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Belshazzar the king made a great feast.
This feast is, like how many other events, rescued from oblivion by the interposition of a Divine hand. The presence of God in history is its salt, and keeps it from perishing. When does credible history begin, but with the exodus of Israel from Egypt? What kind of interest attaches to European history, apart from the work of God in the church? Let English history be read, minus the Reformation and Puritan element, and it would be very meagre and watery. What rescues human life from insignificance? The presence of God What gives to the work of every day a serious interest? The presence of God. Whereever we see the finger of God, we are arrested. We may see it in the page of history, in the life of a family, in the quiet prosperity of a church. This poor, luxurious, profane king, who comes up, drinks, trembles for an hour before us in the blaze of splendour, and then passes away swiftly into chaos and old night--this reveller would never have been heard of, but for “the fingers of a man’s hand that wrote ever against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of his palace.” There is nothing interesting in this man. He does nothing, says nothing, is nothing; nothing but a dark ground on which fiery letters are written, the more luminous because the ground is black. We take a kind of interest in Nebuchadnezzar, with his proud, stormy greatness; with his gigantic plans and terrible visions. We read of his insanity with concern approaching to horror. If Belshazzar excites any feeling in our minds it is utter astonishment at his folly. Was this a time to give a great feast to the thousand of his lords? Cyrus, with his mighty army, lay outside his city--Cyrus, who had already defeated him in a pitched battle--Cyrus, the greatest soldier in the world. What had the gods of gold and silver done for Nebuchadnezzar? How had they avenged the slight put upon the golden image which he had set up? What had they done for the poor insane king? How had they helped Belshazzar lately, when Cyrus beat him and shut him up in Babylon, a prisoner in his own capital? They slighted the great and awful past, with its stern lessons; and they have always had a hard and dreadful future, who made early work of the past. If men will not take the trouble to read the warnings of yesterday, to-morrow’s fingers will write a word on their walls which will scare their eyeballs, and make their knees shake! Oh, take kindly to the warnings of all history, but of your own in particular, for it is as grave and important to you as over Belshazzar’s ought to have been to him. But when they made light of the God of Israel over their cups, they made light of those “portions and parcels of the dreadful past,” which they must have known and remembered. “Thou, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.” “They lifted up themselves against the Lord of heaven,” though they had seen His marvellous works wrought before them. The fiery furnace, the four men in the fire, the dream, the madness, the recovery, the proclamation; they knew it all; they slighted it all; and at this time, too, with the foe at their gate, and such a foe! The Chaldeans are called in, as of old, and, as usual, are at fault. Then the queen mother, Nitocris, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, “came into the banquet-house.” Profane history speaks well of this lady. She was a wise and prudent woman, and had the chief administration of affairs Her memory was all alive. She recollected past perplexities. She remembered Daniel, and said, “Let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.” “Then Daniel was brought in before the king.” Scarlet and a gold chain! and, in the meantime, the Mede and the Persian are entering by stealth, like thieves in the night, through the dried-up bed of the Euphrates! “Let thy gifts be to thyself.” “Tekel” “Weighed in the balances and found wanting.” A very significant word. It represents God as putting us into a just balance, and judging accordingly. This is not an unusual figure. “Thou dost weigh the path of the just.” “By the Lord actions are weighed.” “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.” We all remember how strongly the Bible speaks of “a just weight.” Look at this great appearance of royal government, pride, pomp, and circumstance of state--Belshazzar’s rule over the poor people of Babylon--how fine it all looks. But look at it; is it doing what it professes to do? Is it defending the city? Is if caring for the poor? Drunken on the night of the seige. A sham government. Light as a leaf before the whirlwind. God takes it up, weighs it, finds it worthless, and throws it to Cyrus. Then the officer of justice steps in and does his work. Pass for what you are; and be what you pass for; or Peres, the sentence will go against you. You pass for a Christian, you use the passwords of the Christian religion; men take your word, just as without suspicion we take our pounds of meat and tea, and pay for them. Is it only seemingly good weight? Tekel you will be found out. A light ruler! But stop! before we blame Belshazzar and other light kings, let us ask a question--Are you doing in the royal line what you profess to do? Are you ruling your households in the fear of God? Is there a just government there! Is there equity, love, purity, the law of truth, swaying the family? Ye the scrutiny of Heaven is there a kingdom of God there? And how is the inner kingdom ruled? You profess to have a conscience, a presiding judge--reason. Are you taking it easy, and making light of your responsibilities, of the charge which God has laid upon you, and thinking that God doth not see? “Let integrity and uprightness preserve us, O God of our salvation.” (B. Kent.)
Now let us look at the scene. What is this a picture of? Can you express the whole of that revel in one word? I think I can, and this is the word--godlessness. When, presently, the soothsayers have proved their ignorance, and the enchanters are unable to decipher the mystic writing upon the wail, and Daniel comes, what is the supreme charge that he makes against Belshazzar? He does not charge him with drunkenness, though he is drunk: he does not charge him with sacrilege, though he has sent for the golden vessels of the House of God in order that these drinking men may drink from them; he does not charge him with lasciviousness of life, although there are tokens of it on every hand in that banqueting hall. This is the charge that Daniel makes against the king. He passes from the superficial to the central, and in these words he makes his supreme charge against the king: “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast then not glorified.” Every power of the king was a God-given power--his breath, all his ways, his throne, his opportunity, his kingdom, his capacity for laughter and for tears--everything God-given, and yet he sat on the throne without reference to the other throne: exercised his kingship without reference to the other kingship; laughed without reference to God; entered into all the avenues of his own life and enjoyed the very blessings of Heaven, and yet without reference to God, and this not because of ignorance. And now mark in the case of this king how that supreme sin works itself out. Foolhardiness! The enemies are at the gate; Darius is on his way; the very kingdom over which the man presides in self-satisfying security is being undermined and shaken to its foundations. Foolhardiness! A feast where there ought to have been preparations for a fight Belshazzar has been living as though Nebuchadnezzar had never lived; Belshazzar has been living as though his father had never come under the immediate government of God; he has been living as though the great lessons of the past had never been uttered or taught. And you tell me he has forgotten! No, he never forgot; these men do not forget--they act as though they had forgotten, but forgotten they have not. But you say to me: “How do you know he has not forgotten?” Because when the wine has worked into his brain and the wit is out therefore, the underlying memory asserts itself in idiotic insult: “Fetch the vessels of the House of God, and we will drink from them.” That is how godlessness works out in its finality. If you let me turn aside for a moment, I can quite understand there is a young man who is living a godless life to-night, and he says: “I never meant to do it.” Belshazzar never meant to do it. Do not allow the sin to blind you to the facts of life that are patent on every hand. Do you suppose that any murderer who has gone to his doom ever meant to commit murder? Never. But it was the last bitter fruitage of the root of godlessness. That is how godlessness works itself out. And I look at that great banqueting hall with its thousand lords, and I look at Belshazzar, the man who knew, who had lived as though he did not know, who remembered in the midst of the revelry, and then insulted God.. Now, still watching that hall and that scene, I pray you mark the next fact: the Divine assertion in the midst of the revelry, the handwriting by which God asserted His own presence and His own Divine right amid all the revelry of foolhardy men. For let me say at once that all the mystery of the soothsayers and the enchanters was not due to the mystery of the writing, but to their attempt to explain away simple, evident truths. “Mene,” everyone knew that it meant “remembered”; “Tekel,” everyone know that it meant “weighed”; “Upharsin,” everyone knew that it meant “divided.” And whereas I do not for a single moment want to take away from the fact that there dwelt in Daniel the spirit of insight into spiritual things; in Daniel as in many another man, the spirit that sees into the heart of spiritual things is the spirit of a little child. It was the cleverness of the soothsayers that prevented their understanding the writing on the wail, and all the heated feverishness of the king to get someone to explain it was not heated feverishness to get someone to explain it, but to explain it away; and what Daniel did was to come and speak the truth and enforce it and drive it home, the truth that was patent to the king. This was God asserting Himself in the life of this man. It was an assertion of Himself that interfered with all human arrangements, that disturbed the feast. Just look at the king. His knees smote together, his countenance was changed, he sees all the horror of his own foolhardiness and all the awful fruitage of his own sin. If he can he will escape it; if he can he will undo the past and blot out his own handwriting; but he cannot, and God has come into the midst of the revelry to disturb the life of this man. Now, mark the writing for a moment. Remembered, counted, finished--there is no more. The solemnity of this whole story lies in the fact that it is not a warning uttered, but a verdict pronounced. “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.” In looking at the narrative as we have been doing for the last few minutes, I cannot possibly put any single word of hope into the story. It is not a story of hope; it is a story of judgment; swift, sure, irrevocable--nothing left. A man had his opportunity, had his examples, had his warnings, best of all had God--failed. Now, why take you back to the old story? Only in order that I may now for a few moments endeavour to take out of the story the principles of importance and ask you to face them. And what is the first? That the supreme sin of every life, including all others within it, is the sin of godlessness. Godlessness is the root of sin. And if it should happen that to-night in the case of some person in this house the end should come, if your years are numbered and the last hour is upon you and you have failed, what is your sin? Exactly what this man’s sin was. “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” You belong to God, everything you have is a Divine gift, and all these years of your life up to the present moment What is the story of your life? You are God-created; His image is on your brow; the supreme glory of the Godhead in some sense is reproduced and re-expressed in you. “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways.” What relation have you borne to Him? And I want to ask you now for a moment, since God created man and God preserved man, what relation have you borne in the days and years of your life to the God who created you, to the God who has preserved you? That is the supreme thing; there is no other question left; there is no other problem ought to vex the heart of man but that. Now, is it true of you that you have not glorified Him? You have thought of Him as a distant Deity; you have thought of Him, perhaps, as a supreme intelligent force behind Nature, to be spoken of reverently and nothing more; you have thought of Him as the God of judgment and the God of mercy, for you have lived in the gentle light which breaks from the cross of the Crucified. But these things are of no moment; the question is, How have you answered your knowledge and your conviction concerning God? And remember, godlessness is the life lived within the provision of God that never recognises the One who provides. I would have you very solemnly put away from your mind the false idea that godlessness is the peculiar condition of the man who dwells in the slum, that godlessness is that which expresses itself in profanity and bestiality and lasciviousness--all those things are true, but there is a godlessness which is refined, cultured, pleasant, and yet is the most arrant and hardening godlessness of the age, issuing in indifference and presently manifesting itself, it may be, in the sceptical allusion and the pitying and patronising attitude which a man takes up to those who are godly people.
Oh! the blight of it. That is the supreme sin. And out of this sin of godlessness spring all the other sins. Folly! A man has lost the balance of life who has lost his sense of and obedience to God. But what was the supreme sin of the man illustrated in the story of the prodigal? It was this, that he took his father’s substance and wasted it in riotous living. And that is the sin of humanity the whole way along. It is you sin that every gift God has bestowed upon you, you have wasted upon yourself. And there is no man more blind, no man more utterly foolish, no man proving his insanity more than the man who lives through these days so swiftly passing without reference to God and without relation to God. Godlessness issues in folly; godlessness leaves a man a prey to all the lusts to play about the life to tempt. And what is the other lesson? It is that, sooner or later, God asserts Himself in every human life. The freedom of the will is a limited freedom. God in His great universe will never allow the will of man to be so free as wreck for evermore all who come into contact with him. Liberty and licence are two things, and there must be a moment when God arrests the life and deals with the man. This man knew about Nebuchadnezzar and yet did not humble himself; he never laid the glory of his own opportunity at the footstool of the Divine sovereignty, and made wreckage of his life in consequence. God, at some point, comes into every man’s life, arresting it. “Ah!” you will say, “ I have not glorified God, and the godlessness of principle hag blossomed into the fruitage of evil habit.” Do not play with the habit do not try to cut off the habit; get down to the principle, and by way of the cross of Christ to-night find your way back into the Kingdom of God, yielding to Him your whole life, trusting in the Saviour who comes with matchless patience wooing you back to God, and then, when presently the story is told of your life, instead of the sentence being passed, “Found wanting,” it will be written, “Ye are complete in Him.” (G. Campbell Morgan.)
The Night Feast of Belshazzar
Belshazzar was the last of the Babylonian kings. The great feast which he made for a thousand of his lords was on the last night of his reign. He belonged to the proud and profligate race of the Chaldeans, whom the Hebrew prophets describe as given to pleasures, dwelling carelessly, and trusting in wickedness. All this can be abundantly shown from the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; from the Greek historians, Herodotus, Xenophon, and Diodorus and from inscriptions on monuments that remain to this day. And knowing all this concerning the young men of that great and mighty city of ancient time, we are not surprised that Babylon became a desolation. The day of doom is not far off from thy great city when its young men have become “tender and delicate”; nerveless and spiritless about the nobler demands of effort and duty. There is no more effectual way to destroy a great and mighty nation than to give its young men all the money they want, provide them with plays and festivities and amusements and dances and wine, and then leave them to sweat the life and manhood out of body and soul in the hot-bed of pleasure and self-indulgence. That is the way Babylon was ruined. That is the way imperial Rome became an easy prey to northern barbarians. That is the way Christian Constantinople came under the debasing and abominable sway of Mohammedans. That is the way Venice ended a thousand years of independent and glorious history with shame and servitude. Belshazzar had everything to flatter his pride and indulge his passions. He was an absolute monarch, holding the life and property of his thousand lords and his countless people entirely at his disposal. His servants were princes. His concubines were the daughters of kings. His capital was enriched with the spoils of nations--his provinces were cultivated by captive people. He was hasty and violent in temper, yet effeminate and luxurious in his habits of living. He was gracious and indulgent toward his favourites; and yet when their best efforts to please him did not happen to suit his caprice of the moment, he would be cruel as the grave. The great hall of the palace, in which he feasted his thousand lords reclining upon couches, was large enough to accommodate four times as many guests arranged as we now seat ourselves at table. It was adorned with carvings and sculptures of colossal dimensions, and the lofty walls’ were emblazoned with the trophies of war and the symbols of idolatrous worship. The profane orgies of royal mirth were adorned with every artistic decoration that the genius of the age could supply. I believe that the fine arts are capable of ministering to the highest and purest civilisation; but thus far they have done little to enlighten the ignorant, to lift up the degraded, or to help the world forward in the career of moral improvement. They have always flourished in the corrupt and reeking society of a dissolute and licentious age. Rome, the modern Babylon, was never more depraved and abominable than when it had Michael Angelo to build St. Peter’s, and Raphael to fresco the Vatican. The capital of France was never more like Rome than when the Grand Monarque, Louis the Fourteenth, dazzled the world with his splendid court, and the great masters of every land were decorating the palaces of Fontainbleau, Versailles, and the Louvre, with the loftiest achievements of art. In three hundred years the highest art has done less to refine and improve the common people in Rome and Naples than would be done by the spelling-book and New Testament in one year. Belshazzar inherited the pride, the glory, the riches, the power, the palaces, the capital, the kingdom of his great father. He inherited enough to ruin any young man who was not fortified by great strength of character and a severe mastery of his own appetites and passions. At the time immediately preceding the great feast which Belshazzar made for his thousand lords, the province of Babylon had been overrun and the capital assailed by a great army from the north. But, for some strange and inexplicable reason, the besieging force had apparently withdrawn. No effort appears to have been made to discover what had become of the enemy, or what had occasioned their disappearance. It was enough that they could no longer be seen from the towers and walls. It was taken for granted that the siege was abandoned and the war was over. The whole city was immediately given up to rejoicing and every form of riotous excess. Belshazzar set the example, and people and princes were only too ready to imitate their king. “The music and the banquet and the wine; the garlands, the rose-edours, and the flowers; the sparkling eyes, the flashing ornaments, the jewelled arms, the raven hair, the braids, the bracelets, the thin robes floating like clouds; the fair forms, the delusion and the false enchantment of the dizzy scene,” take away all reason and all reverence from the flushed and crowded revellers. There is now nothing too sacred for them to profane, and Belshazzar himself takes the lead in the riot and the blasphemy. Even the mighty and terrible Nebuchadnezzar, who desolated the sanctuary of Jehovah at Jerusalem, would not use his sacred trophies in the worship of his false gods. But this weak and wicked successor of the great conqueror, excited with wine and carried away with the delusion that no foe can ever capture his great city, is anxious to make some grand display of defiant and blasphemous desecration. At the very moment when their sacrilegious revelry was at its height, the bodiless hand came forth and wrote the words of doom upon the wall of the banqueting-room; the armies of Cyrus had turned the Euphrates out of its channel, and marched into the unguarded city along the bed of the stream beneath the walls; they were already in possession of the palace-gates when Belshazzar and his princes were drinking wine from the vessels of Jehovah, and praising the gods of gold and silver and stone; and that great feast of boasting and of blasphemy was the last ceremonial of the Chaldean kings. The reckless and the profane not unfrequently display the greatest gaiety and thoughtlessness when they are on the very brink of destruction. The feeling and the appearance of safety are not always to be taken for reality. Death still enters the banquet-hall anti the ball-room as well as the bed-chamber. The last opportunity for any good work is apt to look just like all that came and went before it. We seldom know that; it is the last, until it is gone never to return. Our only safe way to improve the last opportunity is to use all that come as if any one might be the last. The apparent thoughtlessness of the gay and worldly does not prove that they are at peace with themselves A smiling face and a reckless manner are sometimes put on to hide an anxious and an aching heart. To find joy in everything we do, we must do everything for God. To have the light of Heaven upon our faces in all the dark hours of trial and trouble, we must have Heaven’s peace in our hearts. The messages of the gospel is God’s way of peace for man. Belshazzar and his thousand lords did not profane the golden vessels of Jehovah until they had drunk wine. Indulgence in the intoxicating cup prepares the way for every excess and profanation. No man can be sure that he will be saved from any degree of shame or crime when once he has a put an enemy in his mouth to steal away his reason.” The eye of the Great Judge is upon every scene of profanity and dissipation. The handwriting appeared upon the wall of the bouquet-room in Belshazzar’s palace in the hour of their wildest mirth, to show that God was there. And God is in every scene of wickedness and dissipation not less really than in the Holy Place of His own sanctuary. The finger of God is ever writhing the witness of His presence with us upon the living tablets of our hearts. That infinite and awful Witness is in every storehouse, workshop, and place of business, every day of the week and every hour of the day. In the deepest solitude we must all have one companion. To every act and word of our lives there must be one witness, and that witness is the holy and sin-hating God. We cannot escape our accountability to Him. Why, then, not live so that we can give Him our account with joy? Conscience is a mysterious and mighty power in us all. The great and terrible king Belshazzar was completely mastered and unmanned by its secret whisper. He was afraid, because an accusing conscience always makes darkness and mystery terrible to the guilty. It is mightiest in the mighty. Milton’s Satan, Byron’s Manfred, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Richard the Third are truthful illustrations of the harrowing torture produced in the mightiest mind by the calm, solemn voice within, which only says, “You are wrong.” The Supreme Creater has put us absolutely in the power of that mysterious judge which pronounces sentence in our own bosoms upon all our conduct and motives. And we cannot conceive anything worse for a man than to die and go into the eternal world with an unappeased and accusing conscience to keep him company and to torment him for ever. Belshazzar had riches, and pleasure, and glory. He was absolute master in the greatest palace and the greatest city the world had ever seen. But what is his life worth to the world now, except to warn men not to live as he did? With all his splendour and luxury he lived a wretched man, and he died as the fool dies. He lifted himself up against God, he trusted in wickedness, and so he became but as the chaff which the wind driveth away. And the same sovereign God counts out the days of life to us all. He weighs our character, our conduct, our motives, in the balances of infinite truth. And there is no deficit so damaging as that which is charged to one who is found wanting before God. It has been said that the thought of our responsibility to God is the greatest thought ever entertained by the greatest mind. Certainly the discoveries and demonstrations of science cannot carry our minds so far over the sweep of ages and over the expanse of the universe as the bare thought that our individual being is bound inseparably and for ever to the being of the infinite and eternal God. Whatever we do, wherever we are, we can never cease to be responsible to Him. For He has appointed us to do His work. He has given us the means, the faculties, and the opportunity; and He holds us answerable for using them well. What the world wants most is men in whose minds the great thought of responsibility to God is ever present--men who are made strong by the consciousness that they are doing God’s work. (D. Marsh, D.D.)
The character of Belshazzar appears to have been of the most contemptible description. He was addicted to the lowest vices of self indulgence, and felt no restraint whatever in the gratification of his desires. With all this there was combined an arrogance of the haughtiest kind, which would brook no interference with his designs, and would submit to no expostulation in the interests of morality. At length, however, the cup of his iniquities became full.
1. The intemperance by which this banquet was characterised. He cared for nothing but the revelry of the hour. We know too well the concomitants of an excess like this.
2. The profanity by which this banquet was characterised. There is an old fable which tells of a man who had the choice which of three sins he would commit--drunkenness, adultery, or murder. He chose drunkenness, as being apparently the least, but when he was intoxicated he committed both the others, and thus ended by being guilty of all three. Profanity is rampant even in our midst. Who among us has not often had his ears pained and his heart sickened by the unhallowed use of the name of God by those who have no reverence for him in their hearts? O that men would remember that holy law which says that “the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain”!
3. This night was one of supernatural visitation. What means the sudden lull in the noisy revel? The king is pointing, with a shudder of agony, where a mysterious hand is tracing letters on the wall. No ray of hope brightens the gloom of that awful sentence.
4. A night of terrible retribution. God threatens, but He means what He says, and He will bring it to pass. God is faithful who has threatened. (W. M Taylor, D.D.)
Excessive Social Enjoyment
Social enjoyment, when guided by reason, when bounded by temperance, when springing from mutual benevolence, is not forbidden by religion, and may tend, in so far, within these limits, to promote the welfare of the world. Considering, however, the shortness of man’s life, the solemnity of his condition as a lost sinner, the infinite eternity into which he must soon enter, and the tribunal of Divine holiness before which he must soon stand, it appears evident that man has not much time to spend in feasting. Considering the destitution and misery that are in the world, it is also clear that he cannot devote much of his means to this end without being guilty of inhumanity to his fellow-creatures and disobedience to that God who commands us, according to our ability, to show kindness to the poor. Much immorality, much inhumanity, much ungodliness, are manifested by all classes in the large sums which they expend, and the time, more precious than gold, which they dissipate, in feasts and entertainments. It is one of the crimes of our land, and fast becoming one of its calamities, that our ancient simplicity, and our ancient sobriety and frugality, are fast departing from among us, and that, instead of them, there is coming in a flood of epicureanism, and affectation, and frivolity. Luxury, love of false refinement, refinement of manners and not of morals, refinement in appearance apart from dignity of character, is coming in upon us more and more, in every succeeding generation. And unless there be a change in the morality of the land, effected by its religion, or some awful calamity be sent to us by a righteous Providence, this growing luxuriousness will, in a short time, be the ruin of our beloved country. It will dissolve the national character. It will be worse than hurting the trade or hurting the agriculture of the land. It will hurt the population. It will produce a degenerate race of men. Luxury, as all history shows, is one of the greatest among national evils. (William White.)
