovery will be the acknowledgment of the Eternal. We have yet one word, and it is that of the text itself: “Those that walk in pride He is able to abase.” Nebuchadnezzar puts it into his proclamation of thanksgiving: “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.” King Nebuchadnezzar knew it by experience; he had lived in ignorance, he had lived in defiance of it, he had reaped as he had sewn, he had walked in pride, he had been driven from men. “Seven times had passed over him.” Not till he had lifted his eyes to Heaven, not till he knew that self was not all, did reason return to him. Honour and brightness came back with it. His councillors and his lords sought him. We in England know, by tradition at least, what the rejoicings are when a monarch recovers his understanding, though there may have been no judgment in that insanity which was the calamity and the sorrow of an earlier generation of Englishmen. Nebuchadnezzar may have meant only to enthrone the God of Heaven as cue God, though the chief God of the crowded Pantheon. That is nothing to us now. We can read his words and put our own construction: “Those that walk in pride He is able to abase.” Solemn, awful, terrible confession; verified day by day in history, not modern only, but of to-day! How often in our experience has a proud man, quite apart from act or deed of his own, found himself under a treatment but too nicely calculated to humble him! How often has a rich man, building his house on the winnings of chance or of speculation, found to his discomfiture that he has built it upon the sand! How often has a selfish man, having but one tender spot or two in his whole moulding and making, staked his very life, we will say, upon two well-beloved sons, and then found, to use the Scripture similitude, that he has “laid the foundation of his prosperity in the first-born and set up the gates thereof in the younger.” How often has a professional man on the eve of the last step to greatness developed some fatal symptoms of palsy, or consumption, which made him bid farewell to all his glory, and betake himself to his last gloomy home, in the vaults, perhaps, beneath this church! How often has a statesman, brought by the last turn of the wheel of politics to the very summit of his ambition, been laid low by the importunate strokes of a jealous and envious rivalry, and compelled to exchange earth for the melancholy Pantheon of posthumous fame! (Dean Vaughan.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Daniel 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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