I. THE FEAST OF BELSHAZZAR. It was a great annual festival, commemorative of some great event. Some think it was Sacae, the Saturnalia of the Babylonians. Others say it was a feast in honour of the king’s birthday, or of his coronation. Whatever feast it was, it seems to have been attended with the pomp, religious rites, and services of the empire. The Babylonians were famous above all other nations for intemperance, especially in drinking. A feast commemorative of a man’s birthday or of his marriage is not necessarily sinful. A national festival is not in itself sinful; nor was it the eating and drinking in moderation, but the excess, and the spirit in which it was done, that made Belshazzar’s feast so impious. Their excess was a great sin, but their defiance of Jehovah and impious mockery in using the sacred vessels brought from Jerusalem was a far greater sin. The king and his lords, by using the holy vessels of the Jewish temple for their licentious and idolatrous festival, hurled defiance at the God of Abraham, and showed their contempt for the power of Him who doeth according to His will in the armies of Heaven. The king, heated with wine, commanded them to bring in the vessels of the Jerusalem temple. There was needless insult to the captive Jews, as well as impious blasphemy against their God, in this desecration of their holy vessels. Any and every perversion of holy things is a desecration of them. When the sacrament is taken without faith to discern the Lord’s body, or to cover some sinister design, or as a passport to some office, then the sacred vessels of the Lord’s house are desecrated to an unholy end. In whatever way religion is dragged from its lofty and controlling sphere, and made to gild the claims of a party or of a sect, then and there we have a repetition of Belshazzar’s profanation. When the Sabbath is made a day of pleasure, of visiting, feasting, and writing letters--when the house of God is used for anything but the purposes of religious worship--then we have an approach to the desecration of Belshazzar’s feast. But let us leave this disquisition about the desecration of holy things and observe the feast. It was one of the greatest splendour. A mysterious writing appeared upon the plastering of the palace wall. As the king and his lords could not read the inscription, it is said, why were they thus afraid? They were afraid because their own consciences condemned them. All men who live in sin dread what is future and unknown. It has been asked why the wise men of Babylon could not read the inscription. The words are mainly Chaldean. Why could not the Chaldee scholar read them then as well as now? To this we answer, all the learned men of Spain could make an egg stand on the table after Columbus had shown them how. Several reasons are assigned by commentators for the inability of the king’s astrologers to read the writing. One is, that the words were written in the ancient Hebrew character, the knowledge of which was even then lost to all except the Jewish priests and scribes, and not in the modern Hebrew character, which differs little or nothing from the Chaldee. The characters, the forms of the letters in which the Old Testament is commonly written, is not the ancient Hebrew characters. It is supposed that the square form of the letters now used is not the primitive form. English letters are alike, but the Greek characters are different. So, when, for convenience sake, the printer puts the Greek word aionios in English letters, the mere Greek scholar does not know his old acquaintance, nor the mere English scholar divine whence it comes nor what it means. If the inscription on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast was in ancient Hebrew characters, it is not strange that his wise men were unable to read it. Others think that the words were inscribed in hieroglyphics, of which the astrologers had no key, and that we have not the original in our Bible, but translations of the forms of the letters, as well as of the sense; others think that the writing was intelligible only to such as were aided in reading it by the Spirit of God: and others think they were so intoxicated or so frightened that they could not read. I only insist, however, on the fact that the king’s astrologers could not read this inscription, and that Daniel could; and you will be pleased, no doubt, to observe how the interpretation was brought out. It was obtained, as is often the case with our greatest blessings, through the agency of woman, the aged grandmother of the king, the queen dowager, as our European cousins would call her. Blank terror and alarm reign in the court. The king and his courtiers are at their wit’s end. No one seems to be calm and self-possessed but Nitocris, the widow of old Nebuchadnezzar. She instantly steps up and suggests that Daniel should be sent for, and gives her reasons. It often happens that a woman, whose sex is usually so easily agitated by trifles, when overtaken by some great crisis, which calls forth an the latent energies of her soul, is found to display a calmness, a magnanimity., a self-possession that puts to shame the powers of the other sex. These astrologers were not enchanters--they were not diviners--they professed no communion with evil spirits. They were men who studied the signs of the Heavenly bodies, and having no written revelations, they believed that God had written the past, the present, and also something of the future in the sky--that the stars were the letters of that revelation, and that by studying them they might interpret things to come. In allowing himself, therefore, to be placed at their head, Daniel does not violate the laws of Moses against soothsayers, witches, and the like Satan-possessed persons. These wise men of Babylon were not peeping and muttering spirit tappers, whose pretended revelations were filling the land with lunatics. They were magi, but not magicians. They were philosophers, but not sorcerers. They held communion with God’s outward world, and not with the spirits of the dead or with devils.
II. THAT ONE SIN OFTEN LEADS TO ANOTHER. Sensuality is usually connected with profaneness, and both lead to ruin.
III. LEARN THAT THERE IS GREAT GUILT AND DESERVED PUNISHMENT IN NOT TAKING WARNING FROM THE JUDGMENT OF GOD UPON OTHERS, ESPECIALLY OUR OWN COUNTRYMEN AND ANCESTORS. (W. A.. Scott, D.D.)
In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand.
The Handwriting on the Wall
1. There are many Belshazzar’s in the world, even at this present moment. There is, in human nature, an evil rebelling principle against the God who made us; and men are to be found whose wills are in violent opposition to His laws and authority. They have idols of their own hearts whom they resolve to serve, let the consequences be what they may. Such are not singled out by miracle as warnings to the reprobates, but there is a handwriting against them, and that of terrible import, which they can neither see nor read. Their days are numbered, their career fixed, their punishment entered in the great book of life and death.
2. Men do not sufficiently consider the omniscience of God. They would persuade themselves that there are places where He cannot see them; that there are things which He does not know. How stubborn and perverse is the will of man! It effectually closes his eyes to the truth, and makes him believe what he wishes. It makes him fancy that God is absent whenever he dares to insult Him, and that God is blind to the sins which he could in his wickedness desire Him not to behold. Among the most perilous delusions of sin, must it be considered by the Christian, that his very heart can be so seared against the convictions of truth, that he can for a moment being himself, like some of the heathen, to imagine the all-seeing, ever-present, all-pervading Godhead, stripped of his very nature, and slumbering, absent, or unobservant in the recesses of wickedness.
3. How would it be with each of us if there were a handwriting against the wall to warn us of the end of our career and the arrival of our day of account? Sudden death, under any circumstances, is indeed sufficiently terrible. Even to the good, it is very awful; but what must be its horrors to the wilfully wicked? The Almighty now has recourse to the ordinary means of providence, for the most part, to check the sinner in his career. If a man die in his sins, let him not plead ignorance or incapacity. (A. B. Evans, D.D.)
The Awakening Hour of Conscience
This chapter develops two solemn facts.
1. That neither the revolutions of time nor the opposition of man can hinder the fulfilment of the Divine word.
2. That at the period when men fancy themselves most secure the peril is frequently the most imminent.
I. THAT IT IS AN “HOUR” THAT MUST DAWN ON THE MOST OBDURATE NATURES. There are two classes of dormant consciences; those that have never been aroused--infants and savages; and those that have been partially quickened, but deadened again--seared. There is an hour for the awakening of each--even the most lethargic. It was so now with Belshazzar. Other consciences of the same class have had their awakening hour--Cain, Herod, Judas, Felix, etc.
II. THAT IT IS AN “HOUR “ INTRODUCED BY A DIVINE MANIFESTATION. There “came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.”
1. It was very quiet; no lightning flashed, no thunder pealed, but the gentle movements of a mystic hand.
2. It was very unexpected; it was in the midst of the gladness, when the tide of festive joy ran high.
3. It was very palpable; there was no way of ignoring it. It moved against the light of the candlestick. It is in this quiet, unexpected, and palpable manner that God frequently brings that idea of Himself into the soul, which ever rouses the conscience.
III. THAT IT IS AN “HOUR” ASSOCIATED WITH GREAT MENTAL DISTRESS. “Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” Two things are observable here”
1. The influence of an awakened conscience upon “thoughts.” Our thoughts are governed by different principles. Sometimes intellect controls them, and we are ever in the region of investigation; sometimes imagination has the command, and then we sport in the realms of beauty; sometimes avarice, and then the market is our home, and good bargains the joy of our heart; sometimes “fleshly lusts,” and then the whole nature is brutalised. But here the guilty conscience controls them, and this is Hell. A guilty conscience always throws the thoughts upon three subjects--the wrong of the past, the guilt of the present, and the retribution of the future.
2. The other thing observable is the influence of “troubled thoughts” upon the physical system. “The joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” David felt thus, for he said, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.”
IV. IT IS AN “HOUR” WHICH IS SOMETIMES THE HARBINGER OF ETERNAL RETRIBUTION. Oftentimes the hour of moral awakening ushers in the bright and propitious morning of conversion. It was so in the case of Zaccheus, the sinners on the day of Pentecost, the Philippian gaoler, and others. Indeed, such an hour must always precede the dawn of true religion in the soul. But here, as with Judas, it was the harbinger of retribution. “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.” What a night! “That night” separated him for ever from his pleasures, his friends, and his empire; “that night” terminated for ever his opportunities of spiritual improvement, and quenched every ray of hope within his breast; “that night” every star in the firmament of his being went down to rise no more, and left the whole of the boundless expanse overhung with clouds surcharged with the elements of inconceivable storms. Sinner, the day of grace is waning fast; the hour of awakening steals on. That hour shall either issue in the dawn of a new and happy life, or the chaos of moral anguish and despair! (Homilist.)
Called to Account
Observe how many and great offences Belshazzar crowded into a single festival, into a single day. In the midst of this scene of guilty riot, the Almighty alarmed them with the messenger of his displeasure. The remarkable prophecy of the handwriting was no less remarkably fulfilled. Thus was it shown to the Assyrian, as well as to the Jew, that the “Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men.” Thus was exhibited a most impressive instance of His power, His government, His justice. In these days the government of the Almighty has not ceased. The mode of its administration only is changed. Though the justice of God may appear to be delayed, it is not abolished. His laws, far from being repealed, are more fully explained and enforced by more powerful sanctions. The day of account must come; and to us it will come with augmented weight and solemnity. Our conduct in the present transitory state must determine our fate for ever. Seeming suspension and delay faust not be depended on. The king of Babylon was suddenly called to judgment. We do not want the supernatural writing on the wall, nor the prophet to give us its interpretation. We possess the permanent writing of the Gospel, and that in characters which every man can read. The Gospel, however, contains no promise that we shall not be suddenly called to our account. It ought, indeed, to be one powerful caution against any criminal pursuit, that we may not live to enjoy the fruits of success, or even to complete the crime. Whatever may have been our place or station in society, we shall be finally punished or rewarded, not according to the extent of our endowments or possessions, but according to the zeal and diligence with which they have been employed and improved. (W. Barrow, LL.D.)
Belshazzar was the king of Babylon, one of the most splendid cities in the world. It was built in an immense plain; and its walls measured a circumference of sixty miles. A hundred gates of brass adorned it; and hanging gardens, terrace above terrace, clothed its regal palace with living verdure. Through the midst flowed the great river Euphrates, painting in its depths the surrounding magnificence, and shedding beauty on temple and tower, that looked boldly from its banks. Yet the crowned lord himself of this wondrous city was a worthless wretch. He spent his time in luxurious repose, pampering the baser appetites, and permitting all the glory of his great abode to be sustained by the debauchery of his people. Many years he went on, and did his pleasure. God permitted him to choose his own course, and work out his own destiny, in the station assigned. The scene of our text is laid at the return of a certain idolatrous festival. The king had prepared a rich feast to grace it. He called in a thousand of his lords to the sparkling tables. His wives with his concubines came to join the company. And they reclined at the costly viands, spread all around in grateful abundance. So they went on, hour by hour, intoxicating their senses, and burying their souls in unbounded revelry. At length, heated with wins, Belshazzar ordered the sacred vessels, taken by Nebuchadnezzar from the temple of God at Jerusalem, to be brought for service in this scene of rioting and drunkenness. And they all, king, prince, wives, and concubines, used these instruments of holiness as their own goblets. They polluted them with their voluptuous lips, and poured out libations to the idols, and sang impious songs in honour of false gods.
Then, suddenly, they saw the fingers, as of a man’s hand, writing over against the candlestick, upon the plastered wall. Dim grew the lamps before those letters of fire. Wherefore those letters written on the wall? Simply to announce a punishment for the crime committed that very night! Thus are they generally understood. But the reference was, doubtless, larger and more solemn. It embraced the king’s whole being, and was a final judgment on the long course of his guilty life. “Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” Was the king utterly at a loss, even at the first, to know the meaning inscribed by that miraculous hand? So it is commonly supposed. And the idea seems to be justified by his offering a reward to anyone who should be able to read it. But, affrighted as he was at the terrible appearance, there is reason to believe that he was not altogether surprised. For, you will observe, it was not the wondrous miracle nor the blinding splendour that most moved the king. No; the text informs us it was his thoughts that troubled him. It was not stupid amazement and blind fear. No; his thoughts, rising clear and strong, and breaking at once through the fumes of intoxication, troubled him. And how was it that the king’s thoughts troubled him? Oh, was it not by the interpretation they gave of the miraculous writing? Did not they translate that burning symbol, whose separate words he could not read, into one large commentary on his whole sinful life? Yea; guilty conscience woke from her slumber in his bosom, and compelled even the monarch to travel with her far away from the brilliant hall of felting to scenes of cruel bloodshed and dungeons of unjust imprisonment. Far into years long gone and forgotten, she hurried him as ghosts are said to hurry their victims; and, once more to the king’s awakened mind, they were filled with their own fresh scenes and real characters. Yet he called in the wise man of God to read the writing, and, as he had promised, rewarded him with a chain of gold about his neck, and by proclaiming him the third ruler in the kingdom. But not for a moment could he stay the righteous goings of the Divine law. Hard on the sentence pronounced pressed its dreadful execution. Terrible interruption came to that scene of joy, where “a thousand hearts beat happily, and music arose with its voluptuous swell.” That very night the Persian general, having turned the river Euphrates from its course, marched his troops along the empty channel. The drunken Chaldeans had left open their brazen gates. I have but pictured the operation in a single instance of a law which is universal and eternal--the law of retribution. It is not Belshazzar alone, and Babylon, and two thousand years ago, of which I have spoken, but of every wilful offender against God’s law who walks our own streets. It is to be feared most of us do not live with a practical regard to this law of retribution. And wherefore? Is it because we have not found conclusive evidence of its reality? It cannot be; for not only is it a law expounded in Scripture. It is suggested by all the analogies of nature which Scripture has used for its illustration. It is written everywhere in history. It is taught in all civil regulations. We see the same law governing domestic life. How many families, rising to riches and honour by the path of the virtues, have as surely fallen by that of the vices! Two or three generations measured their ascent, and two or three more have sunk them in poverty and shame; and then men talk of the wheel of fortune. Nay, it is the revolution of Providence; it is the justice of God! This moral law, too, while exactly adjusting individual fortunes, as easily weighs kingdoms. The Roman empire was built from the feeblest beginnings, by the force of temperance, industry, and valour. She spread her arms over the nations, gave law to savage tribes, made the mention of her citizens a universal joy and terror, and became another name for the world. But luxury flowed in, stagnant sloth extended, corruption prevailed, ambition battled; and she that had ruled mankind by virtue, dissolved in vice, fell a prey to barbarians. All known religions, too, of merely human invention, have confessed the same principle. How deeply have they sunk caverns of torment in the world of spirits! In fine, the vilest sinner himself has fearful anticipations of his doom. Retribution, then, is not only a solemn doctrine of holy writ, but a great fact in human nature. Our disregard of it comes not from any want of proof. How, then, is it to be accounted for? Doubtless, we may say generally, by our own guilty negligence. Yet there are more special reasons. First, the very strength with which it has been believed by some, and the terrific manner in which it has been set forth, have produced unbelief in others. Morbidly excited religionists have averred that the slightest offence is worthy of eternal punishment. No wonder that our ideas of God, of justice, of mercy, yea, and our human hearts, should rebel against such representations. But, recoiling in horror from this over-statement and extravagance, many have gone into a perilous extreme of indifference and doubt. Men have lived as if there were to be no day of reckoning at all, and put their souls to imminent hazard. How many, too, view retribution simply as a doctrine of the understanding, to be uncertainly reasoned about, refuted, or proved, and a fit subject for sectarians to try their armour upon in theological warfare! We have received it too much as an opinion to be discussed, rather than a reality to be felt in a perpetual pressure on the heart. This account shows us, in the first place, that men generally allowed to go on for a while as they please, really to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. It is sometimes said, guilt always receives its full punishment immediately in this life. But this is plainly not true, as matter of fact; and, if it were, we can hardly conceive how sin or virtue should exist at all. Were the stripes inflicted at once, and for every even the smallest offence, transgression would be a thing to be avoided just as we avoid tasting poison, plunging into deep water, or handling coals of fire. Probation, a trial of men to see whether they will do right, would be entirely out of the question. There could be no free moral will but would at once break down. We should he machines, moving with regularity as the sun and moon do. Bat how was it with Belshazzar? Time was given him to degrade himself fully, and offer abundant sacrifices to the gods of flesh and sense. Nearly seventeen years had he reigned. He had gathered everything rich and beautiful around him. And yet the angel of judgment had not sensibly touched him. But, secondly, the account from Scripture, while it shows we have a season of clear and proper probation, makes retribution something equally positive and distinct. Though not now mingled in equal proportions with sin, it will at length break in upon it suddenly and sharply. Our own experience will furnish us with cases of commencing retribution similar to that of the Asiatic king. We have seen the young man despising wholesome restraints, neglecting regular duties, moving joyously through all the rounds of sinful pleasure. Was the sword of vengeance stretched at once over his head, and his soul summoned to its trial? No; year after year he went on, and spent his substance in riotous living, and robbed his brothers’ patrimony. Noble were the powers of his mind, and, like jewels, they might have shone in his noble frame. But, alas! their strength was all melted down in the fires of appetite and the heats of passion. At length the too-sorely taxed system began to tremble from the height of its proud strength. Loathsome disease infected the nerves, and loosened every fibre. And death is not the end of retribution, but the signal of its more perfect reign. Death is often piously spoken of as a circumstance in life. But it is not a small circumstance. The time arrives for this temple of the human body to be taken down. Finally, the account from Scripture presents retribution, not only as a principle thus sure and dreadful in its operations, but as a law of rigorous justice. Even to the dissolute king it was said, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” Retribution shall be measured and meted out to thee in exact proportion to thy sin. Thou shall suffer as much as thou deservest, and no more and no less. The unbounded and unqualified declarations which are so common are apt to make us forget this just and guarded style of the Scriptures. A man is to reap exactly what he sows, of the same kind and in the same degree. Turning aside, then, from all ingenious speculations, here is the solemn fact that should press upon our hearts and control our lives. We must eat the fruit of our own doings, and all of it. Oh! were we but once thoroughly persuaded of this simple truth, what revolutions would take place in our lives! How should we avoid every inordinate passion as a raging fire! How should we cast all envious and uncharitable thoughts, like vipers, from our bosoms! What immense interest would life gain in our eyes! Steadily and for ever the work goes on. Events sweep by us, ever taking some stamp from the moral tamper of our minds, the transcript of which is entered in the book of judgment. As not the smallest particle of dust is ever annihilated, so not a thought we have cherished, not a feeling we have indulged, not the most trivial act done in the most sportive mood, shall be lost. Buried these things may be, and are, for a time, like seed in a field. The traveller walks over the smooth surface, and dreams not of the mighty process going on beneath. But, nevertheless, soon does the full harvest wave wide its golden treasure. Thus, too, the harvest-season of life shall come. Now is the spring-time of the moral year! (C.A. Bartol.)
And his thoughts troubled him.
The Problem of Life and its Solution
Poor king! He was not the first, nor is he the last man whose “thoughts” have troubled him. We only want to know that a man can think at all, to know that at some time the current of his thoughts has been disturbed. Some find the cause of disturbance and remove it, and are never seriously troubled more. Others do not, but are disturbed till death destroys the power of thought. Of course, some of one’s thoughts are peculiar to the individual. Some he shares with his family, society or nation, only. But the most disturbing thoughts are those which are common to the race, a part of the very fibre of human nature, like patterns woven in a carpet.
I. SOME OF THE THOUGHTS THAT TROUBLE A MAN TILL SOLVED. His thought of God or gods, afar off. His thought of duty, responsibility, conscious of the force of “ought,” “should,” “right,” as though somehow, or somewhere, he should have to render account. Standards vary: men do not live up to their own standards of duty, right, etc.; may knowingly reject them all, but the thought remains. And his thought about life after death.
II. THE TROUBLE THAT THESE THOUGHTS GIVE. It is not a sharp hurt, rather like a dull, steady pain, just enough to keep us conscious that something is wrong. They keep us uneasy, not quite happy at best, discontented, always wanting something, hardly knowing what. We lay this sense of unrest at the door of the weather, the crops, business, our health, the way people treat us, or do not treat us--anything. What is the source of the trouble in man? Not that there is a God, spirits, judgment, life after death, Heaven, hell. But the uncertainty, the suspense, the inability to settle down confidently on the one side or the other. This was the trouble with the king; that handwriting on the wall; what does it mean?
III. HERE IS THE PROBLEM of our life. What does it all mean? What is the truth of these things? Why should man think such thoughts at all? Is there any solution of the problem?
IV. THE SOLUTION. So the matter stood when Jesus came. The old religions were losing their hold; could not solve the problem sufficiently to bring peace. Jesus comes. Matters not who He is, whence He came, how He got here. He suggests another answer, a full solution to this problem, and invites you to try that. The solution He offers for trial to each is this: There is one God, loving Father of men. His children gone astray, but children still, need a sacrifice to restore harmony. Take this, then, as an hypothesis, a guess at the truth, and try it. Work it back into the problem; live on the lines of thought, temper, word, deeds here suggested, and see effect on these questions. No harm in trying it. You are not asked to know these things, but believe them; accept them as unproven, and try them. If they are false you will know it. If true you will know it. (N. P. Dame.)
The Terror of a Guilty Conscience
Under whatever circumstances a man may be placed, if he has peace with his conscience and with his God he cares comparatively little about other matters; the pressure of many difficulties is much less felt--even the weight of heavy affliction is greatly reduced. We all know what it is to enjoy with thankfulness the cheerful fire-side, when in the wintry night the blast howls around the dwelling, and the rain descends in torrents on the roof; we feel the peaceful comfort of our home, and, while reflecting on the fearfulness of the tempest, we experience no little measure of satisfaction, arising from a sense of safety; all is quietness within, though the fierce wind prevails tremendously without. So with the child of grace, having peace with God, through Jesus Christ our Lord; notwithstanding the waves of this troublesome world, the ceaseless temptations, the frequent trials, he reflects upon the abundant consolation inwardly supplied, and delights in the holy calm that attends it. On the other hand, let a man possess everything that will outwardly promote his ease; give him money, rank, and health, yet if he have not peace within he is miserable. A rebuking conscience will mar all the attempts of the worldly to still the inward uneasiness; they may change their pursuits and seek fresh gratifications, yet from time to time they will know the sad truth of the Divine declaration--“There is no peace to the wicked.” O, what wretchedness is there in the world! where, according to man’s frail judgment, appearances are favourable, what trouble prevails! The proper way to treat our subject will be first of all to notice what is related in the beginning of the chapter, then endeavour to make a profitable application of it to ourselves. Scripture gives no information respecting Belshazzar until the time when he had just about filled his cup of iniquity to the full, and the judgment of God was overtaking him. It is an awful thought that this character is only brought before us that we may mark his great wickedness, hear the Divine sentence pronounced, and read its speedy execution. But, ere God executed His predicted purpose, this haughty, wicked king was to receive another Divine intimation, the immediate forerunner of his destruction. But why, we may inquire, should Belshazzar be so terrified and alarmed! He could not read, and, therefore, knew not their meaning. As an idolater, why might he not suppose that some of those gods he had been so lately praising were communicating some favourable information? Why not think that, though the words were secret, still they might convey glad tidings? Such thoughts do not seem to have been entertained, but a horrible dread took hold of him; terror and trembling seized on his flesh. He is full of impatience to know the meaning of the writing: “he cries aloud” for some to explain it, though fearful forebodings possessed his mind. But why, we ask again, is Belshazzar thus perplexed and distressed? Why does not the bold and daring spirit of the prince still support him? How is it that his boasting has vanished and his courage failed? How are we to understand these circumstances--an individual not afraid to insult and dare the Almighty God, yet suddenly beyond measure terrified merely at the sight of a hand and a few unknown words? Why not despise the writing, and indulge the jeer and the scoff at their purport, whatever it might be? Ah, there is such a thing as conscience; and, though for a long season stifled and confined, yet it sometimes bursts through all hindrances, and makes the sinner a terror to himself. It was so at this hour with Belshazzar. It was the time of God’s visitation; and he let loose the guilty thoughts upon the mind of this wicked prince; and these thoughts, so long smothered, are now the cause of trouble. Many a time, we may suppose, had the king of Babylon banished dull and serious considerations by betaking himself to his drunken cups; but now neither the abundance of wine, nor his numerous company, can rid him of these unwelcome thoughts; they will not leave him, and he is troubled. Wonderful effect of conscience! A sense of guilt came over the mind of Belshazzar as suddenly and as unexpectedly as when Joseph’s brethren “said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” And this sense of guilt was accompanied with the dread of consequences. Behold, then, in this instance, how soon the Lord can alarm the most secure, and startle the most hardened. The thoughts of the guilty are abundantly sufficient to trouble him; nothing more is required--even in the midst of his sensual gratifications. But what information do we gather from this history? What lessons are there in it useful to ourselves? Belshazzar is arrested in the midst of his mirth and jollity, compelled to listen to the rebukes of a guilty conscience, and bear the burden of troubled thoughts. Alas, that we have so much reason to suppose that many now-a-days are in like case with this idolatrous prince! for, though they do not outwardly worship wood and stone,. still inwardly they serve their lusts, their pleasures, their means, or anything but their God. We may mark the torment of a reproaching conscience. It is often the cause of some perplexity that the wicked are not in trouble like other folk; the drunkard follows, time after time, his strong drink, and is apparently unrebuked in his vice; the worldly-minded likewise pursue their course, seeking only earthly things, and we possibly conclude that they are never plagued. But we see a very little way; we observe the outward man, and consider not enough what goes on within. Who can say what the thoughts of the ungodly are? Who can tell what passes in their minds? A man may brave for a while the eye of his fellow-creature; he may put on the manner of one determined to persist in his ways, but how is it with him when God turns His hand against him--when God makes conscience speak, and lets the thoughts of past guilt loose upon his mind? What is this but a foretaste of fiery indignation? Then the stoutest hearts fail; the mirth is dull, and the carnal indulgence unsatisfactory; even the excess of wine will not drive away the unwelcome reflections, for conscience is stirred, and its voice cannot be silenced. God has rebuked the sinner; and he is both amazed and terrified. O what a different picture would the world present if thoughts were as well known as words and deeds! The wish expressed would then be--As to the sufferings of disease and the difficulties of poverty, these I would willingly bear; only let me be free from the judicial rebukes of conscience, delivered from the dreadful harassings of troubling thoughts, and eased of the burden of a soul unreconciled to God. We may be resolved not to attend to those things which bring our sin to remembrance, and to turn away when our guilt is set before us; but our resolution is nothing if the Lord determines to vex us in His sore displeasure. He makes us then attend to His word. Nothing earthly can remove it, and nothing is derived from Heaven to allay the uneasiness it creates; no balm to heal the galled conscience, no physician known to apply the means of cure. O what a pitiable state is that man in whose thoughts are a trouble--whom God thus in judgment afflicts! His master, Satan, can find no remedy; his friend, the world, can supply no consolation. His conscience is at last aroused, and conveys the dreadful assurance of approaching condemnation. The unreconciled, under such circumstances, may look around for help, for something to cheer; but all his resources are of no avail. And what increases tenfold his misery is this--that mercy had been freely offered, the gospel message proclaimed, and the Saviour set forth crucified for his sins. Vain, under these sad circumstances, to look for help to the things of the earth and to worldly friends. Belshazzar lacked neither the one nor the other; but they were of no advantage to him. He called his wise men of Chaldea, made them large promises, and entreated them to relieve his mind by explaining the mysterious writing; but they could do nothing for him, though great was the reward offered. You may be satisfied with the world now; you may argue that you have enough to do in attending to the affairs of this life, and cannot spare time for the matters of the soul; you may try to justify your present unbecoming anxieties, or defend your sinful indulgences; but, believe me, your sin will one day find you out; and had you all the wealth with the thousand lords of the king of Babylon, in that same day when your thoughts will trouble you, these will be of no avail; you will want other riches and another Friend. Alas for you that the want had not been sooner discovered. What, however, did Belshazzar consent to do in his extremity? He was even willing that the forgotten and despised Daniel should be sent for. But what has the prophet to say? Can he give any encouragement? The writing indeed he recognises; he knows the word of his God, and the awful meaning is at once perceived. The terror-stricken king awaits his doom, but not long; for the Lord made short work; in that very night hopeless Belshazzar is’ slain, and perishes. And is there not too much corresponding with this conduct in the bulk of mere nominal Christians? The minister of the gospel is lightly esteemed and rejected so long as sin and folly are not interrupted. But when the Lord turns the thoughts of the ungodly against themselves, and makes them “a trouble,” then the steward of God’s mysteries may come. And what is to be done? Can we, as ambassadors for Christ, tell those that have been all their days living in sin that they shall die in peace? Can we speak smooth things to them, and give a sleeping-draught to the soul, that it may pass stilly indeed, but without good hope, to eternity? Nay, this cannot be. We must clear our own consciences, and be faithful in the sight of God; like Daniel, we must declare the truth. To the last, indeed, we proclaim the blessed truth, that Christ is mighty to save, and that “him that cometh unto him shall in no wise be cast out.” Further than this we cannot venture to go. Think not, then, that we can quickly calm all your fears, and remove your anxieties, when you have been through life living without God in the world. “Knowing then the terrors of the Lord,” let us be persuaded to shake off more completely the chilling influence of the world, to lay aside “the sin that doth most easily beset us,” and resist more resolutely the assaults of Satan. When sorrowing most heavily over our own sins and short-comings, yet we shall not altogether lack the consolations of Jesus; these will give ease and quiet; and the more we seek them, the more peace they will supply. One thing, however, if true believers, we may attain unto, and to which the ungodly and worldly-minded are always strangers; when any burden presses upon our souls we are taught by the Spirit how to cast it in prayer upon the Lord, and we know He will sustain. Then, though weighed in the balances, we shall not be found wanting. (J. Downes, M.A.)
More trouble comes to men from their thoughts than from all other sources put together. Let us consider:
I. THE REASON FOR THE KING’S TROUBLED THOUGHTS.
1. A visible cause. Mystery not necessarily fearful. The princes wondered, the king was in terror.
2. A cause in the king himself.
(1) He had led a wicked life.
(2) He had just been guilty of a pointed insult to God. Men interpret events in the light of their own thoughts. Events mean different things to different persons. Especially is this true in case of conscious guilt. A policeman enters a school-room--many wonder, one turns pale. Fear God and be brave.
3. The reality back of the appearance: “God hath numbered thy kingdom,” etc.
II. THE KING’S CONDUCT.
1. More anxiety to have the writing interpreted than to humble himself before God.
2. He seeks interpretation from all others before Daniel. Then he flatters him and offers reward. The world will flatter those who interpret the truth to suit them. Balak and Balaam. Daniel interpreted fearlessly. Facts not changed by false interpretation. Interpret for the honour of God.
III. THE BIBLE IS STILL THE GREAT TROUBLER OF MEN’S THOUGHTS. There is a conscience in man which makes him feel that the Bible speaks to him. There is a reality back of this word, both of the promise and the warning. (H..R. Parmeles.)
Then was Daniel brought in before the king.
The Preacher’s Opportunity
How the prophet always clears a space for himself; how on great occasions men distribute themselves into proper classes. When the occasion is little, one man is as good as another; there is a general hum of conversation, and it is difficult to tell the great man from the small, the obscure man from the famous; but when the crisis comes, by some law hardly to be expressed in words, men fall into their right relations, and there stands up the man who has the keys of the Kingdom of God. Preachers of the Word, you will be wanted some day by Belshazzar; you were not at the beginning of the feast, but you will be there before the banqueting-hall is closed; the king will not ask you to drink wine, but he will ask you to tell the secret of his pain and heal the malady of his heart. Abide your time. You are nobody now. Who cares for preachers, teachers, seers, and men of insight, while the wine goes round, and the feast is unfolding its tempting luxuries? Midway down the programme to mention pulpit, or preacher, or Bible, would be to violate the harmony of the occasion. But the preacher, as we have often had occasion to say, will have his opportunity. They will send for him when all other friends have failed; may he then come fearlessly, independently, asking only to be made a medium through which Divine communications can be addressed to the listening trouble of the world. Daniel will take the scarlet and the chain by-and-by, but not as a bribe; he will take the poor baubles of this dying Babylon and will use them to the advantage of the world through actions that shall become historical, but he will not first fill his hands with bribes, and then read the king’s riddles. The prophet is self-sustained by being Divinely inspired. He needs no promise to enable him to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Indeed, he has nothing to say of himself. Every man, in proportion as he is a Daniel, has nothing to invent, nothing to conceive in his own intellect; he has no warrant or credential from the empty court of his own genius; he bears letters from Heaven; he expresses the claims of God. O Daniel, preacher, speaker, teacher, thunder out God’s word, if it be a case of judgment and doom; or whisper it, or rain in gracious tears, if it be a message of sympathy and love and welcome. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)
Daniel’s Speech to Belshazzar
Never was there a finer example of fidelity than this address. There is nothing harsh, nothing violent, nothing designed merely to irritate. All is plain, direct, and pointed--like one speaking in God’s name, and who felt himself standing in God’s presence. Daniel reminds Belshazzar of what God had done to Nebuchadnezzar, both in the way of mercy and of judgment. The address proceeds on the assumption that Belshazzar ought to have considered, with devout attention, the dealings of God towards Nebuchadnezzar. From this we learn that it is our duty to regard the providential dealings of God, and that we cannot neglect this without sin. Daniel intimated that if Belshazzar had duly considered the Divine procedure towards Nebuchadnezzar, he might have arrived at the knowledge that Jehovah was the true God. Daniel condemned Belshazzar because he did not take warning from the punishment of Nebuchadnezzar. All the punishments which God has inflicted because of sin are warnings to fear God and hate evil. Belshazzar’s knowledge of those things which befel Nebuchadnezzar rendered him wholly inexcusable. (William White.)
And dissolve doubts.
The Dissolving of Doubts
Doubts and questions are not peculiar to Nebuchadnezzar, but they are the common lot and heritage of humanity. We live just now in a specially doubting age. Science puts everything in question, and literature distils the questions, making an atmosphere of them. The cultivated and mature have their doubts ingrown they know not how, and the younger minds encounter their public visitations when they do not seek them. Note that the three principles sources and causes whence our doubts arise, and from which they get force to make their assault
1. All the truths of religion are inherently dubitable. They are only what are called probable, never necessary truths like the truths of geometry or of numbers. This field of probable truth is the whole field of religion, and of course it is competent for doubt to cover it in every part and item.
2. We begin life as unknowing creatures that have everything to learn. We grope, the groping is doubt; we handle, we question, we guess, we experiment, beginning in darkness and stumbling on towards intelligence.
3. It is a fact, disguise it as we can, or deny it as we may, that our faculty is itself in disorder. A broken or bent telescope will not see anything rightly. A filthy window will not bring in even the day as it is. As long as these three sources, or originating causes of doubt continue, doubts will continue, and will, in one form or another, be multiplied. I do not propose, therefore, to show how they may be stopped, for that is impossible, but only how they may be dissolved, or cleared away. The first thing to be said is negative, viz., that the doubters never can dissolve or extirpate their doubts by inquiry, search, investigation, or any kind of speculative endeavour. They must never go after the truth to merely find it, but to practice it and live by it. To be simply curious is only a way to multiply doubts; for in doing it their are, in fact, postponing all the practical rights of truth. They imagine, it may be, that they are going first to settle their questions, and then at their leisure to act. As if they were going to get the perfect system and complete knowledge of truth before they move an inch in doing what they know! And they come out wondering at the discovery, that the more they investigate the less they believe! Their very endeavour mocks them--just as it really ought. For truth is something to be lived. How shall a mind get on finding more truth, save as it takes direction from what it gets? There is no fit search after truth which does not, first of all, begin to live the truth it knows. To come to positive matter. There is a way for dissolving any and all doubts--a way that opens at a very small gate, but widens wonderfully after you pass. Every human soul, at a certain first point of its religious outfit, has a key given to it which is to be the “open sesame” of all right discovery. Every man acknowledges the distinction of right and wrong, feels the reality of that distinction, knows it by immediate consciousness even as he knows himself. He would not be a man without that distinction. It is even this which distinguishes him from the mere animals. Here is the key that opens everything. The only reason why we fall into so many doubts, and get unsettled in our inquiries, instead of being settled by them, as we undertake to be, is that we do not begin at the beginning. A right mind has a right polarity, and discovers right things by feeling after them. The true way, then, of dissolving doubts, is to begin at the beginning, and do the first thing first. Say nothing of investigation till you have made sure of being grounded everlastingly, and with a completely whole intent in the principle of right doing as a principle. Unreligious men are right only so far as they can be, they may not be at all right in principle. Lessons:
1. Be never afraid of doubt.
2. Be afraid of all sophistries, and tricks, and strifes.
3. Getting into a scornful way is fatal.
4. Never put force on the mind to make it believe.
5. Never be in a hurry to believe. (Horace Bushnell, D. D.)
And made known to him the interpretation.
The True Interpreter of Life
I. THAT IN NO NATION IS THERE A TOTAL ABSENCE OF DIVINE RULERSHIP. The people of Israel assumed that their God was their own private property. They knew God by the name of Jehovah. He was superior to other national gods, but He had Israel specially in charge, and Israel had Jehovah specially in possession. The Israelites were the first to realise intelligently the great truth of one God for all men. The prophets of Israel were occupied in enlarging the views of the people, so as to get them to grasp the fact that this Jehovah was the one God, and ruled over all men. If you search the Book of Daniel you find this man’s mind under the influence of truth far in advance of that of any of his own nation or of the nation of Babylon. Hence when there is panic in the banqueting-hall because out of the sleeve of darkness the fingers of a man’s hand are put forth to write on the palace walls the words of doom, it is Daniel who is called out of the retirement of his old age to read and interpret. Babylonian wise men had universal fame for their philosophy and astrology, yet they could not read the writing. When he begins to speak the greatness of the man is felt as the eloquent words roll from his tongue. It is another kind of speech from that to which Belshazzar is accustomed to listen. Not for one single moment does he acknowledge one God for the Israelites and another for the Babylonians. “O thou king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father the kingdom, and greatness, and glory, and majesty.” The source of all power is in the Most High God, and the source of all faculty. The past is associated with the present. To learn from the past is the wisdom of the present. Daniel, the seer, distinctly proclaims the fact of God in history. The history of Babylon reveals God’s working as really as, if not as clearly, the history of Israel. There is not one law for Israel and another for Babylon. The same law works uniformly. Moral decline brings the same result to Israel and Babylon. Men were of opinion that the Most High God ruled in Israel, but not in Babylon. Not such an opinion did Daniel hold. And we ourselves are even behind Daniel in our culture if we do not hold that in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of God. Everywhere God’s laws are working. God gave Nebuchadnezzar his power. God deposed his son Belshazzar. God gave Babylon to Darius the Mode. In no nation is there a total absence of Divine rulership--that is the first basis idea of this narrative.
II. THAT APPEARANCES ARE DECEITFUL, and that when men seem to be most prosperous they are often least so. The Babylonians relied on that which was external to themselves and their own character for safety--upon their magnificent commerce, upon their river Euphrates, the great river which, as it had been the pride of Babylon, now proved its destruction. Wealth, luxury, revelling had taken the heart and soul out of men, as they always do, and the men of Babylon became as women--they were hewn down like the flocks of lambs, of sheep, of goats at the shambles. If men would only read history, if they would only take to heart the lessons which God has writ on so many pages of the world’s past life, instead of our being confident when we see everywhere signs of luxury and wealth, haughtiness of head and proud unsociableness, we should then begin to tremble for the character of the people, for the vigour of the young men and the purity of the maidens. The history of Babylon is not exceptional. It is the history of every city and nation that by its luxury and selfishness has become enfeebled and disgraced. “Pride cometh before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
III. THAT THE INTERPRETER OF GOD’S DEALINGS WITH NATIONS MUST OF NECESSITY BE A SPIRITUAL MAN. Only Daniel could read that writing on the wall--only he, the faithful man, who from his youth to his old age had served his God in simple confidence could be the interpreter. There he stands before Belshazzar and his thousand nobles, nobly independent of all rewards. Too late was Daniel called. All he could do was to read the undecipherable and irreversible verdict. He belonged to a past age and a past dynasty. Yet he was the most scholarly man there, the wisest man, the most needed man. But he had been retired. The merchant and philosopher could not save the city. These two forces represented by the merchant and philosopher needed a third force. Commerce is good and necessary, learning is good and necessary; but they represent but two parts of that trinity which man’s nature is. Daniel, the spiritual man, represents the third part. We need not set one of these over against the other. Bring them into co-operative unity, and the strength of each will come into the other. The history of Daniel is designed to teach us that the spiritual man is the only competent interpreter of the life of nations as of the life of individuals That light which is more than the light of trained intelligence is needed always. The man who steadfastly serves God in simple, childlike faith gets into his soul a light, a seeing power, which can come in no other way. “He that is spiritual discerneth all things, yet he himself is discerned of no man.” The spiritual man can see farther into reasons and causes than other men can. The merchant of Babylon would say, “Providing Babylon be prosperous from the merchant’s point of view, that is everything!” “Providing we have good percentages on oar investments,” says oar modern merchant, that is prosperity! What more do we want?” “Providing we have educational institutions, also,” says the educator, “we shall be perfect; plenty of trade and education--then is a people prosperous.” But what will you do with Daniel and that which he represents? There was plenty of trade in Babylon, plenty of learning, plenty of everything to which the words “costly” and “magnificent” can be applied--the only thing that was lacking was that which Daniel stood for. All that the people lacked was the unweighable and immeasurable virtues of purity, honesty, truthfulness, integrity, love to God and love to man--that was all. The merchants of Babylon did not trouble themselves very much about those things, and the educated classes thought that so long as the sciences of the day were taught it was all right with Babylon. Sooner or later every Babylonian type of life sees the writing of judgment on the wall. Sooner or later every family brought up in luxury and selfishness, with no spiritual instruction, sees the writing on the wall. The Babylonian type of life is everywhere. It is that type which seeks after the external--wealth and luxury and ease--regardless of spiritual character. It has no light in it by which to interpret itself. It needs a Daniel to interpret it, but never sends for him till it has tried all other sources of information, and only then at the suggestion of someone who knows Daniel, and pleads to have him sent for.
IV. THAT THE SPIRITUAL MAN IS THE INTERPRETER OF LIFE IN ALL ITS FORMS, AND NO OTHER MAN IS. Belshazzar cannot interpret his own life or the life about him; only Daniel can do it. The hour had come when Belshazzar had nothing to give to any mortal on earth. He knew not that that was his last night on earth. How could it be? Look at this magnificent banqueting-bell, these thousands of lords, these beauties of Babylon glittering like fire-flies in summer evenings. No signs of poverty, no signs of bankruptcy--glory, glory everywhere. But see, see--what is that? that hand? writing on the wall? The music stops. Astrologer, read! Wise man, read! None can read! None!--till Daniel is sought and found. Oh, the suspense till Daniel comes! And when he comes, he comes only to read the burial service over a dying king and a dying dynasty. The thought I would leave with you, then, is this: that the spiritual man is the seeing man--the man who has his eyes open--he is the interpreter of life. Enoch in his day; Abraham in his day; Noah in his day; Moses in his day; Elijah in his day; Daniel in his day--these men see most, know most, because they are spiritual men. Every man is eventually what he trains himself to be. Every man has eyes for that on which he has been looking long and intently. Most of us are blind in some direction. The blindest man of all is he who has no use for Daniel and his seeing power. But “it is one of the most melancholy things in the world that while usually the executive part of a man grows sharper and most effective as he advances in life, those things which make his manhood, his noble traits, average worse as he grows older.” Without the Gospel received into the heart, and cherished there, persons ripen poorly, badly, and are seldom as generous, seldom as honourable, seldom as sensitive, seldom as fine in their perceptions as they were when they were boys and girls. There are men and women who become so occupied with the externals of life that if Daniel came near them he would be a calamity, an enigma, or, as men say flippantly, a crank. A man can take one or two interests in life, and so give himself up to them that all the greater truths of life are entirely unheeded by him. Of the spiritual influences permeating society, of what God is doing by His providence, of what God’s Spirit is doing in the hearts of men--of the very greatest facts in this world of ours they have not even a suspicion. To a spiritual man the Bible is the most living of all living books; to those of whom I speak it is the dullest and deadest. The elaborate art with which even some fathers and mothers plan to try to grow their children on the earth level, instead of letting them aspire under the impulse of the inward life of God pushing within them, is one of the most painful things that a spiritualised mind has to witness in these times on which our lot is cast. I have seen how in gardens certain flowering plants are taken and pinned down to the ground--never allowed to climb one inch above it--made to grow on theground level. Other flowering plants are allowed to climb and climb; only give them the faintest support, and climb they will sunward, ever away from the earth, ever towards the sun. I suppose that to pin down certain flowers--verbenas and others--to the earth is right enough; but it can never be right to train children that way. Let them climb sunward., lift themselves up above the ground, sweetly and naturally, like God’s morning glories, as they are. There was Belshazzar, a most elaborately gilded and decorated sarcophagus, with a soul within in which the worms of envy, lust, pride were crawling over each other. Daniel saw it. The lords and ladies did not. They thought that Belshazzar was not only a living man, but a king of men. But when he was weighed he was light. He had no soul in him. And there are hundreds of such men, whose whole time is spent in trying to get rid of the consciousness of a soul. To these our Lord’s words are addressed, to these that unanswered question of His ever comes, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and, in the gaining, lose his own soul?” (Reuen Thomas, D.D.)
The Faithful Interpreter of the Word of God
The mightiest of the sons of men are not exempt from the terrors of guilt; neither can their power secure them from the avenging hand of justice. What did the majesty of a king now avail when his countenance was changed with fear? What comfort did he receive from his outward happiness when his thoughts troubled him? Those that are set apart for the work of the ministry should interpret and explain the will of God in its genuine sense, how disagreeable soever to the lusts of men; and should never betray their trust through a cowardly fear, or partial favour, by slackening the bonds of duty, or palliating the heinousness of sin, or concealing the danger that arises from it.
I. IT IS OUR DUTY TO READ THE WRITING, AND MAKE KNOWN THE INTERPRETATION THEREOF. It is indeed every man’s duty to acquaint himself with the will of God, and impart his knowledge to his servants, his children, his brother, and his friend. And he should never suffer them to continue in ignorance of sin, but impartially give them instructions, exhortations, or reproofs, as their condition requires. But it is most especially the duty of those that serve at the altar (Malachi 2:7). The necessities of life engage too great a part of mankind in a servile employment, and they are withdrawn by so many avocations from the study of God’s law, that it is necessary there should be an order of men who should make it their peculiar care to learn the original language of the Holy Scriptures and the uncorrupted sense of the earliest ages, to examine the tenure by which we hold our Christian charter, and to consider the various objections that have from time to time been made against it. And besides and beyond all this, they may justly expect the especial guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. But how much soever the enemies of our faith or the enemies of our holy order may vilify and depreciate He authority of the ministers, of God, yet they themselves do more effectually injure it unless they discharge their commission in its utmost extent and resolutely declare the whole truth of God. They are bound by the strictest obligations to cleave to it. Great would be the presumption of any minister that should neglect the commands of his earthly prince, and act at his own discretion. Nor are they only unjust to God, but barbarous and unnatural to the souls of men; for the unlearned and ignorant put their entire confidence in them, and depend upon their direction in the way to life and happiness. It must, therefore, be an instance of the most inhuman cruelty to deceive their just hopes and abuse their earnest expectations. To poison the fountains where the flocks are to refresh themselves at noon; and direct the traveller at the approach of night to a fatal precipice, or a treacherous quicksand: these are such brutish practices as nature abhors. It is a strange abuse of Christian moderation, and a false and pernicious show of charity, to indulge the humours of vicious men; to soften religion into a compliance with them, and model it after their own frame. It is lawful, indeed, in indifferent matters to yield a little for the sake of peace, and to become all things to all men; but the articles of our faith and the principal duties of life are not indifferent matters; we may contend earnestly for these without losing our Christian temper. Did Ahab escape the arrow, that was shot at a venture, because the false prophets bid him go and prosper? If Daniel had pleased Belshazzar with an unfaithful account of the writing; if he had persuaded him to continue his impious feast, and eat, drink, and be merry, would the hand that wrote have forborne to punish him? Would not the writing have explained itself before the morning? How widely soever the articles of our religion may be made to differ from their original sense; how broad soever the path to Heaven may be represented; though the obligations to virtue may be described as unnecessary, as indifferent, or even as nothing; though the penalties of vice may seemingly be taken away, and eternal punishments be changed into temporal; to abate the fears, or gratify the desires of the wicked; yet the articles are still the same, and the way to Heaven as narrow; the obligations to virtue cannot be dissolved; the penalties of vice cannot be removed.
II. IT IS THE NOBLEST ACT OF FRIENDSHIP AND CHARITY TO READ THE WRITING, AND MAKE KNOWN THE INTERPRETATION THEREOF. When Hilkiah the Priest had found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses, the good Josiah immediately sent to enquire after it, that he might distinctly know the breaches of the covenant, and the heavy curses that hung over Jerusalem; and as soon as the tender heart of the king was affected with a sense of the common guilt and danger, his compassion to his sinful wretched people would not suffer him to rest till he had read in the ears of all the men of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem, all the words of the book of the covenant. The affectionate Jesus has placed his ministers as watchmen to observe the dangers of His flock, and sound the alarm when the enemy is stealing upon it. The children of men are liable to be misled, and swerve from the right way, amidst the various and uncertain paths of life; their imperfect understandings give but a feeble glimmering twilight to guide them, and are easily covered with darkness. False appearances deceive them. And those unhappy souls that are engaged in a course of sin do no longer judge for themselves, but receive the flattering reports of their enemies that compass them about. It is indeed a difficult office, but the more difficult, so much greater is the friendship, so much the nobler the charity. What a glorious office is it to turn a sinner from the error of his way and save a soul from death! And this faithful discharge of their duty will:
III. OBTAIN RESPECT, EVEN FROM THOSE UNHAPPY MEN THAT HATE THE INTERPRETATION. Ahab hated Elijah because he told him the truth, but he also stood in awe of him. And Herod feared St. John because he acquainted him with his guilt; and though his bold rebukes interfered with the sin of his bosom, yet he often heard his plain and disinterested preaching; and such was the influence of his unshaken honesty that he did many things, and heard him gladly. And though our open, ingenuous behaviour may provoke wicked men to injure, us for a time, yet it:
IV. WILL AT LENGTH MAKE THEM RELENT AND BE SORRY FOR IT. Constancy and fidelity have a mighty force in obtaining the love of mankind; and this may be illustrated by the ease of Daniel.
V. I proceed TO SHOW THAT THE CASE OF WICKED MEN IS, THEN, MOST DEPLORABLE WHEN THEY ARE DEPRIVED OF THOSE FAITHFUL MONITORS THAT DARE TELL THEM THE TRUTH. They are then left to themselves, and abandoned and consigned over to the most pernicious counsels. They see no tokens of goodness, there is not one prophet move to awaken them out of the sleep of sin. Let not the plausible show of tenderness and moderation incline us to conceal the heinousness and danger of sin, or draw a favourable representation of the case of wicked men. Let us not endeavour to gain their favour for a time by pretending to put off the evil day, and screening them from the thoughts of a miserable eternity. (T. Newlin, M.A.)
Hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.
The Prophet’s Indictment
It included three counts.
1. The teaching of God had been disregarded. The sovereignty of Nebuchadnezzar had been from God. That dependence had been forgotten, and so pride had been chastened by insanity.
2. God had been insulted. A poor worm had dared to exalt itself against him. In the midst of a scene of which many a heathen would have been ashamed, the consecrated vessels of His house had been used to drink to other gods, “which see not, nor hear, nor know.”
3. The glory of God had not been sought. It was not in Belshazzar’s power, indeed, to add anything to the essential glory of God, but it was for him to reflect that glory. He could add nothing to God’s ineffable brightness, but he could catch light from Heaven, and diffuse it. He could be such a man, and live such a life, that others might have their ideas of God exalted, and be constrained to confess that “He whose name is Jehovah is the Most High over all the earth.” (H. T. RobJohns, B.A.)
And the God in whose hand thy breath is.
Providence, when it pleases, can soon humble the haughtiest, and alarm the boldest sinner.
I. Let us CONSIDER THE ACCOUNT GIVEN OF OUR DEPENDENCE UPON GOD: “In his hand our breath is, and his are all our ways.” We cannot imagine that this was particular to Belshazzar. It may as truly be affirmed of every other man as of him. Independence is not a quality that belongs, and can be applied, to a creature. It is the attribute of God alone, the Creator. We exist, for He gave us Being. We continue to be, because He preserves us. If we escape any of those numberless evils and dangers to which the constitution of our nature and our condition in this world expose us every day and hour, it is not to be ascribed to our own care and caution alone as its cause; no, our safety is from the power and goodness of God exercised towards us. We are secure while Providence graciously vouchsafes its protection, but not a moment without it. Let us ask ourselves, who guards us by day and by night, in perils at home and perils abroad? “God is our shield” (Psalms 84:11). Who furnishes the food with which our bodies are supported: and refreshed? Who covers them with raiment for defence and ornament? These are gifts of God to men. Nothing is without the ordination or permission of His providence. Our breath, our life, our ways, all the events of life, and the right conduct of it, are His. The wide extended universe is His family, over which He exercises a constant government. He is the father and the friend of it. On the providence of God we all depend; a doctrine most acceptable and comfortable to His own children; to them who fear, and love, and obey Him. Sinners, if they believe at all, or think at all, must from hence discern in how foolish and how dangerous a course they are engaged. Can they bear the thought of having Him for their enemy who made and rules the world by His power? It is the fool only that refuses to fear and glorify God. Irreligion is destruction. Were I speaking to princes and nobles of the earth, who are too apt to be unmindful of it, I would, from the text, sound this doctrine in their ears: You who are the highest amongst men, depend upon Divine providence no less than the meanest subject and servant you have. “Our breath,” as the prophet expresses it, “is in the hand of God.” The breath is the life. And whence did we draw this breath of life at the first? The great God inspired it into the human frame. In like manner the succession of generations is maintained.
II. THE OBLIGATION WE ARE UNDER IN CONSEQUENCE OF OUR CONSTANT AND ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE UPON GOD; we must glorify Him. Belshazzar did not. This was his sin. And it was both his shame and his ruin. It may be asked, perhaps, What can man do, by which God can be glorified? “Can man be profitable to his Maker? Can our goodness extend to Him,” and add to His honour? “Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that we are righteous, or is it gain to Him that we make our ways perfect?”
1. In answer to this, it is proper to remark that there is a sense in which we may, and therefore ought, to glorify God. This would not otherwise have been made the subject of a Divine command; and yet such it is. The neglect of this could not, upon any other supposition, have been reproached.
2. Let me observe that the expression of glorifying God is not to be taken in the strictest and literal sense of it, but in some such manner as I am now going to describe. When our minds are possessed with proper and suitable sentiments of God, as the greatest, the wisest, the best of all beings, “as righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” when, by converse with the word of God, the mind is enlightened with the knowledge of God, and of His will, and the heart is under an impression of the Divine attributes and excellencies; when we reverently bow to His majesty, are awed by the consideration of His justice and omnipotence; when we admire and adore His universal and infallible wisdom; when His mercy melts us into repentance; when we place our happiness, our greatest happiness, while we are in the world, in His favour; when, upon impartial examination of ourselves, we have reason to hope and believe that this is our case, then do we glorify God. In this temper, in this behaviour, we manifest a becoming reverence of those perfections which are the glory of the Divine nature. And who is there amongst us so insensible as to be doubtful one moment whether this be his duty or not? Let reason and conscience speak, and be heard, and conviction will follow.
III. THE GUILT AND DANGER OF NOT GLORIFYING GOD.
1. Let our thoughts dwell upon the guilt contracted by such a behaviour. What! O man, art thou forgetful of Him who made thee, who has distinguished and adorned thy nature with those intellectual and moral powers that render thee capable of knowing, contemplating, worshipping, obeying, imitating, enjoying Him for ever? Ingratitude to a sincere and generous friend we condemn, and with the justest reason.
2. From hence we may easily perceive and estimate our danger, if we live, not to God, but to ourselves; not to His glory, but to the lusts of our own hearts, or the vanity of our own minds. Sometimes it is seen that persons of this sort are overtaken by the judgments of God in this world, “and they cannot escape”; but miseries beyond all imagination await them in another, which are not to be avoided in any other way than by a timely and hearty repentance. Belshazzar was confident, presumptuous, insolent in impiety.
1. Learn from hence what should be the main view and end of all your actions; to wit, to honour God and please Him, that so you may enjoy Him. You were created to glorify God. The enjoyment of Him will follow. And in that consists the supreme and eternal happiness of mankind.
2. Let us examine ourselves that we may know ourselves, and the true state of our souls, upon a point of the clearest and utmost importance to us. “Has God been in all our thoughts”--or in great measure excluded from them? How have we lived?--to Him, or to ourselves? “Have we glorified Him with our bodies and our spirits, which are His?” Do not go on to provoke and defy the justice of an omnipotent God, jealous of His own honour, but humble yourselves before Him.
3. That we may maintain a just sense of our dependence upon God, and live to His glory, we must keep up the practice and the spirit of prayer.
Glorify God in this world, and you shall be glorified with Him in the world that is to come. (E. Sandercock.)
Dependence on God for Life
Though Belshazzar was a heathen, yet he ought to have known and realised his absolute dependence upon God, in whom he lived, and moved, and had his being.
I. I am to consider THAT GOD IS THE PRESERVER OF THE LIVES OF MEN. He is certainly the giver, and of consequence the preserver of life. We cannot conceive that God can give mankind independent life any more than independent existence. Life is sustained and preserved by secondary causes; and all the secondary causes of the preservation of life are under the entire control of God, who can make them the means of destroying as well as of preserving life. All the elements, the air, the earth, the water, and the fire, which serve to preserve life, may he and often are employed by God to destroy it. It appears from the whole course of providence that God constantly carries the lives of all men in His hand. And this truth is plainly and abundantly taught in Scripture. God is called “the fountain of life.” Job calls Him “the preserver of man.” David says He is the preserver of man and beast.
II. THAT MEN OUGHT TO MAINTAIN A REALISING SENSE OF THIS IMPORTANT TRUTH.
1. They are all capable of realising it. The horse and the mule, the crane and the swallow, and all the animal creation, are dependent upon God for life, and breath, and all things; but these mere animals are entirely destitute of capacity to know that God is their creator and preserver. This exempts them from all obligations to know and realise their entire and constant dependence upon their creator and preserver. But men are made wiser than the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven, and the inspiration of the Almighty has given them understanding to trace their own existence and the existence of all created natures up to the first and supreme cause. The sailor, the soldier, the infidel, will instantaneously cry to God to preserve their lives, when death or imminent danger appears near.
2. God requires all men to live under an habitual sense of their constant dependence upon Him, as the preserver and disposer of life. He has informed them in His word that He has determined the number of their months and days, and fixed the hounds of life, over which they cannot pass, He has told them, “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain it in the day of death.”
3. Good men do realise their constant and absolute dependence upon God for the preservation of life. This is the language of some of the best men whose views and feelings are recorded in the Bible. Job speaks very freely and fully upon this subject. He says unto God, “Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay, and wilt thou bring me into dust again? Thou has clothed me with skin and flesh, and and wilt thou bring me into dust again? Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and visitation hath preserved my spirit.” David says, “As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud; and he shall hear my voice. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me. Thy vows are upon me, O God; I will render praise unto thee; for thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt thou not deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living? For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Ezra and Nehemiah frequently acknowledged the power and goodness of God in the preservation of their lives. Paul used to make his promises under a sense of his dependence upon the preserving power and goodness of God. Unreserved submission to God always flows from a sense of absolute dependence upon Him.
4. Men ought to maintain a realising sense of their constant dependence upon God for the preservation of life, in order to form all their temporal and spiritual designs with wisdom and propriety. If God be the preserver and disposer of life, then He is the disposer of all things which are connected with and dependent on life. If the lives of all men are in the sovereign hand of God, then the world and the things of the world are in the sovereign hand of God; and while men view their own lives and the lives of all other men, and the world in which they all live, as in the hands of God, the world and all things in it appear very different from what they do when God the preserver and disposer of all is out of sight and out of mind. Their views, opinions, and conduct are greatly altered. And the reason is obvious. When they realise their own dependence, and the dependence of all men and of all things upon God, it fills their minds with a realising sense of His universal presence and providence. This cuts off all dependence upon themselves, and upon others, which sinks them and the world into their proper vanity and insignificance.
5. If men would consider how much God does for them to preserve their lives, they could not help feeling their obligation of maintaining an habitual sense of His power and goodness in their constant preservation. God must do a great deal to preserve the lives of such weak, feeble, careless creatures as mankind are. He must continue the regular succession of the various seasons. He must preserve the animal creation, to nourish, feed and clothe the human species, and preserve them from the snares, the arrows and means of death. He must constantly govern the winds and waves, and all the elements. He must watch over every individual person every moment. He must strengthen every nerve, and guide every motion of the body, and all the motions, affections and volitions of the mind. He must guide every step we take, and determine every circumstance of life.
6. What peculiar methods God has taken to make mankind continually sensible of his supporting and preserving hand. He has not only preserved their lives, but preserved them in such a manner, and under such circumstances, as are best adapted to make deep and lasting impressions on their minds of their constant and absolute dependence upon Him for life and breath and all things. He has preserved them from running into innumerable dangers into which they would have run had it not been for His internal or external restraints. He has preserved them from the same dangers which proved fatal to others. David was astonished at the preservation of his own long life, and exclaimed, “I am as a wonder unto many!” Jeremiah was deeply affected with the preserving goodness of God. He cried, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed!”
1. If all men ought to realise that God is the preserver and disposer of their lives, we have reason to think that they generally live in the neglect of this important duty. They generally cast off fear, and restrain prayer before God. They do not call upon God in the morning or in the evening, from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, and from year to year, unless something takes place to alarm their fears, and constrain them to realise their dependence upon Him in whose hand their breath is, and whoso are all their ways. They generally feel and act as though they were entirely independent of their creator and constant preserver. They feel sufficient to preserve their own lives and supply their own wants in time to come, as they imagine they have done in time past. Thus they boast of tomorrow, though they know not what a day may bring forth. Is this the folly, stupidity and presumption of only a few individuals of mankind? No. It is the folly, stupidity and presumption of the great majority in every heathen and Christian nation on earth. This world is full of rational and immortal creatures, who say in their hearts and by their conduct, there is no God for them to fear, or love, or glorify.
2. Since all men ought to realise that they are constantly and entirely dependent upon God for the preservation of life, they must be inexcusable for pursuing any modes of conduct which they know tend to banish such a realising sense of the Divine presence and preservation from their minds. According to this criterion, it is easy to see the criminality of loving and pursuing the things of the world supremely. Supreme love to the world must necessarily banish supreme love to God from the heart. Though all men ought to be industrious in their various useful and lawful callings, yet they ought to labour in such a manner, and from such motives, as shall not indispose or unfit them for any religious duties. What was it that banished from the mind of Belshazzar a realising sense of the preserving goodness of that God whom his father had known, and whom he had known, and in whose hand his breath was, and whose were all his ways? Was it not his vain company, his vain amusements, and abominable festivals? Similar causes will produce similar effects in every age and in every part of the world. Prodigality, profaneness, intemperance, vain amusements, and worldly-mindedness, will always lead men to forget God, their maker, preserver and benefactor.
3. If men ought to realise that God is their preserver then they ought to use those means which He has appointed to keep in their minds a deep and abiding sense of His supremacy and of their dependence. Reading the Bible has a happy tendency to bring and keep God in view. Prayer has a direct and powerful tendency to raise the attention and hearts of men to God, and give them a realising sense of His supremacy, and their dependence upon Him for life, and breath, and all things.
4. If God be the preserver and disposer of the lives of men, how fast must the guilt of those arise and increase who never glorify Him, in whose hand their breath is, and whose are all their ways! How many mercies have they received and abused! How many talents have they buried or perverted! How much have they injured God, their fellow-men, and themselves!
5. The patience of God towards this atheistical, guilty, and ungrateful world is astonishingly great. He is constantly displaying before their eyes His power, His wisdom, and His goodness, in preserving their lives, and loading them with the rich blessings of His providence and grace; and yet they overlook the hand and the heart of Him in whose hand is their breath, and whose are all their ways.
6. That all impenitent sinners are constantly and imminently exposed to temporal and eternal ruin. It is of the Lord’s mercies that they have not before now been consumed. His patience is not boundless, but limited. (N. Enmons, D.D.)
The Man Who Failed of His Life’s Purpose
Such, in one single sentence, brief, pregnant and inexorable, is the summing up of the case against a doomed man. There were a great many other things that might have been said; this in itself was enough. There is nothing said about his licentiousness; there is no mention of his cruelty; but the case against him is summed up in this single charge, “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified.” This is an offence that is taken cognisance of by no human tribunal, or else which of us should escape the judge? It is a sin that society itself by no means condemns severely, or else society would have to pronounce sentence neon itself. It is the distinguishing sin of the man who may justly and truthfully be called a man of the world; for when a man becomes a man of the world, he puts something else in the place of God. Again, it is perhaps the most frequent sin that is ever committed, a sin committed by a larger number of persons than any other sin. There are comparatively few murderers in the world; there are a large number of those who have committed other acts of immorality. Other things may be charged against each cue of us, but if this point can be proven, it is enough. It is all that will be required in the court of Heaven to seal the doom of the most soil-righteous and self-complacent Pharisee that ever walked on the face of this earth. Man exists for the glory of God. There is no professing Christian who would be disposed to deny that this is the final cause of man’s existence; and yet while we are all ready to make the theological admission how few comparatively there are who have any adequate apprehension of the truth that is contained in these words. In what sense may it be affirmed that man exists for the glory of God? Now it strikes us, on first contemplating the subject, that whatever else man can do or cannot do, surely there is one thing that must be beyond his power. It is impossible that any of us can add to the infinite glories of the Divine Being. I mean to say we can neither diminish the lustre of His eternal glory on the one hand, nor can we add to it on the other. The character of God is and must be beyond our reach. How can we glorify Him if He is so far beyond our reach? You cannot increase the light of the sun. Do as you may, get up an illumination, accumulate all the light that this world can possibly give forth; let all the gas lamps, and all the electic lights, and all the other appliances of modern science be employed for the purpose, yet the sun is just as bright as it was before, and no brighter. All your efforts cannot make it brighter; but at the same time it is possible for you, in a certain sense, to extend the power of the sun. On the Continent of America, and even in our own land, there are vast subterranean caverns which the rays of the sun’s light have never reached. Now, if by some gigantic effort of engineering skill we can remove the superincumbent mass of earth and permit the rays of the sun to strike down into those vast recesses of the world, what should we thus be doing? Why, obviously, relatively to this world in which we live, we should be increasing the supremacy of the sun, so to speak; we should be extending its power to a portion of territory which had not hitherto been affected by it. Is it not even so with regard to God? We cannot increase God’s own absolute glory. But it is possible for us to pass that glory on into regions where its presence has not yet, at any rate, been realised. There may be hearts in this very congregation which are like those subterranean caves. Light has long been streaming down upon the fallen world. Saints have seen it in their generation, and that glorious light has illumined their whole life, and again and again there has proceeded from their lips the invitation to their fellow sinners, “Come ye, and let us walk in the light of God.” Now, just in proportion as this invitation is complied with, and one heart after another is opened up to the saving influence of the Divine grace, we may say that God’s glory is increased in this round world. Summing the thing up, we may say briefly that it is the blessed privilege of man, first of all, to glorify God by witnessing to the power of His grace to sustain, to defend and to exalt the soul that by faith commits itself to Him. What a marvellous thing it is that the power of the Everlasting God can lift the poor, frail Christian out of his weakness and place him above his temptation, make him a conqueror in the strife, even when he is striving against the fearful powers of hell! This is just what God’s saints have been testifying to in every age, and by this testimony the glow of God is continually being advanced. It is possible for man to glorify God by the voluntary acceptance of the Divine law as the law of human will. The character of God has been aspersed, and the authority of God has been challenged by fallen intelligences of evil. The child of God that accepts the will of God’ as the law of his conduct is a standing testimony to the perfection of that will. It is his own voluntary choice, and he chooses it because he discovers in it all that his own human nature most requires, all that is most necessary for the full development of that which is truest and noblest and best within him, and further, for the full and sufficient gratification of his creature-like nature. This leads us on to a further point; God is to be glorified by man in the ultimate and final destiny which He is preparing for man. Triumphant man shall bear witness for all eternity to the perfection of that Divine will, in submission to which he has attained to his own highest well-being. And thus, in the fourth place, man shall witness to the glow of God by bearing an indirect, though a most eloquent testimony to the perfections of the Divine character. It has always been the work of Satan, ever since he began to perform the part of the tempter, to endeavour to present to the human mind false views of God. What a triumphant answer will be returned to those slanders of the great enemy of God and man, by the fact that in the voluntary acceptance of the will of God, as the law of human conduct, man pays the very highest tribute that can possibly be paid by an intelligent being to the perfections of the moral character of that God from whom he originated. How is it possible for us to dishonour God, or at any rate, how is it possible for us to rob God of His glory? Obviously, we cannot dishonour Him more than by ignoring Him altogether. If I wanted to dishonour any one of you, that is probably the very first course I should adopt. If anyone wants to insult another with whom he is acquainted, the common way of doing it is to pass the man, to “cut him dead,” as we call it, in the street. How many persons there are who, throughout the whole course of their past lives, have been dishonouring God by ignoring Him! I want to ask you a question, a very plain one, that you will all be able to answer one way or another. I want to ask you how far your lives would have been different if from your early infancy you had been persuaded that there was no God at all? I can fancy some of you making answer, “Well, of course, if I had not believed in God, I should never have attended a place of worship, I should never have said my prayers, I should never have attempted to study the Bible.” Well, we are ready to make those admissions; but are they considerable? You attend church once a week; of course, that in itself is merely a mechanical performance that has exercised no considerable influence upon your life. I am not asking about the outward movements of your bodies, but of the effect produced upon your moral nature by your religious profession. Let us look at it again. Would you have been a very different person from what yon are if you had actually believed that there was no God? You have lived so many years in the world; ask yourself, with a determination to get a truthful answer, “How many of those years have I consciously spent for God’s glory? How many days in those years? How many hours in one single day? Have I ever recognised God’s glory as the end of my being at all? Have I ever definitely put it before me as the thing for which I live?” Where has God been in your conversation? How many of you are there who would have to confess, if you told the truth--“Nowhere!” Have you ever talked about Him in your life? In your daily conduct, in your dealings with your fellow-men, how much of your labour has been consciously undertaken with a view to advancing the glory of God? Now the very first thing needed is that we should be convicted of our sin in dishonouring and ignoring God who now calls us back to Himself. Yet again, we dishonour God when, even if we do not ignore Him, we repudiate the means of salvation which He, at an infinite cost, has provided for us. In other words, we dishonour God when we act as though we could dispense with His assistance. Now, then, we come to enquire holy many of us have accepted that which has been purchased for us at such a price? Are you saying in your heart, “My life has bean one of such earnest religion, that I really do not require this provision of Divine love; I can get on tolerably well without it; though my life may not have been absolutely perfect, yet it has been such a good sort of life that I do not think that God can have anything considerable against it; therefore I am content to take my chance.” Now, if any of you in your hearts are talking in that way, I just want to ask you what you are doing? Is there any way in which you can more effectually dishonour the wisdom, and love, and mercy of God than by turning your back on His “unspeakable gift?” Practically, you are pointing to the Cross of Calvary, and saying, “There is something altogether ridiculous in that display of Divine love; it was never needed; why should God have given His Son? Would it not be quite enough if God had sent His Son to preach righteousness to us? If He had been content with delivering the sermon on the mount, and a few other moral precepts, and there had left the matter, it would have been all right. It is quite possible for as to mend ourselves, to improve our own way, and gradually to become fit for the Kingdom of Heaven. Why should He have given His Son to die?” In other words, you are doing all that in you lies to stultify the wisdom and the love of the Most High God. Again, we dishonour God (and this point finds a special illustration from the narrative with which our text is connected) when we appropriate to some other use that which has been designed for Himself. “Know ye not,” says the apostle, “that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost?” This ought to be the ease with every one of you. Our manhood has been given to us in order that we might render it back to God, and in order that it may be inhabited by God. Now, let us gauge ourselves by this. Are those bodies of yours temples of the Holy Ghost? Whether you will or whether you will not, you do belong to God. You may ignore His claim, you may sin against His right, you may defraud Him of His due, you may profane His sanctuary, you may take His sacred things and dedicate them to the service of His great rival, you may become a devout worshipper at the shrine of the god of this world--your whole life may be sacrilegious in the truest and deepest sense of the word--yet you cannot get away from the awful responsibility which rests upon you in virtue of the fact that whether you will, or win not, you do belong to God. Even at this moment, while I speak, that which was true of Belshazzar is true of you. God holds your breath in His hand; all your ways belong to Him; at any moment He may open His hand, and your breath is gone; at any moment He may lay claim to those ways of yours, and because they have been ways of perversity instead of ways of obedience, He may be and will be justified in calling you to account for them. Every moment of your time is His; every possibility of influence that you possess is His; every affection of your heart is His; every operation of your understanding is His; your position and rank is His. Wherever you look you are surrounded by God’s claim, and you cannot get away from it. Those golden vessels of the sanctuary are, as it were, within your hand, but instead of the consecrated wine, instead of the sacred offering, instead of the holy use, ah! what do we see? One life-long profanation. And now I come to the awful and overwhelming thought of what lies before you if you continue in your present career. Will God be baffled? Will His purposes be defeated? Having created you for His glory, shall you exist only for His shame? Not so. The everlasting God will have His need of glory out of every one of us. He desires to have it in your voluntary offering of yourself to Him. But if He may not have it so, He will have it otherwise. (W. Hay Aitken M.A.)
Man’s Absolute Dependence Upon God
I. THAT MAN’S EXISTENCE IS IN THE HANDS OF GOD. “In whose hand thy breath is.” Reason teaches this. All existence is either conditioned or unconditioned--dependent or independent. The latter implies the former. Man and all creatures belong to the former. The Bible implies this. It is full of the doctrine that “in him we live, and move,” etc. Religion realises this. A practical consciousness of our dependence upon God is the spirit of religion. There are at least two practical conclusions deducible from this the most obvious and the most solemn of truths.
1. That if our existence is thus absolutely dependent upon Him, we should be ruled in everything by His will. Since every breath we draw is in His hands, to do anything from our own mere choice, without consulting Him, is at once presumptuous--rebellions--hazardous.
2. That if our existence is thus absolutely dependent on Him, we should seek to love Him supremely as the chief good. Dependency upon a being whom we dislike is a state of misery. The greater the dependency and dislike, the greater the misery. The poor slave is miserable on this account. Still death relieves him. But nothing can relieve me from my dependency upon the Eternal. His eye will be on me through eternal ages; every pulse, every breath, of my being will come from Him.
II. THAT MAN’S ACTIONS ARE UNDER THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. “Whose are all thy ways.” Not only is our existence His, but our ways, actions, are, in a sense, His. Our thoughts, utterances, movements, are under His absolute control. There are only two classes of actions amongst all his intelligent creatures
1. That class which originates in His will. Created goodness everywhere instinctively ascribes itself to God.
2. That class which originates against the Divine will. Such are all sinful actions. The instincts of conscience, the principles of the decalogue, the history of providence, the mediation of Christ, the tendency of the Gospel, the work of the Spirit, all show that sin is against the will of God. The question for a creature to determine is not, whether he shall serve his Maker or not, for serve Him he must; but whether he shall serve Him against his will or by his will, as an angel or as a demon.
III. MAN’S GRAND OBJECT SHOULD BE TO GLORIFY GOD. What is it to glorify Him? It includes reception and reflection. There must be a right reception of Him. The glory of God is in giving, not in receiving; and man glorifies Him by receiving all that He offers with a spirit of reverence, gratitude, and love. There must be a right reflection of Him. What He gives should be manifested. The heavens, the ocean, the landscape, glorify God; they show forth to the reasoning universe what He has given them. God has given man intelligent, moral, immortal, mind; and there is more of Him to be seen in one such mind than in the whole material creation. But what God has given must not only be shown forth, but shown forth according to His will. Hobbes, Byron, Dryden, Napoleon, and thousands of others have shown forth in striking aspects the wonderful nature with which their Maker endowed them; but they did not do so according to His will, and, therefore, they did not “glorify” Him. To glorify God is rightly to receive from Him, and rightly to reflect what you receive. Souls should be to Him what planets are to the sun; catch his glowing beams, and then fling the radiance on the whole sphere in which they move. On every sinner’s brow you may inscribe the words--The God, in whose hand thy breath is and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified. Thou hast, perhaps, built up a fortune, mastered the sciences, distinguished thyself in every branch of polite learning, gained a high position in the social scale, and won a splendid name; but the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified; and everything else thou hast done goes for nothing. Shouldst thou pass through this brief life, and enter eternity With this sentence written against thee, better thou hadst never been. (Homilist.)
Man’s Chief End
Misfortune makes some men wise and sober-minded, but others it only stirs up to folly and madness. Belshazzar’s folly seems to have reached its height when already the enemy were knocking at the gates. Suddenly, however, in the midst of the revelry, the king is startled by a strange and ominous sight. Instantly the king is sobered, is almost paralysed with fear, and summons his wise men to read the writing end explain its meaning. But the wise men are baffled, and their perplexity only adds to the terror of the king. Now, it seems to me that the words of our text, in which the venerable seer sums up the life’s wickedness of the Babylonian king, are words which sum up the life-story of every unsaved man. They lay no stress upon the form of evil, which is largely accidental; they throw all the emphasis upon the essence of sin, which consists in man’s failure to glorify God.
I. MAN’S CHIEF END, OR THE GREAT BUSINESS OF LIFE. The prophet reminds the king that life and position are the gift of God. He setteth up one and putteth down another. In His hand is man’s breath, and man’s condition in life is fixed by His appointment. Man comes into the world without any volition of his own, and he goes out of it when God’s time comes, whether he will or not. Now, every child born into the world is born for a purpose, and in the case of all who die in infancy one may safely say that purpose has been fulfilled. Are there not multitudes of men and women who have never realised that man has a chief end--who have never sought answers to such great questions as these: Whence came I? Why am I here? Whither am I going? The God in whose hand thy breath is has given thee life for a purpose; He has protected thee in infancy and childhood, and has preserved thee until now for a purpose. And not only is one’s breath in God’s hands; the prophet reminds the king that all his ways--that is, not the mode in which he has spent his life, but his worldlyposition and circumstances and destiny--have all been determined by the will of God. And that is true of every man. God assigns to each the home in which he shall be born and brought up; He has determined the social position and circumstance of every one of us, and on His will, too, does our final destiny depend. And this, too, He has done for a purpose, and has given to each of us opportunities of usefulness that are available to no others but ourselves. If, then, man depends on God, if life and position be His gift, if man’s final destiny be in the hands of God, and if God has sent each man into the world for a definite purpose, surely it is the business of a wise man to find out what that purpose is, and to seek to realise it. The king has failed of his life’s purpose, and is condemned because he has not glorified the God in whose hand his life and destiny are. Clearly, then man’s chief end is to glorify God. But we must not be content with merely saying that the great business of life is to glorify God. We must make sure that we understand what these words mean, and we must accept all the light that is thrown upon them by the teaching of the New Testament, and especially by the words and example of Jesus Christ. Belshazzar’s life was summed up in the words, “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified.” Christ’s life was summed up in these other words, “I have glorified Thee on the earth, having finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” Belshazzar had paid no heed to the voice of God. Christ had done the will of God perfectly in all things. The motto of the one life was, “Not Thy will but mine be done”; the motto of the other, “Not My will but Thine.” To glorify God is to honour God, and God is honoured only by those who acknowledge His glory, and do His will in their daily life. For God is not glorified by those who set apart an hour on the Sabbath for His worship, and who forget Him and His will during the rest of the week. If Christ’s life teaches anything it surely teaches this, that He glorified God just as worthily in the workshop at Nazareth as in teaching and preaching the things of the kingdom. It is not enough to know the will of God, for God is glorified only by those who do His will. To read the Bible is a good thing only if the knowledge there gained be wisely used. What is the good of knowing that he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him, unless that knowledge leads a man to faith in Christ? Surely there is no folly like the folly of the man who prides himself on his knowledge of the Bible, and is yet not restrained by that knowledge from acting contrary to the will of God. What would you think of the workman who was continually breaking some of the printed regulations if he met the foreman’s rebuke by the statement that he read over the regulations every meal hour, and knew more about them than any other man in the shop? He glorifies God who in all simplicity and earnestness accepts the will of God as the rule of faith and conduct.
II. BELSHAZZAR’S FAILURE TO FULFILL LIFE’S PURPOSE. “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified.” That is a startling summary of this man’s wickedness--all the more startling because of its severe simplicity. If man had drawn up the indictment against the king who was already on the threshold of eternity the charge against him would have been a different one. It would have consisted of many counts, and would have condescended on many particulars. And, in sober truth, in the ease of Belshazzar, there was room enough for many a charge. He was a man about whom history has nothing good to say. An Oriental despot who slew whom he would; a vain, tyrannical king, whose will was law; a licentious ruler, who used his power to gratify his own desires--such was the character of the man who had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. But the Lord’s prophet does not condescend on particular crimes; for that there is no need. He fulminates against him this great solemn charge: “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are are thy ways, thou hast not glorified.” In man’s judgment that does not seem a very serious crime, and yet, in the judgment of God and of God’s prophet, it is the very essence of sin. For sin consists not so much in definite acts of wickedness as in a wrong relation towards God. Judge thyself as in the light of eternity and the presence of God. Can you look hack over your past life, blameless as it is in the judgment of men, without being forced to make this confession: “The God in whose hand my breath is I have not glorified “? You, too, have failed in the great purpose of life if you have not made it your business to glorify God. In the opinion of the world your life may have been a success; you may have risen from poverty to wealth, or have gained a succession of social victories, yet in the judgment of Heaven your life has been a dismal failure, if the God in whose hand thy breath is thou hast not glorified. Are you perplexed as to the first step in this now and nobler life? Then let me point you to the cross of Christ. He who rejects the salvation which God at infinite cost has provided thereby dishonours God. Let God this day have the glory of saving thee, and seek, through fellowship with Jesus Christ, strength henceforth to glorify God, in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways. (A. Soutar, M.A.)
And this writing was written.
Writing on the Wall at Belshazzar’s Feast
I. THE SCENE IN WHICH IT OCCURRED. An eastern palace.
1. It was a scene of drunkenness and revelling. The narrative makes their drinking wine a very prominent feature in this feast. The king and all around him are gay and jovial. Deluded wretches! Little did they suspect the awful doom which awaited them. Is this a scene from which to rush into the presence of God? Are these practices in which you would choose that the Judge of Heaven and earth should find you when He comes to call you to His bar?
2. It was a scene of impiety and profanity. They insulted the God of Heaven and earth. They profaned the implements of His worship. They celebrated the gods of their own hands. Scenes of drunkenness are seldom complete till God and religion have come in for a share of contempt. Little did these wretched blasphemers think how soon the God whom they despised would humble them, and avenge Himself upon them.
II. THE EFFECT IT PRODUCED. In the midst of the scene described above, there “came forth fingers of a man’s hand and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.” He cannot decipher one character in which it is written. Then why tremble and turn pale? It was something supernatural and therefore alarming. But why should he fear what was supernatural? If the prodigy was produced by the God of Israel, was not this the God whom he was openly defying as contemptible? And if by his own gods, was he not praising them? Then what has he to fear from either? Oh, vain attempt to resist the eternal God! What is the mightiest, the proudest boaster, when a single arrow from the Almighty smites him, when the guilt of his conscience is awakened? Guilt will speak when aroused from its slumbers by the voice of an offended God. It is too strong to be subdued, and produces effects too powerful to be concealed. It was a part of the punishment of Belshazzar to expose his own dismay to the very persons whom he had led on to sin. Thus shame was united with terror. He proclaims his own defeat at the moment when he had inspired others with the idea of victory. “His lords were astonished.” And thus shall all the enemies of God and Christ be ashamed. Observe also the cowardice which Belshazzar manifests. He turns pale, he trembles, he cries aloud. It was not his accustomed tone of arbitrary authority, but the hurried cry of trembling timidity. The boldest in vice are often most destitute of courage when danger comes. Mark the scoffer in affliction. Where is his courage then? And who now can afford relief to the wretched king of Babylon? In vain does he look, in vain does he cry to those around him, and to those who are under his control. How forlorn is his condition! Alas, where is the man, whom an angry God has abandoned to his fate, to look for help? Who can deliver out of His hand? Oh, what can your companions in guilt do for you when your doom overtakes you? Most of them will unfeelingly abandon you to your fate. Others will flee from you as an object of dread. And if any can be found who will still cleave to you, wretched comforters will you find them. What smile of friendship or affection can cheer while God frowns? What words of human kindness can convey peace, while the thunder of Divine wrath assails the ear?
III. THE TRUTHS IT CONVEYED. As yet the writing was neither read nor interpreted. In what character it was written does not appear. The Chaldeans understood it not. The most probable conjecture is that it was written in the form of a cypher or monogram, a mode common in eastern nations for conveying secrets. In this extremity the queen rushes into the banquet house and informs the king of Daniel. By her advice he is ordered in. He enters. And now what a scene presents itself! Alas, what unwelcome truths have good men to tell the wicked in times of trouble. How many will not be persuaded of their, danger in health and prosperity, who cry to the righteous for comfort in time of trouble. However disappointed the king, the queen, the lords may be at the language of Daniel, faithfulness to his God required him to use it. And so it is still. You, and those around you, may find the language of a man of God very different from what you expect and wish. You must be reminded of your sins and of their just desert. And now, having finished his address to the king, Daniel turns to the mysterious and terrific inscription. He first puts it into Chaldea words, and then interprets them. The event so immediately and exactly answering the prediction shows that both the reading and the interpretation were from God. “This is the interpretation of the thing.” “Mene.” The word literally means to number, or be numbered. But who has numbered? The interpretation says “God hath numbered.” But what has He numbered? “thy kingdom,” thy glory, thy life, “and finished it.” Oh, sinner, this will soon be your case. Your days are numbered in the decrees of Heaven, and with them your pleasures and the sources of your gratification and pride. “Tekel.” To weigh, or be weighed. The interpretation, “Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.” The law of God is the test of human actions. “Peres.” To divide, or be divided. “Pharsin” is the plural of Pares, and U, a conjunction prefixed, making “Upharsin.” The interpretation, “Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” Oh mortifying sentence! He is stript of his honours, and to aggravate his loss they are bestowed on his enemies. Thus shall the wicked be bereft of all their worldly honours, of those things in which they most delight. Death will divide them from the world, and the world from them. Their possessions shall be given to whom God pleases. (J. Carter.)
The Handwriting on the Wall
More than forty years have passed since the erection of the golden image in the plain of Dura and the subjection of the three heroic confessors to the fiery furnace.
1. This invisible hand, tracing with its pen-fingers these characters upon the wall, is but the infinite Hand that follows us, tracing day by day, though upon a page unseen by us, the record of our lives. It had followed Belshazzar from the period of his first elevation to power until now. It had traced in indelible characters the history of his idolatries, his debaucheries, and his crimes. These characters were all the darker because of the light against which Belshazzar had sinned. As Daniel reminded him of the visitation of Heaven that had fallen upon Nebuchadnezzar when “his heart was lifted up and his mind hardened with pride,” and when, by the Divine decree, “he was driven from the sons of men.” “And thou, his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this, but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven.” They told of a wanton disregard of God’s authority and contempt of His former judgments. That jealous God, who will not give His glory to another, had not forgotten all this reckless defiance of His authority. And so with each one of us; an invisible eye marks and an invisible hand records all the sins and shortcomings of our life. In God’s book of remembrance they are written with ink that shall never fade.
2. The day is coming when the hand that now writes in invisible Characters shall trace in letters of fire over against the candlestick upon the wall of God’s great judgment-hall the characters that shall settle our eternal doom. The pallor that overspread the countenances of the king and his nobles on that awful night in Babylon was as nothing compared with the abject terror of that still more awful day when the sun shall be turned into blackness and the moon into blood. The cry that rang from the festal hall that night for the astrologers and soothsayers shall find its terrible counterpart in the cry of that great day for the mountains and the rocks to fail upon men and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. And the silence of the soothsayers in the presence of the invisible hand is but a prefiguration of that awful silence when “every mouth shall be stopped, and all the world shall become guilty before God.”
3. In those three words, “Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,” as interpreted by Daniel, we have foreshadowed the three elements in the sinner’s final doom.
(1) The end of probation: Mene, numbered. Belshazzar’s kingdom had been a stewardship. The years of his stewardship are now numbered. The day of his probation is now ended. The eternal hand comes out of its obscurity to announce the fact that the day of opportunity is ever and the day of reckoning has come. And so to you and me, my dear reader, shall that day suddenly come. Death’s bony fingers shall write over against us the word Mene, numbered. It may come as suddenly and as awfully in the midst of your worldliness and gaiety as it did to Belshazzar amidst the impious revelries of his midnight feast.
(2) The sentence of condemnation: Tekel, weighed and found wanting. Little as Belshazzar dreamed of it, his life had been placed in the balance of eternal and unerring justice. It had been impartially weighed. Your best righteousnesses would be but as the “small dust of the balance.” As over agninst the weighty demands of God’s perfect law they would be lighter than vanity.
(3) The doom of disinheritance: Perez (Upharsin--U, and, and Pharsin, the plural form of Perez), divided. Belshazzar’s kingdom was taken from him and divided between the Medea and Persians. But what was the kingdom of Belshazzar compared with that kingdom forfeited by the soul which at last shall be weighed and found wanting? Oh that kingdom in the skies, that kingdom that cannot be moved, that kingdom whose capital city is one that “lieth foursquare” like Babylon, but the side of whose square, instead of being, like Babylon’s, fourteen miles, is, as measured by the angel of the Apocalypse, twelve thousand furlongs, and the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal!
4. The day of the sinner’s undoing shall be the day of the saint’s coronation. Amidst that scene of terror in Belshazzar’s festal hall there was one figure that stood unappalled. No terror blanched the cheek of Daniel. No sudden weakness “loosed the joints of his loins.” No dismay made his knees “smite one against another.” It was his Father’s hand that was writing; why should he fear? There was no guilty conscience in his breast responding with its Tekel to that upon the wall. What a grand character he appears, erect and self-possessed amidst the cowering throng, the light of a serene peace illuminating his face as he reads the writing that carries terror to all around! Even so shall it be in that great day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, when the books shall be opened, and the dead shall be judged out of the things that are written in the books. The judgment-day shall have no terrors for those who have been the servants of Christ. Not only shall they be exempted and honoured of God, but they shall on that day receive at the hand of an ungodly world the just meed of honour and praise which has been so long withheld. So the servants of God in that final coronation-day shall receive, even from the most depraved, that tardy recognition denied them here upon the earth.
5. Repentance, long deferred, may come too late. Had Belshazzar sought the counsel of Daniel before the handwriting appeared on the wall, had he signalised his entrance upon the responsibilities of regal power by restoring the prophet to the post of influence and authority he had once so happily filled under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar--he might have escaped the impending ruin. Alas! it is now too late! Divine patience has been exhausted. Doom is sealed. And so must it be with those who wilfully postpone the great interests of the soul. (T. D. Witherspoon, D.D.)
The Hour of Doom
The events recorded in this chapter occurred in the fifty-first year of the captivity of the Jews. Let me ask you to consider the extreme minuteness of the prophecies with regard to Babylon, made one hundred and fifty years before they were accomplished. It was predicted Isaiah 45:1) that Cyrus, the king of Persia, should be its conqueror;and this was fulfilled, for it was the Persian troops, commanded by Cyrus, who captured the city. It was predicted (Isaiah 44:27) that the river Euphrates should be dried up before the city was taken; and this was fulfilled when the soldiers of Cyrus, with incredible labour, diverted it from its course, and thus “laid a snare for Babylon.” It was predicted (Isaiah 45:1) that, when the city was taken, its “gates should not be shut”; and this was fulfilled, for the historian records that had the gates leading from the river to the city been shut, the Persians would have been inclosed in a net, from which they could never have escaped. It was predicted (Jer 1:24) that on the night of the capture the Babylonians would be given up to intemperance: “I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon, and thou wast not aware thou art found and also caught” Jeremiah 51:57)--“And I will make drunk her princes and her wise men, her captains and her rulers, and her mighty men; and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake”; and this was fulfilled, for Cyrus selected the occasion of a great festival for entering the city; and Herodotus (as quoted by Dr. Keith) relates that the inhabitants were given up to revelling and dancing--that the guards were drinking before the palace when the Persians rushed upon and slew them, and that the monarch and the princes and the captains were slain at a feast.
I. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE POWER OF CONSCIENCE. “In the same hour came forth the fingers of a man’s hand,” etc.
1. The cause of his alarm. It was the mysterious handwriting, upon the wall. We read that he made a great feast; for what purpose we are not informed, but as it seems to have been anticipated by Cyrus, it was probably some national festival. Such is the love of the human heart for self-indulgence that it will not resign the pursuit of pleasure, however great the risk that is incurred. Now, I submit that unless he had been conscious of doing a wrong act, there was nothing in such a spectacle to have produced the terror which is here described. For anything be could tell, that handwriting, whether supernatural in its origin or not, might have boded good not evil. What was there, apart from a guilty conscience, in a few letters written upon the wall, to terrify a monarch surrounded by his courtiers? Here, then, we have an illustration of the power of conscience--that mysterious monitor which God has placed within us. I ask for nostronger evidence of the universality of conscience than men’s superstitious fears, and the remorse which follows the commission of crime. The most abject terror has been displayed by those who have indulged in sin, and derided religion as the device of priestcraft, proving beyond all dispute that whatever may be the hardihood of vice, it cannot anticipate the future without alarm. And this alarm is often excited by the most trifling circumstance. Belshazzar starts not at a phantom--not at some awful manifestation of Divine power--not at the clash of swords and shrieks of the wounded, which proclaim that the Persian army is at hand, but at some unintelligible characters traced on the wall. See how easily God can terrify the sinner. Happy they whose consciences are pacified by the blood of Christ, and who, having nothing to fear because reconciled to God, are anxious to avoid whatever is evil, and walk all day in the light of God’s countenance.
2. The mental distress which BelShazzar suffered. His troubled thoughts are evident by his changed countenance and trembling limbs. And this is the more remarkable, because there was everything in the circumstances in which he was placed to dissipate his alarm. He was not alone. It was not in the silence and solitude of night, it was not in the near approach of death. He was seated at the head of a sumptuous board--the princes and nobles of his empire were around him, the wine sparkled--the jest and song dispelled all thought and care. So for a season men of the world may have no anxiety with regard to the future. There are many expedients to which they can resort to prevent reflection, but conscience awakes at an unexpected moment, and they are full of anguish. It is a solemn hour when conscience awakes from its lethargy; and the longer it has slept, and the more a man has sinned against light and knowledge, the more terrible is its awakening. Why, even the heathen could compare it to a vulture gnawing the heart, and speak of the furies who pursue the wicked with their burning torch and whip of scorpions.
3. The miserable expedients to which he resorted. “The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers” (v. 7). And was this his only resort? Has he no better device than this? Had he forgotten their inability to explain to Nebuchadnezzar his dream? I do not think he had forgotten either. The probability is, that he was ashamed or afraid to send for Daniel when those golden vessels of the temple of his God were before him, and that he clung to the hope that the astrologers might, in this instance, afford him the information he desired. And you have here a type of the wretched expedients to which men often resort to appease their conscience. Some summon to their aid new forms of worldly pleasure; some resort to intemperance; others embrace infidelity. The astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers could do nothing for Belshazzar, and worldly pleasure or sceptical doubts can never extract the sting of an accusing conscience. If you once feel that you are estranged from God, and that instead of enjoying His favour you have reason to dread His anger, you will never be happy again until you have found refuge in Christ. You may try many other things. It is probable that you will do so. You may say, I am out of health, the subject of morbid fancies, and perhaps seek a physician; but there is no medicine that can cure a wounded conscience.
II. AN ILLUSTRATION OF DANIEL’S FIDELITY.
1. He charges Belshazzar with neglecting providential warnings. He reminds him of the pride and punishment of Nebuchadnezzar. Now, the measure of our responsibility is always proportioned to the degree of our knowledge. Perhaps there are few families who have not received from God some solemn warnings; there are few to whom He has not spoken by His providential dispensations. But there are many who give no heed to this. There was a moment’s impression, but it soon subsided.
2. He charges him with rebellion against God. “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” This verse contains a very affecting representation of our entire dependence on God. He is the God in whose hand our breath is. He it was who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, and He it is in whom we live, and move, and have our being. There is nothing more mysterious than that principle which puts in motion all the beautiful complicated mechanism of the body. What is it? None can tell. It is not electricity, it is not galvanism, it is not the subtle ether. The pride of science is humbled before this great mystery, the mystery of life. “In God’s hand is the soul of every living thing.” But this is not all. It is added, “And whose are all thy ways.” So complete is God’s control over us, that we can do nothing apart from Him. He it is who watches over us by night and day--who keeps us in our going out and coming in--who saves us from pestilence and death. Nothing, then, can be more obvious than the duty of glorifying God. If His works praise Him, should not His creatures? Does it not become those whom He thus sustains and blesses to honour and serve Him? What is idolatry but giving to another the glory that belongs to God? And what is sacrilege but applying to an unholy purpose the gifts of God? Then how many are there against whom this charge may be brought? Of how many a man engaged in the business of life, may it be said, as he goes to his daily occupation, and never gives one thought to God--“The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified.” What glory does He receive from those families who never call upon His name?
III. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE SCRUTINY TO WHICH MEN’S CHARACTER AND ACTIONS SUBJECTED BY THE OMNISCIENT EYE OF GOD. Belshazzar had forgotten and dishonoured God, but God had not forgotten him. He had been the subject of a strict and impartial scrutiny. “And this is the writing that was written--MENE, MENE TEKEL, UPHARSIN!” Conjecture has been busy as to the language in which these words were written. But this is a question of little interest, and can never be decided. The words, as given by Daniel, are in the Chaldean language, and are so enigmatical that had the astrologers been able to read, they could not have interpreted them. But I have said that this narrative teaches us that we are under the inspection of God. We may succeed in baffling the search into our character and motive, of the most curious and observant of our fellowmen; but there is one glance whose scrutiny we cannot elude. Men may mistake--they often do mistake; they may fail to discover those secrets that are folded in the silence and secrecy of our hearts; but God’s eye is ever upon us. Nor can others form a correct estimate of us. They can look only upon the outward appearance. What do they know of our hearts? But how comes it to pass that we, who are so sensitive as to what is said and thought of us by our fellow-men, are so indifferent to the scrutiny of God? He is never mistaken. The result of this scrutiny reveals much that is defective in every character. We can be at no loss to understand what it was that rendered Belshazzar’s character so defective. It was his pride, he wanted humility; it was his ingratitude, he wanted a thankful spirit; it was his neglect of providential warnings, he wanted a more attentive consideration of God’s dealings with him: it was his idolatry, he wanted reverence for the authority and commands of God. Now, the balances in which God weighs our characters can be nothing less than His requirements and our capabilities. It is by that pure and perfect law which He has given that He judges us. Let there be no misconception; you have to deal with God, and not with man; and it is in God’s balances that your actions are weighed. Will you place in them the virtues of social life? He admits their excellence and worth, but He asks you what relation they sustain to Him? I ask you to be honest with yourselves. You can gain nothing, you will lose everything, by self-deception. The address of Daniel to Belshazzar was the last to which the monarch ever listened, and he seems to have disregarded the solemn warning. (H. J. Gamble.)
Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting.
Weighed and Found Wanting
I. BELSHAZZAR WEIGHED.
1. By his conscience. “His thoughts troubled him.”
2. By his fellow-men. Confronted by Daniel.
3. By God (v. 24-28).
II. BELSHAZZAR FOUND WANTING.
1. Because he humbled not his heart.
2. Because he lifted up himself against God. We desecrated the vessels of God’s house.
3. Because of idolatry. He “praised the gods of gold.” Idolatry of the worst kind. Conclusion: The first and last sins of Belshazzar may be considered the same--God he had “not glorified.” (Homiletic Review.)
The Divine Balances
To each individual is assigned a particular poet, a certain sphere of duty; and every human being of every class is under the accurate observation of a sleepless eye. It is, therefore, of infinite importance to be acquainted with God’s judicial standard. On what will our destiny turn at the day of account? Tried by the laws of the land, and the laws of morality, many fall short. There remains a still higher code of duty, which is the law of religion. Who, tried in this balance, could hope to come forth triumphant? See at the judgment-day various characters approach.
1. One of excellent character as to worldly behaviour.
2. A formal religionist.
3. The man who brings the merits of Jesus Christ, cast in by a penitent faith, that abjures all self-dependence.
The great Redeemer is possessed of abundance of merit to counter-weigh the perfect law of God, to answer its minutest demands. Therefore, what you have to do is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
Scales in which Men are Weighed
I. BELSHAZZAR WAS WEIGHED IN THE SCALES OF HUMAN OPINION AND APPROVED. He was heir to a throne. He was a lineal descendant of Nebuchadnezzar, and so belonged to the royal line. He had inherited a great name. If Xenophon is to be believed, he had killed one of his courtiers because he struck down the game before giving the royal huntsman an opportunity. He had mutilated another, whose beauty made him a favourite at court. The monarchs of the time were commonly cruel and selfish, and such deeds did not greatly mar their reputations. Long live the king! He was probably eminent as a military leader. His father, Nabonidus, defeated by his enemies, had fled to Borsippa, leaving to his son the entire responsibility of the defence of Babylon. It is fair to infer that the young prince was chosen to care for the defences of the city on account of pre-eminent abilities. He was, indeed, given to excess of wine; upon occasions he was even guilty of drunkenness. But so was Ben-hadad; so also was Alexander the Great; so were many military heroes whom we have known. The world has been wont to praise its military drunkards. Men are not to be judged by the infatuation of an hour. He was in his way, remarkably religious. The festival which he observed was of a pious sort. With his princes and wives and concubines he praised the gods of gold and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. He praised the whole list of them, omitting none. The prayer of his devout father: “And of Bel-sar-uzer, my eldest son, the delight of my heart in the worship of thy great divinity, his heart do thou establish, and may he not consort with sinners,” was, perhaps, heard and answered. In the popular mind, at any rate, his heart was “established,” and upon this occasion he was not consorting with sinners. He was merely upholding the religion of the State. It did not burden him to become the high priest of a religion whose rites were so well suited to his taste. The religion which made him convivial would make him popular. How easy for the revellers about him to overlook his excesses!
II. But while Belshazzar was thus weighed in the scales of human opinion, and approved amidst the acclamations of his lords, another judgment was going on! HE WAS WEIGHED IN THE SCALES OF CONSCIENCE. He was compelled to pass judgment upon himself. We are told that as he looked upon this new inscurption, which was so mysteriously burned before his eyes, his “countenance was changed and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his lions were loosed and his knees smote one against another.” Why was he so terrified? The fingers of a man’s hand are not an object of terror. The inscription, which he could not road, had no fateful meaning for him. This impious reveller was stricken by conscience. The soul is for ever truthful, and sometimes the “still small voice” makes itself heard amidst the loudest of earth’s noises. No sounds of revelry can drown it. We are all acquainted with that tendency of our nature which leads us to turn away from the sober judgments of self and to see ourselves in the eyes of others. Naturally, we crave praise, and, because the soul persistently tells the truth, and will not applaud itself, we try to live in the judgments of others. They judge us by our acts, and not by the dispositions behind our acts, for these are often out of sight. They value us for our possessions and our gifts, more than for our graces. The revellers about Belshazzar were outspoken in his praise. They counted his great powers and possessions an evidence of moral worth. How delightful was it to lose himself in the midst of their acclamations! And yet there is in every man’s soul something which puts a check upon the praises of men--something which recalls him to himself, and holds up the mirror before him. Conscience may sleep, but, disturbed by strange or portentious events, it suddenly awakes. Our ability to live in the judgments of others is conditional upon a very orderly and usual course of events; and so sensitive are “we to portents and prodigies, that so slight a variation from the fixed course of nature as a “black” day, or a “yellow” day, will make us forget the praises of men, and lend to every man’s conscience a trumpet tone. And yet, alarmed by conscience, Belshazzar disobeyed its voice. He tried to banish his fears, but not to remove the cause of them. He called to his aid the astrologers and soothsayers. He had no reason to trust them. Had they been able to read the strange inscription, no one of them would have dared interpret it to him. He sought their aid, not to know the truth, but to allay his fears. “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light.” Belshazzar hated the light of conscience. It alarmed him. It destroyed, all his pleasure. He craved the feeling of security, whether it rested upon the foundation of truth or bid behind a refuge of lies. No mental sin is greater than a dishonest dealing with the fear which conscience arouses. Men often commit this sin. They hide their anxieties and assume a smiling appearance, hoping by concealment to lessen the fear itself. They dispute the facts, ready to make themselves believe a falsehood--as one stricken by mortal disease refuses to face the painful truth, and looks upon his case as curable. Had Belshazzar been answered by the magicians--had they healed his hurt slightly, saying, “peace, peace,” when there was no peace, their words would have brought him no permanent aid.
III. BELSHAZZAR WAS WEIGHED IN THE SCALES OF DIVINE JUSTICE AND CONDEMNED. We may well believe that when the handwriting was interpreted by Daniel a deeper dread fell upon Belshazzar. The words had a fateful sound. They were not a warning. They came too late. Weighed in a balance! The belief of the Egyptians was familiar to him. He had heard of Osiris sitting upon his judgment seat. Before him were the scales of Justice. Amidst awful solemnities the soul approached the judge. In one scale of the balance he saw placed the emblem of truth; in the other was a vase wherein were the good deeds of his life. The turning of the scales fixed his destiny. Being thus weighed, he was welcomed to the eternal felicities or received condemnation. “Weighed in the balance, and found wanting.” The words told him that his last day had come, and that already Divine justice, anticipating by a little the hour of his death, had given sentence against him. The judgment was irreversible. It has been the task of the historian to portray for us in dim outline the event in which this judgment was consummated. As the populace of Babylon, following the lead of Belshassar, gave themselves up to feasting and revelry, there came to Cyrus the opportunity for which he had wished and waited. This strange event which was the herald of Belshazzar’s death, and of the downfall of his kingdom, is altogether without a parallel in human annals. The special way in which the Divine judgment was announced has never been repeated. And yet it was a typical event. Men of spiritual vision have seen this handwriting of God unmistakably inscribed upon institutions and customs of their time. It has been stamped upon the pampered and sensual body, made to be the Spirit’s temple, but burning with the flames of the pit. And whenever it has been seen, it has reversed the judgments of men, and set in contrast with them the righteous displeasure of the Most High. There is no more sobering reflection for us than the thought that our own lives are weighed in the scales of God’s righteousness. Every thought and word and act of life are put in the balance. And God’s judgment is to be made manifest. I know that the natural course of our minds leads us to rid ourselves of any truth which gives us anxiety. And sometimes the devil skillfully appeals to our pride, by suggesting that we need no thought of coming judgment to help as to earnestness and sobriety of life. But the fact remains that the Bible everywhere assumes our need of such a great motive. It puts before us the vision of a judgment of the future, and makes use of it as an argument for keeping our lives apart from common sins. It bids us read the handwriting of God inscribed upon institutions and customs and personal lives, and to see in it a prophecy of the time when “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” (Monday Club Sermons.)
I. THE BALANCES IN WHICH MEN WEIGH THEMSELVES.
1. In their own opinions.
2. In comparison with others.
3. In the estimation of their fellows.
II. THE BALANCES IN WHICH GOD WEIGHS MEN.
1. The Bible.
3. A perfect moral standard.
4. An impartial standard.
III. THE APPLICATION OF THE BALANCES.
1. To the moralist.
2. To the formalist.
3. To the worldly Christian.
4. To the indolent. (The Study.)
Christian Weighed in the Balance
If we had eyes adapted to the sight, we should see on looking into the smallest seed the future flower or tree enclosed in it. God will look into our feelings and motives as into seeds; by those embryos of action He will infallibly determine what we are, and will show what we should have been, had there been scope and stage for their development and maturity. Nothing will be made light of. The very dust of the balances shall be taken into account. It is in the moral world as in the natural, Where every substance weighs something; though we speak of imponderable bodies, yet nature knows nothing of positive levity; and were men possessed of the necessary scales, the requisite instrument, we should find the same holds true in the moral world. Nothing is insignificant on which sin has breathed the breath of hell; everything is important on which holiness has impressed itself in the painted characters, and accordingly, “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; and bid that shall not be known.” (J. Harris.)
Everyone knows what “short weight” is. We scarcely take up a paper without reading of convictions, in different parts of the country, on this account. Everywhere traders are obliged to look carefully to what they send out, and consumers regard with some degree of jealousy what they receive. In very many instances, no doubt, where short weight has been given, there has been fraudulent intention, the act has been a deliberately criminal one; but, in many cases, there has been only thoughtlessness and misconception. But, whatever may have been the cause of error, the law of the land has interposed its authority; it has stepped in between the buyer and seller, and has said very unmistakably to all who use weights, and scales, and measures, “You are bound by the law to give exact weight and exact measurement.” Do they know that the Lord of Heaven and earth, of men and of angels--that great God “who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance”--do they know that this same God condescends to regulate the traffic of earth? Do they know that out of Heaven, His dwelling place, God speaks to us of weights and measures, and scales and balances? Under this general idea of “short weight,” how much is included which, in an endless variety of forms, we are constantly meeting with in every department of life. All false pretence in life I should regard as the social equivalent of false or short weight in business. It is that which falls below the profession made on the one side, and the claim which may be justly asserted on the other. How many persons are occupying a high social position, who are elevated in no other sense; who are distinguished by circumstances, rather than by intrinsic worth. How many are there, in all the different walks of life, who maintain a very reputable position in the esteem of their fellow-men, who, if they were to get their due, would be branded as “short weight.” It is very terrible to think how much of empty, hollow profession and pretence we have in this world. How many there are who live in virtue of a reputation which has nothing to sustain it. It would be well for us to get impressed upon our minds the fact that we may be guilty of giving “short weight” to our fellow-creatures, though we have nothing to do with material weights and balances from one year’s end to another. If, in any of the manifold relationships of life, we fail of giving to another that which is justly his due, we are as truly guilty of giving “short weight” as though we sold over the counter twelve ounces instead of sixteen. Take the servant, who sells his skill, his time, his labour to another; having made the contract, he has no right to keep back part of the price. And yet how many are there in such positions, who would denounce the giving of “short weight” in trade as a sin, who, without much compunction of conscience, give “short weight” to their employers day after day. Take the case of the husband who habitually neglects the wife whom he has solemnly promised to love and to cherish. Is not this the giving of “short weight,” after the most cruel and dastardly of all fashions? I have to bring under your notice a matter which is much more momentous. There are many who are scrupulous in their endeavour to render what is just and equal to their fellow-men, who would be loud in their denunciations of whatever might wear the appearance of dishonesty in the engagements of ordinary business, who would treat with bitter scorn and wrathful indignation all hollow pretences and profession in any of the manifold relationships of life, who seem at the same time to have no due sense of what they owe to God, and what they must render if they are to find acceptance with him. I wish to remind you that God has balances, in which men are weighed. There is an infallible standard of judgment, according to which our position is determined. And it behoves us, I think, to ascertain as carefully as possible what is our true position in relation to God and eternity. In the words of our text, Belshazzar is described as having been a “weighed in the balance, and found wanting.” A few words will suffice to set before you the remarkable circumstances under which these words were addressed to the Babylonish monarch. There is, in the case of each of us, am invisible and ever-present witness of all our proceedings, and an infallible record kept of all that occurs. Is not this a serious thought? Suppose that this night, on the wall of your chamber, there appeared a mysterious hand, inscribing upon the plaster unalterable words of doom. How would you be affected by the vision? Not, I think, less powerfully than Belshazzar of old. Your countenance would change--your knees would smite together--the joints of your loins would be unloosed--your thoughts would be troubled. There is cause of alarm for some of you, though you witness not a vision like that. It would matter little that the end of our life had come, that the number of our days had run out, that we were separated, divided from all that this world contains, if, when brought to the final, the absolute test, we were not found wanting. Knowing, then, how much depends on this, it is for all of us a most important question--What sentence would be pronounced upon us were we now put into the balances of God? And there is no need that this question should remain an unanswered one. God has revealed to us, in His Word, the great principles upon which judgment will finally proceed. We have enough placed within our reach to guide us in our determination. There are many, I fear, in this country, who are the unconscious subjects of a fatal deficiency; who, if placed in the balances, would be found unmistakably wanting; and who yet may be complacently regarding themselves all the while as though they needed nothing to satisfy every demand of justice, and secure the favourable regard of God. There are those who trust in the fact that they have been born in a Christian land, of professedly Christian parents. A great deal of the Christianity which prevails among us is simply a territorial Christianity. Men are Christians because they have been born in a certain locality, just as they would have been Pagans or Mohammedans if they had been born where Paganism or Mohammedanism prevailed. There are those who confide in the morality of their lives. I would not say a word in depreciation of morality. That religion is a mere delusion and snare which is not productive of, and evidently associated with, morality. But what a miserable mistake are they guilty of who confide in what they do, or abstain from doing, as a ground of acceptance before an infinitely holy God! There are those who trust in a religious profession. They are found in visible association with the Lord’s people. They are accustomed to hear and to use a certain religious phraseology. It is wonderful how far people can go, and yet not go far enough. It is wonderful how far they can go in a wrong way, and vainly imagine they are right. God weighs men in his balances even here. How often do providential events overate as a test of character? There is a sudden change in the circumstances of life; some unwonted pressure is applied, and at once, to the surprise of all, a very serious defect is forced to the surface, and stands revealed in a painfully humiliating way. Passing over without remark palpable and undeniable deficiencies, let me suggest the importance of ascertaining, so far as it is at present possible, how the application of God’s test to our characters would operate in the case of failings which are less obvious. Remember to, at the law of God bears upon and discovers the sins of our dispositions and feelings, deals with the heart, out of which are the issues of life, and which is the very fountain of sin. How little do men think of, or concern themselves with this? Think of our words being weighed in a balance. It would be a good thing if we more carefully weighed our words before we uttered them. It is a very terrible thing to think we are to give account of all the idle and worse than idle words we have uttered. Our deeds are to be weighed. How much have we done, how much are we constantly doing which we cannot think of without shame, and which we know will not bear the inspection of Heaven! I wish to make yea sensible of your moral and spiritual deficiency in order that you may have recourse to the Lord Jesus Christ, out of whose fulness, and by whose merits, every deficiency may be supplied. (T. M. Morris.)
The Sinner Weighed and Found Wanting
Amidst the darkness of heathenish ignorance and superstition, there have not been wanting plain and unequivocal evidences of a superintending and retributive Providence. Pharaoh was visited with memorable judgments for refusing to let the children of Israel go; and history informs us that not only Belshazzar, but Antiochus Epiphanes, Galerius Maximus, and many others, were signally punished for their daring impiety.
I. THOSE WHO ARE HETERODOX IN SENTIMENT, OR THOSE WHO EMBRACE FUNDAMENTAL ERROR.
1. The atheist. When we look abroad upon the heavens, and mark the garniture of the sky; when we contemplate our own bodies, so fearfully and wonderfully made; or when we look around and observe the proofs of design on every hand, it really seems astonishing that any man in his senses should deny the existence of a God. But, as Spinoza, and Vaninni, and several members of the French Convention, advocated atheistical sentiments, we are disposed to believe that some persons, in the plenitude of their pride, may, peradventure, persuade themselves that there is no God. Now, on the supposition that there is such a character, let the atheist be weighed in the balances of the Sanctuary. What says the Psalmist? “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalms 14:1). The atheist, then, being weighed in the balances, is found wanting. But:
2. Let the deist next be placed in the balances. There have been deists, no doubt, in every age; but this name was assumed by certain persons in France and Italy, who, although inclined to atheistical sentiments, chose rather to be called deists. Deists differ in many things, but agree in one particular, viz.: in rejecting the sacred volume as a Divine inspiration. Now, to the law and to the testimony. In Revelation 22:19, it is thus written--“If any man shall take away from the words of the book of thisprophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city.” But the deist, or infidel, takes away not only a part--he takes away the whole of God’s blessed word. Deluded mortal! How dost thou know that thy balances are correct? What angel whispered it in thine ear? To what high authority wilt thou appeal? Deluded mortal! Now, these balances of the sanctuary are Divinely stamped. They bear the stamp of prophecy; the stamp of miracles; the stamp of holiness--they bear many a clear stamp Divine. Ah! you have heard, it may be, of many an infidel recanting on a bed of death; did you ever, hear of a Christian then recanting?
3. Let the legalist be weighed next; and by the legalist I mean the self-righteous man, he who, valuing himself on account of the supposed excellence of his own moral character, feels no need of a Saviour, and consequently, neglects the great salvation. Let the legalist, then, be placed in the balances. What has the legalist to weigh against the requirements of the law? Nothing, except it be a righteousness absolutely perfect; for it is written, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” And where is the man who has, strictly speaking, continued in all things written in the book of the law to do them? “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” And the apostle John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And again, in language yet more emphatic, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Alas! self-righteous man, thou art in an evil case! “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting!”
4. Let the universalist be next weighed in the balances of the sanctuary.
II. THIS EMBRACES THOSE WHO MAY BE VERY CORRECT IN SENTIMENT, BUT ARE NOT SO IN PRACTICE.
1. Let the unrighteous be weighed in the balances of the sanctuary; and by the unrighteous man I mean the fraudulent man, the dishonest man, the intemperate man, the gambler, the swindler, the man of cruelty and extortion; in short, all who openly and daringly trample upon the golden precept “ Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them?” O, what a long, long list of crimes has the unrighteous man to answer for! crimes various and muitiform--against God--against man--against his own. O, unrighteous man! openly wicked man! “Thou artweighed in the balances, and art found wanting.”
2. Let the worldling next be placed in the balances. Some are worldlings, who would not, and should not, be esteemed unrighteous men, in the common acceptation of that term. By the worldling I simply mean the person who loves the world, who loves it supremely; who is ready to say, “Give me riches, honours, pleasures; give me, moreover, health, friends, and long life, and this world will do for me, I desire no better.” And now, let us view the worldling in his threefold character--as a man of fashion, a man of pleasure, and a man of business. Is he a man of fashion? He loves the praise of men more than the praise of God, the very character condemned in the sacred volume (John 12:43). Is he a man of pleasure? Then, according to the prophet, he has committed two evils: “He has forsaken his Maker, the Fountain of living waters, and has hewn out unto himself broken cisterns, which can hold no water.” But is he a man of business? Mark this worldling! The morning dawns; he rises, refreshed and invigorated by the slumbers of the night; but he offers no thanksgivings to God for the repose and protection of the night. He leaves his chamber without prayer. And now he goes forth to the pursuits of the day. Still mark that worldling! His head, his heart, his soul, all are fastened upon the things of this world. But he thinks not of his Heavenly Benefactor; never once says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Alas! he suffers the mercies of Heaven to lie forgotten in unthankfulness, and without praises die! He lives as if there was no God in the heavens to inspect his conduct; as if there was no judgment bar at which he must one day appeal The fact is, although he may not think so, he is a practical atheist. “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
3. Let the profane swearer next be placed in the balances.
4. Let the hollow-hearted professor of religion next be placed in the balances. No matter what may be the profession or outward show, if the heart be not sincere and right in the sight of God, it is all as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Professor of religion, remember the parable of the the virgins! It is quite possible to have the lamp of profession without the oil of grace; the form, without the power of godliness. Let all who are professors of religion dig deep and lay a good foundation, for, according to the Scriptures, the mere profession of religion, without the root of the matter, will not save the soul. The hollow-hearted professor of religion, then, having the name without the thing named, the form without the power of godliness, is weighed and found wanting.
5. The unrenewed, no matter who they are, or what they are, in other respects, they too are certainly wanting; for, mark! if un-renewed, they have never repented of their sins; and what says the Scripture? “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (D. Baker, D.D.)
I. Let us place in the balances the MERE MORALIST, and bring his pretensions to the test. It will be seen on examination that these matters which are considered as a whole, or at least as the principal part of duty, are regarded in but a secondary and subordinate light, by Him who holds in His hands the scales of divine justice, and truly estimates the weight and worth of whatever is placed in them. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart,” He asserts to be “the first and great commandment.” To that of loving our neighbour as ourselves He assigns only a secondary place, calling it “the second commandment,” and observing concerning it that that it is “like unto the first.” What, then, if weighed in the balances, is to become of the man who lays it down as a principle, and acts upon it as the maxim of his life, that there is no religion and no Divine requirement, beyond feeling and performing justice and mercy to our fellow-men? If. Another candidate for Heaven is the religious FORMALIST. He tells us that he is punctiliously religious. But Jehovah long ago weighed characters of this description and pronounced them wanting. Heartless forms, without heartfelt experience, will not answer. Thus too, boasted the Laodicean Church, in reference to her fair but superficial exterior. “I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing.” And with similar fidelity the Searcher of hearts prostrated her pride by the allegation, “Thou art poor, and miserable, and wretched, and blind, and naked, and ignorant for thou knowest it not.” Thus must all who have “a form of godliness,” but “deny” or dislike “the power,” expect, when “weighed in the balances” to be “found wanting.”
III. That large class, in the third place, who call themselves THE SINCERE, the candid, and the charitable. Give me but the fact, says the individual ranged under this classification, that my neighbour, is sincere in his belief, and I ask no more. I enquire not what that belief is, I am satisfied he is on the road to Heaven. But if sincerity be all that is necessary to render a man’s religion right, how ridiculous a part was acted by Saul of Tarsus, in exchanging his Judaism for Christianity. And now it may be that some are ready to ask, “Who, then, can be saved?” If all are to be weighed in the scales of Divine justice, and found wanting, where shall we all appear?
There is one character--only one that will be able to meet the ordeal. That person is the evangelical believer, he who besides exercising “repentance towards God,” also exhibits “faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ.” How ample and various are the testimonies on this point. Among them the following constitute but a few. “He that believeth shall be saved.” “Whosoever believeth on Him hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” (B. M. PaImer, D.D.)
Men Tried and Found Defective
I. Let as place in this balance the pretensions and characters of those who hope for Heaven because they were born in a Christian country, are descended from pious parents, and were by them in their infancy given up to God in the ordinance of baptism, and have enjoyed the advantages of a religious education. Think not, says John the Baptist to the Jews, who trusted in their religious privileges--think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father; that is, trust not in your descent from that pious patriarch, nor to your covenant relation to God; for I say unto you, that God is able, of these stones, to raise up children unto Abraham. To the same purpose St. Paul writes to the Philippian Christians. If any man, says he, thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I have more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrew; as touching the law, a Pharisee. But, be adds, what things more gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
II. Let us bring to the test of the law and the testimony the characters and hopes of these who are trusting for salvation to a good natural disposition, and a harmless, inoffensive life. But if you can plead nothing more than this, you will most certainly be found wanting in the sight of that God by whom actions are weighed. He will not be satisfied with a bare negative goodness, if we may be allowed the expression. He will not think it sufficient that you have abstained from outward offences, or avoided overt acts of sin, while you have failed to perform what He has commanded. It was part of the heavy charge brought against the king of Babylon that he had not glorified the God in whose hands his life was, and whose were all his ways. You want the one thing needful; and were our blessed Saviour now on earth, He would say to each of you, as He did to the amiable young ruler, One thing thou lackest. Go, and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come, take up thy cross and follow me.
III. Another class, perhaps, will boldly come forward and say, though these characters are justly considered as deficient, yet we do not fear that we shall be found wanting for we have something more than mere negative goodness to plead. Instead of misimproving, or abasing our time and talents, we have improved them with diligence and faithfulness. Instead of injuring our fellow creatures, we have endeavoured to promote their happiness by every means in our power. In short, we have been useful members of society, and have faithfully discharged the various duties which we owed to our parents, our children, our friends, and our country. We do not, indeed, pretend to be perfect, and confess that in the course of our lives we have sometimes been induced by strong and sudden temptations to say or do things which were perhaps improper and sinful. But we have always been sorry for these offences, and they are but few and trifling compared with our good actions. We, therefore, trust that a merciful God has forgiven them, and are ready to appear cheerfully at His tribunal whenever He shall think proper to summon us away. But we cannot allow the truth of these pleas. We cannot allow that any of you have perfectly discharged the duties which you owe your fellow creatures. You know, you must know, that you have not loved your neighbours as yourselves, and that, therefore, in this respect also, you will be found wanting. Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of the least of these commandments and shall teach men so, the same shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; that is, shall never enter it; for I say unto you, that except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall, in no wise, enter into the kingdom of heaven.
IV. Perhaps another class will come forward and say, we allow that those who trust to their own moral duties for salvation will be justly condemned; but we have carefully obeyed the commands of the first table; we do not trust to our moral duties, and, therefore, hope to escape. We have never worshipped false gods; we have made no graven images; we have never taken God’s name in vain, nor do we profane His holy sabbath. But permit me to ask--are you equally careful to perform all the duties which you owe to your fellow creatures? Does not your whole religion consist in the observances of external forms, prayer, reading and bearing the word? Are you not among the number of forgetful hearers, rather than the doers of the word; and do you not hope, by your religious duties, to atone for your moral deficiencies? Are you not hard and unmerciful in your dealings; peevish, fretful and morose in your families, or indolent in performing the proper duties of the station in which you are placed? In vain do you pretend to obey the commands of the first table, while you neglect those of the second: for piety, without morality, is even worse than morality without piety.
V. Perhaps some may be found who will say, notwithstanding these observations, still our hope remains unshaken; for we have both piety and morality. We not only deal justly and love mercy, as it respects our fellow creatures, but also walk humbly with our God. I answer, if you have nothing more than this, you want many things. You want that new heart, without which no man can see the Kingdom of God. You want that faith, without which you must be condemned. You want that repentance, without which you must inevitably perish. You want that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. All these things are everywhere represented as indispensably necessary to salvation; and yet persons may do everything which you profess to have done, without either regeneration, faith, repentance, or holiness. (E. Payson.)
We reach the consideration of that feature of our human life which is at once the noblest and the most serious. It is that feature which distinguishes man from the brutes, which makes him a person and not a thing; that which lies behind circumstances; that with which the gift of a moral law and of free will is necessarily charged--in a word, responsibility. “Every one shall give account of himself to God.” “Thou art weighed in the balances.” And we must notice where this man’s moral responsibility lay. It is clearly set forth in Daniel’s calm, judicial words. Belshazzar, Gentile monarch though he was, had had exceptional opportunities of knowing the truth of God. For nearly seventy years the chosen people of Jehovah had dwelt in Babylon, and in the preceding reign God had revealed Himself in two most remarkable events. First, in the deliverance of the three young men from the fiery furnace, which called forth Nebuchadnezzar’s decree concerning the honour of the true God; and, secondly, in His personal judgment on Nebuchadnezzar’s pride. Belshazzar knew--there was his sin; it was against his knowledge. There were three features of it, I think,
(1) He knew the reality of Jehovah’s being, and that He ruled in the kingdom of men, and yet he defied that Almighty power, and trusted in the strength and security of his city to save him from the besieging foe.
(2) Again, he knew that sharp lesson taught to his father--of the peril of human pride.
(3) It may be, indeed, that there was another aspect to his sin. Though he knew the truth himself, yet perhaps his lords and courtiers still held by their heathen deities. Was this act of his a bid for their support, an encouragement to their flagging courage in the hour of national peril?
3. Knowledge must be the first element in the balance of judgment, where an intelligent being renders his account to a Personal God. “Thou knewest all this!”--that is the indictment. Nor is that knowledge necessarily or primarily the consequence of revelation. St. Paul, at heathen Lystra and at scholastic Athens, appealed to an intuitive knowledge of a Personal God, witnessed to by the world of nature in the one case, and by the consciousness of the human mind in the other. And what, then, shall we say, when, to this glimmering light of nature, is added the meridian splendour of the Christian faith?--when the claims of the Creator are enhanced by those of the Redeemer; when the love of the Father, and the sacrifice of the Son, and the pleading of the adopting Spirit, make their claims upon the hearts and consciences of God’s regenerated sons and daughters.
4. And yet, in spite of this--this knowledge, this revelation, this claim of redeeming love--are there not, even in Christians’ lives, phases of sin of Belshazzar’s sort?
(1) Independence of God. Secure in this great Babylon which I have builded by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty: this fortune which I have amassed, or am amassing, which is mine to do with as I will: this social status which I have attained; this luxurious home which I have gotten and enriched; this harmony and culture which I have acquired; this intellectual development which I have reached, and to the bar of which I insist on bringing all things, even the revelation of my God. I! Mine! It is the horrible egoism of our modern life which “sitteth in the place of all that is called God, showing itself that it is God”!
(2) Nor are we Christians wholly free from Belshazzar’s second and more presumptuous sin: “Bring hither the vessels of the house of God!” We have many of these in our keeping, and we are responsible for their use.
(a) There is that body, made after God’s likeness--is it mine to do with as I will? to indulge its passions and gratify its appetites and desires as my passing fancy may dictate? “Let every one of you know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour,” says the apostle; and again, “The body is for the Lord.”
(b) Or that sacred vessel of the mind, made certainly to contain the pure streams of Divine knowledge, is it to be desecrated with evil thoughts, or fed with literature vicious in morale and unsound in faith?
(c) Or, once more, that golden vessel of my heart, capable of loving the highest and the best--capable of loving God Himself!--it, too, may be filled with “the husks that the swine did eat”; it, too, may be used for unworthy and ignoble ends--may spend its rich and rare capacities on the world, or the creature, or upon that least worthy of all objects, upon self. And for the use of all these sacred capacities I am responsible.
5. Last of all, are you inclined to ask the oft-repeated question, “Then why did God make us free? Why did He lay upon His frail creatures a responsibility so crushing? Why did He not let me live my life without this power to do or not to do, which brings me, with such awful weight upon me, before the tribunal of my God?” Let us pause for one moment for the answer. Suppose, then, that we were indeed independent of the great good God--that we were not responsible to Him--have you ever thought what such independence would involve? Should we not have to infer something like this--That as to our whole being we were beneath the notice or the care of God; that what we did, or did not do, was too insignificant for Him to heed; that He had left us alone to battle with life as best we may, and that (as one has said) He “set no more store by us than we do on an uptorn weed cast on our shores by an angry sea--unless, indeed, men make use of its corruption and decay to manure their fields”? Wonderful dignity, forsooth, of such would-be independence! Too mean for infinite Love to love me; too puny for God’s majesty to heed whether it have, or have not, my service or my love! No! Surely it is true that “the dignity of our nature lies in that relation to God which involves the minutest responsibility,” for “the inconceivable greatness of man is to have been made by God for Himself.” Responsibility! Yes, it is the heavy weight with which all human life is charged--the price of the freedom of our will. But who would desire to escape its burden, if by that very pressure it throws us upon the uncreated Love; if it leads us in the end to the truth, the liberty, the satisfaction to which those great words of St. Augustine point: “My God, Thou hast made me for Thyself; and my heart can find no rest, until it find rest in Thee”? (E. J. Gough, M. A.)
The Scales of Judgment
There is a weighing time for kings and emperors, and all the monarchs of earth, albeit some of them have exalted themselves to a position in which they appear to be irresponsible to man. Though they escape the scales on earth, they must surely be tried at the bar of God. For nations there is a weighing time. National sins demand national punishments.
I. LET US JUDGE OURSELVES THAT WE MAY NOT BE JUDGED. It for us now to put ourselves through the various tests by which we may be able to discover whether we are, at this present time, short weight or not.
1. The first test I would suggest is that of human opinion. Now understand me. I do not believe that the opinion of man is utterly valueless when that opinion is based upon false premises, and, therefore, draws wrong conclusions. I would not trust the world to judge God’s servants, and ‘tis a mercy to know that the world shall not have the judging of the church, but rather, the saints shall judge the world. There is a sense in which I would say with the apostle, “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged, of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not myself.” Human opinion is not to be put in competition with Divine revelation. But I speak now of judging ourselves, and I do not think it safe, when weighing our own character, to prefer our own and exclude our neighbour’s judgment. The esteem or contempt of honest men, which is instinctively shown without reference to party or prejudice, is not by any means to be despised. Let me assure you that you have good reason to be afraid, for if you cannot stand the trial of an honest fellow creature--if the law of your country condemn you--if the very laws of society exclude you--if the imperfect judgments of earth pronounce you too vile for its association, how fearful must be your condemnation when you are put into the far more rigid scale of God’s justice, and terrible must be your fate when the perfect community of the first-born in Heaven shall rise as one man, and demand that you shall never behold their society? If your own conscience declare that opinion to be just, you have good need to tremble indeed, for you are put into the balances and are found wanting. I have thought it right to mention this balance. There may be some present to whom it may be pertinent, but at the same time, there are far better tests for men, tests which are not so easily to be misunderstood. And I would go through some of’ these. One of the scales into which I would have every man put himself, at least once in his life--I say at least once, because, if not, Heaven is to him a place, the gates of which are shut for ever--I would have every man put himself into the scales of the Divine law. This law is a balance which will turn, even were there but a grain of sand in it. Oh, if we did but try ourselves by the very first commandment of the law, we must acknowledge that we are guilty. But when we drop in weight after weight, till the whole sacred ton are there, there is not a man under the cope of Heaven who has one grain of wit left, but must confess that he is short of the mark--that he falls below the standard which the law of God requires. Well, I propose now to take professors and put them into the scales and try them. Let each one of us put ourselves into the scale of conscience. Many make a profession of religion in this age. It is the time of shams. “Is my profession true? Do I feel that before God I am an heir of the promises? When I sit at my Saviour’s table, have I any right to be a guest? Can I truly say, that when I profess to be converted, I only profess what I have actually proved? When I talk experimentally about the things of the Kingdom of God, is that experience a borrowed tale, or have I felt what I say in my own breast?” Bring up everything that you can think of that might lead you to doubt. You need be under no difficulty here; for are there not enough sins committed by us every day to warrant our suspicious that we are not God’s children? Well, let all these black accusers for death, let them all have their say. Do not cloak your sins. Ah! how many people are really afraid to look their religion in the face! They know it to be so bad, they dare not examine it. They are like bankrupts that keep no books. I would have every man also weigh himself in the scales of God’s Word--not merely in that part of it which we call legal, and which has respect to us in our fallen state; but let us weigh ourselves in the scale of the gospel. You will find it sometimes a holy exercise to read some psalm of David, when his soul was most full of grace; and if you were to put questions as you read each verse, saying to yourself, “Can I say this? Have I felt as David felt? Have my bones ever been broken with sin as his were when he penned his penitential psalms? Has my soul ever been full of true confidence, in the hour of difficulty, as his was when he sang of God’s mercies in the cave of Adullam, or the holds of Engedi? Can I take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord? Can I pay my vows now unto the Lord, in the courts of His house, in the presence of all His people?” Yet again, God has been pleased to set another means of trial before us When God puts us into the scales I am about to mention, namely, the scales of providence, it behoves us very carefully to watch ourselves and see whether or not we be found wanting. Some men are tried in the scales of adversity. Some of you may have come here very sorrowful Your business fails, your earthly prospects are growing dark; it is midnight with you in this world; you have sickness in the house; the wife of your bosom languishes before your weeping eyes; your children, perhaps, by their ingratitude, have wounded your spirits. But you are a professor of religion, you know what God is doing with you now; He is testing and trying you. Do you still say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”? Oh, remember that if your religion will not stand the day of adversity, if it afford you no comfort in the time of storms, you would be better in that case without it than with it; for with it you are deceived, but without it you might discover your true condition, and seek the Lord as a penitent sinner. Another set of scales there is, too, of an opposite colour. Those I have described are painted black; these are of golden hue. They are the scales of prosperity. Many a man has endured the chills of poverty who could not endure sunny weather. Some men’s religion is very much like the palace of the Queen of Russia, which had been built out of solid slabs of ice. It could stand the frost; the roughest breeze could not destroy it; the sharp touch of winter could not devour it; they but strengthened and made it more lasting. But summer melted it all away, and, where once were the halls of revelry, nothing remained but the black rolling river. How many have been destroyed by prosperity! There are again the scales of temptation. Many and many a man seemeth for a time to run well; but it is temptation that tries the Christian.
II. THE LASER GREAT BALANCE. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
In that hall there is a balance lifted. God swings it. On one side of the balance are put Belshazzar’s opportunities; on the other side of the balance are put Belshazzar’s sins. The sins come down; his opportunities go up. Weighed in the balances and found wanting. But still, after all, there is no such thing as a perfect balance on earth. The chain may break, or some of the metal may be clipped, or in some way the equipoise may be a little disturbed. There is only one balance in the universe that is thoroughly accurate, and that is God’s balance, and it is suspended from the throne of the Lord Almighty. You cannot always depend upon earthly balances. God has a perfect bushel, and a perfect peck, and a perfect gallon. When merchants weigh their goods in the wrong way, then the Lord weighs the goods again. We may cheat ourselves and we may cheat the world, but we cannot cheat God; and in the great day of judgment it will be found out that what we learned in boyhood, at school, is correct; that sixteen ounces make a pound, and twenty hundredweight make a ton, and one hundred and twenty solid feet make a cord of wood. No more, no less. And a religion which does not take hold of this life as well as the life to come is no religion at all. But that is not the style of balances I am to speak of. I am to speak of that kind of balances which can weigh principles, weigh churches, weigh men, weigh nations, and weigh worlds.
“What?” you say, “is it possible that our world is to be weighed?” Yes. Why, you would think if God put on one side the balances suspended from the throne--if on that side the balances He put the Alps, and the Pyrenees, and the Himalayas, and Mount Washington, and all the cities of the earth--if He put them on one side of the balances, they would crush it. No, no. The time will come when God will sit down on the white throne to see the world weighed, and on one side will be the world’s opportunities, and on the other side the world’s sins. Down will go the sins and away will go the opportunities, and God will say to the messenger with the torch, “Burn that world! Weighed and found wanting!” So God will weigh churches. He takes a great church. That great church, according to the worldly estimate, must be weighed. He puts it on one side the balances, and the minister, and the choir, and the building that cost its hundreds of thousands of dollars. He puts them on one side the balances. On the other side of the scales He puts what that church ought to be, what its consecration ought to be, what its sympathy for the poor ought to be, what its devotion to all good ought to be. That is on one aide. That side comes down, and the church, not being able to stand the test, rises in the balance. So God estimates nations. How many times He has put the Spanish monarchy into the scales sad found it insufficient and condemned it. The French Empire was placed on one side the scales, and God weighed the French Empire, and Napoleon said: “Have I not enlarged the boulevards? Did I not kindle the glories of the Champs Elysees? Have I not adorned the Tuileries? Have I not built the gilded Opera House?” Then God weighed that nation, and He put on one side the scales the Emperor, and the boulevards, and the Tuileries, and the Champs Elysees, and the gilded Opera House, and on the other side He put that man’s abominations, that man’s libertinism, that man’s selfishness, that man’s godless ambition. This last came down, and all the brilliancy of the scene vanished. Every day is a day of judgment, and you and I are being canvassed, inspected, weighed. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Souls Weighed in the Balance
History, faithfully considered, is but a record of the fulfilment of prophecy. What are these balances? Who weighs therewith? What is it to be found wanting? The balances are those of the sanctuary, God holds them in His hand. The balances are ever and anon made viable through the medium of Scripture. This figure strikingly describes the examination of human principles, and actions, and character, which is continually going on in Heaven. Belshazzar might have thought himself exempted; but Jehovah weighed him in His balances. He weighs all men, whether they own Him for their God or not. In one scale is, as it were, placed the Divine law, “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart,” etc. This is every man’s duty towards God and his neighbour. Every man is tried thereby, and lo! every man is found wanting. Again, men are weighed of God according to their opportunities. These occasion responsibility; these, therefore, are taken into account; these become weights in the balances, by which characters are weighed. See Belshazzar’s opportunities, especially in having Daniel at court. How does this narrative apply to ourselves? Every one of us must stop into the scale, and submit to a weighing examination. In the one scale God still puts for us His holy law. Our opportunities are weights in the scale. While the weighing process may have convinced some, it may yet have left others altogether unconvinced that they can be at all “found wanting.” As long as hypocrisy keeps in the one scale, it keeps on adding to the weight in the other. It adds to responsibility; it keeps on sinning; it “heaps up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” (John Hambleton, M.A.)
One principal cause why men are so ignorant of their real standing before God, and, therefore, so indifferent to its consequences, is, that they very seldom enquire, with any degree of seriousness, into their own spiritual condition. But this is not the only cause. Another, equally operative and fatal, may be found in the fact that they estimate themselves by false standards. There are many who try their characters only at the bar of human law. Another numerous class judge of their conduct solely by the maxims of society. Others, again, examine themselves by the code of gentility. They belong to a class which boasts of its refinement and social elevation, and with which meanness and want of fashion are the only crimes. Thus do the great mass of men, by the use of erroneous tests, acquire views of their moral condition and prospects that are utterly groundless. In the expressive language of an apostle, “measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, they are not wise.” It has seemed to me, therefore, that I cannot render you a more necessary service than to assist you to break away from these delusions, and to form a correct and scriptural estimate of yourselves as you appear in the view of that omniscient Being with whom you have to do. To attain this end, we must lay aside all those false methods of judgment which you have been accustomed to employ, and which can only deceive you to your undoing, and bring forward, in their place, “the balances of the sanctuary”--the true criterion of moral character--which God has made known in His Word, and by which He will determine our final destiny. These balances were made in Heaven; and they possess all the accuracy and truthfulness which belong to that perfect world. The results which they give are certain--their decisions infallible. Many people find a sort of fascination in being weighed. You may often see groups of persons, especially of the young, collected in places where the requisite apparatus is kept, stepping one after another upon the scales, and receiving the result, as it is announced, with laughter and merriment. I invite you to come and be weighed. Weighing the heart and the life may not be as amusing an operation as that of ascertaining the gravity of bones and muscles; but it is not on that account the less important and needful. Come hither, thou dead professor, and be weighed. Now, I take this religion of yours, and put it in one scale, and against it I put this weight from the testimony of God, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His”; and then this other, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” And to both I add one more: “Know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” If Christ were in you, how would it be possible for you so to hide Him that not even the hem of His garment should ever appear? I next call up the man with a secret hope. Here let me say, however, that I do not wish the wrong person to come. There are two classes of individuals, broadly distinguished from each other, to which the designation I have used may properly be applied. We often meet with those who entertain a trembling persuasion that they have passed from death unto life; but who cannot feel sufficient confidence in the reality of the change to venture on its public avowal. They are penitent, sincere, humble. They place no reliance on any merits of their own. They see and believe that the only refuge of a sinner is in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus; and they often feel their hearts drawn out toward Him as their only trust, and their highest joy. But they are so full of doubts and self-questionings as to their interest in Him--so diffident of their own steadfastness, and of their power to resist temptation--that they hesitate to pronounce His name before men. They shrink from taking up His Cross, not because they dread its burden, but because they fear to dishonour it. Instead of seeking to increase that self-distrust, which in their case is altogether too great, I would address to them words of assurance and consolation, and direct them to that compassionate Redeemer, who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, and who sees and will in His own time strengthen and bring out the grace, which the fearful heart trembles to acknowledge. But here is one of altogether another stamp. He too has an unproclaimed hope--a hope which he keeps concealed, not from any doubt of its genuineness, but from a want of interest in spiritual things, and a controlling preference for the world. Doubt as to the genuineness of his hope! He never doubts. Enough there is to make him doubt. No onlooker would ever suspect him of being pious; and in his own spirit and conduct he can find no warrant for thinking himself so. Yet he does think so. He does imagine himself to be a child of God. And this imagination it is that blunts the edge of conscience, and turns aside the arrows of truth. Speak to him about the welfare of his soul, the need of conversion, and the importance of seeking it without delay. He will draw himself up and complacently tell you that he has been converted; that at some misty, perhaps remote, period of the past, he believes that he experienced religion, and has retained that belief ever since. If you ask him why he has never owned the Saviour by uniting with His people, he answers, with a careless toss of the head, “Oh, a man can be as good a Christian out of the church as in it.” Bring that hope here, and cast it into the scale, and you will soon see what it is worth. Ponder the weights which I place against it. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” “He that is ashamed of Me and of My words, of him will I be ashamed before My Father and His holy angels.” “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.” “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Tried by such tests, what is your hope? It is a spider’s web, a dream, a phantom, that will banish, and leave you succourless in the hour when you need it most. Stand forth, thou self-righteous man, and be weighed. Collect in one mass all the meritorious qualities and deeds in which thou confidest, and bring them to the proof of God’s unerring balance. Oh, what a bundle! You carry a load of goodness longer than the load of sin that clung to the shoulders of Bunyan’s pilgrim. But, before we proceed to weigh this bundle, let us open it, and see what it contains. Here is a whole web of honesty. With your permission, we will unroll it, and ascertain its character. At the first glance, it looks very fair. The threads are fine, the texture apparently firm and even. But stop! what is this? Here is a wide cut right in the middle of the cloth; and close beside it I read, in glaring capitals, “Sharp Bargains.” Investigating further, we perceive that the entire fabric is frayed and torn, and defaced with stains and blemishes, which, as we survey them more narrowly, shape themselves into words like these: “Tricks in Trade”--“Scant meassures”--“Light weights”--“Adulterated articles sold for pure”--“Government taxes charged to the customer.” That is enough. Your honesty is not immaculate. Here is another piece, labelled “Upright Conduct.” This, too, judging from the outside, seems to be all right. But let us unfold it, and examine it in a better light. As the world goes, it is not bad. There is no trace of flagrant crime--no soil from theft and robbery--no blood-stain of murder--no foulpollution left by drunkenness and debauchery. Ah! there is a dirt-spot. That is where you told a lie. There is a hole. That is where you broke the Sabbath. And there it is all snarled and twisted up. That is where you got in a passion, and put your whole household in a coil. But what have we here, right in the centre of the budget? A monstrous bladder, inflated to its utmost tension, and marked “Self-conceit!” We need not untie it. We know what is in it--air, nothing but air. No wonder your bundle looked so large! Why, such goods would not impose even upon the dull optics of an army inspector. They are shoddy all through. And dare you subject them to the gaze of that Holy and Heart-searching Judge, whose glance pierces all disguises, and whose holiness will tolerate no imperfection? Yonder is one who expects to be saved because he has a good heart. Pass up that heart, and let us weigh its excellence. Well, it surely is a fine heart, round, large, full of grand impulses and activities--a noble heart--would there were more such in the world. It has, you perceive, an earthward and a heavenward side. Let us look at the earthward side. How warm and living is all hotel And what a record may one read here of the admirable qualities yet remaining in our fallen nature! Deeply stamped on its surface, you may see the names of father, mother, brother, sister, wife, child; and, underneath, the quick blood of affection and kindness gushing and playing; while every nerve and artery is instinct with high aspirations, with generous sentiments, with scorn of meanness, with sympathy for the poor and the oppressed, with the throbbings of honour, manliness, and truth. Turn we now to the heavenward side. Alas, it is blank! There is no God, no Christ, no spiritual longings, no celestial tendencies. Such a heart was once brought to the great Master Weigher, when He sojourned in flesh. A young man, of amiable disposition and praiseworthy deportment, came to Him, inquiring what he should do that he might inherit eternal life. “And Jesus, beholding him, loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest--go, sell all that thou hast, and come, take up thy cross and follow me, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” Here was the touchstone. Let us, finally, place in these Divine scales the pretensions of that vast multitude who build their hope of final safety on the fact that God is so merciful. It is a glorious truth--a truth made known in the Gospel under every form of expression, and proclaimed with the utmost emphasis, that the Most High is tender and pitiful to the children of men, and has no pleasure in their misery. He has appointed His Son to be our mediator and substitute; and it is an irreversible law of His administration that pardon and eternal life shall be dispensed to those alone who become partakers of Christ by repentance and faith. To such He is indeed merciful. To all others He is a God of justice, and a consuming fire. But the persons of whom I now speak rest on the mercy of God as an independent attribute of His nature, separate from the provisions of the atonement, and irrespective of all moral conditions. They expect to be saved, not because they are contrite for their sins, and have fled to Jesus for refuge, but simply because God is merciful. Now let us bring this hypothesis to the proof. You say that a God, whose loving-kindness is infinite, can never suffer the souls which He has created to be lost. I lay that assertion in the balance of inspired truth; and I test its correctness by these declarations from the lips of God Himself. “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established?’ “He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned.” “He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the Only-Begotten Son of God.” “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby they may be saved.” How baseless does your confidence in the abstract mercy of God appear, when confronted with announcements like these! O man! whoever thou art that hopest for salvation out of Christ, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” (J. Ide.)
National Duties, Responsibilities, and Unfaithfulness, Stated, and Enforced
There is nothing which more clearly proves the truth of the prophet’s words, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” than that spirit of boastful impunity with which it inspires the guilty sons of men. Although “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” yet they think they may live as they like, and that no harm will ensue notwithstanding. In Deuteronomy 29:18-20, we see the nature of this sin. It is no ordinary spirit of impiety. It is the proud, daring, impious thought, nestled and cherished in the heart, that, notwithstanding all a man’s wickedness, and in opposition to all that the Lord hath spoken, there is nothing to be feared, because there will be no judgment executed at last. Striking, as this sin does, at the very root of the holiness, justice, and faithfulness of God, we need not be surprised at its solemn denunciation. In the days of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 28:1-13), characters of thisdescription abounded in a most fearful manner, and carried their impieties to a most awful extent. Observe the long catalogue of aggravated crimes with which Belshazzar was charged. Obstinate impenitence; a proud, arrogant self-exaltation. A profane impiety. A marked insult cast upon the Majesty of Heaven. A studied deprivation of the honour and glory due unto God. In speaking of the judgment of God, with regard to men and nations, there is a distinction to be noticed, that is of no small importance. God judgeth nations as such; and their judgment generally takes place in this world. Individuals, too, are judged as such, but their judgment is reserved for its final execution to the last day. The judgment of nations as such is of a temporal nature; the judgment of individuals is everlasting.
1. It is utterly impossible for men or nations to stand before God in strict judgment. Belshazzar’s doom extends much further than his own condemnation and Babylon’s mighty fall. The words of the text, carried out to the full extent, embrace all nations and all people. There is not a man upon earth, be he who he may, upon the ground of what he is, or has done, that can ever stand before God in the strict process of trial. There is not a city or nation upon earth that can ever endure the just judgment of God. Brought to the test of His impartial decision, they would certainly be condemned; they would certainly fall. There is not any other judgment with God than that which is strictly just; nor any other method of procedure established by Him which is of a description otherwise than founded upon the surest integrity, and according to the most honourable requisitions of His truth and perfections.
2. What is the cause of their inevitable condemnation? It arises from the vast contratity of character brought into this judicial contact, and from the unequal position in which the respective parties stand to each other. Man must be condemned in the judgment, must fall, must perish, because he is such a creature as he is, and because God is such a being as His word and perfections proclaim Him to be. Standing on the ground of his own works, whether in whole or in part, whether bad or good, the real point to be decided is, not what we may have comparatively done, but whether he has done all that the law requires. Weighed in these balances he is found wanting. It will not avail to say, but God is merciful. God’s mercy is justice. Nor can any extenuating excuse, or mitigating plea, be found.
3. This alarming truth speaks to our own nation, and to our own people. What are the positive duties incumbent on us as a professedly Christian nation and people?
(1) A strict adherence to God’s word.
(2) A cordial devotion to His service.
(3) A firm resistance against all evil.
(4) A deep repentance for all our national and personal guilt.
(5) To set an inestimable value upon the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
(6) Gratefully to record, and diligently to improve, our past mercies and deliverances.
(7) Firmly to maintain our peculiar character and institutions.
(8) Zealously to propagate the faith of Christ, and endeavour to bring others to the participation of our invaluable blessings.
(9) Steadily to uphold the worship and honour of God in all His ordinances and commandments.
(10) Unhesitatingly to discountenance and resist the inroads of infidelity, licentiousness, profaneness, and every other pernicious principle, and evil word and work.
2. What are the binding responsibilities under which we stand, both as a nation and as individuals? Are we under no obligation
(1) On the ground of our Christian character and protestant designation:
(2) For our secure and safe retreat:
(3) For our national greatness:
(4) For our national influence:
(5) For our widely-extending possessions:
(6) For all the means and opportunities we have for doing good:
(7) For all our internal advantages:
(8) For the proper use of the great institutions erected in this land.:
(9) For the right use of the facilities afforded for the religious instruction of all classes in this land:
(10) Far the sacred use of our wealth and possessions:
(11) For the invaluable blessing of pure worship:
(12) For the high and holy elevation on which we stand as the most highly distinguished, and most highly blessed nation upon earth.
3. Have we been faithful or unfaithful in the circumstances in which we are placed, and in the discharge of the duties which we owe, and are bound to perform? (R. Shittler.)
Thy kingdom is divided.
The Last Warning
In the words of our text, we have a warning addressed to a guilty monarch, in a manner too open and public to be ascribed to delusion on his part, or to imposture on that of others--a warning which silenced in a moment the roar of impious mirth.
I. SOME REMARKS EXPLANATORY OF THIS VISION.
1. It was an intimation to Belshazzar of the termination of his reign. It announced to him, not merely a calamity by which his throne might be shaken, or a banishment and captivity from which he might return, and resume his power, but its final close. The doubling of this word intimated, the absolute certainty of the predicted ruin. In this warning, too, it was intimated that his kingdom should be given to the rivals whom he hated, whose siege of his capital he had hitherto resisted, with success, and whose power and skill he had lately so presumptuously defied. This is a circumstance which has often embittered the last hours of falling greatest, that its honours should adorn the head of a rival, and that they should enjoy those scenes of delight which they had prepared for themselves.
2. In this warning of Belshazzar there is an intimation of Jehovah’s estimate of the worthlessness of his character: “Thou art weighed in the balances, and thou are found wanting.”
3. In this warning the connection betwixt his sins and his punishment is strongly marked.
4. It was a warning in which no hope of mercy was exhibited. There was not merely no intimation that it was possible, by any particular course, to escape the impending destruction, but no direction was given how his soul might be saved from the wrath to come. But it may be said, Why was this warning given if his case was desperate? To this it may be answered, that it was an open testimony of the displeasure of Jehovah at the contempt which had been manifested to His name and worship, and was adapted to make the strongest impression in favour of the true religion on the successful besiegers.
5. It was the last warning which Belshazzar received. He had received many admonitions already. The Monitor, who had long struggled with him, had now written the last sentence, and uttered the last voice of admonition, and he was now abandoned of God to his fate.
6. It was quickly realised in Belshazzar’s ruin. Twelve months elapsed betwixt the warning given to Nebuchadnezzar and his expulsion from human society to all the degradations of wild insanity; but in that very night after this warning was Belshazzar slain. When Jonah cried in Nineveh, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” word came to the king, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in ashes, and called his people to fasting and prayer; and though no intimation of mercy was given in the warning of Jonah, they said, “Who can tell if God will turn, and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? “ But no such grief was felt, no such mandate was issued by Belshazzar.
II. SOME OF THE IMPORTANT LESSONS WHICH THIS WARNING SUGGESTS.
1. It shows us that it is the province of Jehovah to fix the continuance, and to bring to a close the power of empires. Beyond the period which he hath set for their continuance, no wealth, nor skill, nor valour, can prolong their existence. In speaking of the revolutions of kingdoms, the wise men of this world confine their attention to the oppressions which made the yoke of princes intolerable; to the artifices by which the hearts of subjects were alienated from their rulers; to those habits of luxury which enervated them, and rendered them an easy prey; but let us recollect that these and ether causes are guided by His hand who hath wisdom and might for His; who changeth the times and the seasons; who removeth kings, and who setteth up kings. The history of the world presents us with other instances, besides this one in the text, of God’s terminating kingdoms and dynasties. Empires, which seemed likely to stand while sun and moon endured, have crumbled down like a house of clay, and not a trace remains that here their palaces stood, their ships rode, or their banners waved. How quickly did the empire of Alexander fall to pieces! His death was the signal for disunion among his generals; and the dominion which had been hastily acquired was as hastily lost.
2. This warning teaches us that Providence assigns the power of which it deprives guilty princes to those whom it pleases.
3. This warning suggests that God gives various indications of His intention of terminating the power of kings, and of transferring it to others. In this age we are not to expect, as in the case of Belshazzar, a sign from Heaven to indicate that the period for the fall of empires is come, but in many ways is this impression produced in the hearts of princes, and it is legible in the events of Providence. Princes, notwithstanding the flatteries of their courtiers, have been unable to shake off the gloomy apprehension of the decline of their glory. In other cases an approaching change is visible in the discontent of the people; in those cabals and murmurs which tell us that a storm is gathering; and in the persisting of rulers in measures which irritate where conciliation is required. Let us mark the signs of the times, not to cherish a croaking spirit of discontent, but to hear the sound of God’s steps, when He comes out of His place to punish, and to flee from the wrath to come.
4. I remark that it teaches us that there are various methods by which God tries the characters, tempers, and conduct of men. There is the balance of the sanctuary, by which I understand those principles for guiding our opinions, and those rules for directing our conduct, which are laid down in Scripture. The world hath its maxims by which it tries the tempers and actions of men. There is the balance of conscience. To this faculty God hath assigned the office of judging of men’s thoughts, words, and actions. In some cases it performs this duty in a careless manner. There is the balance of Providence, by the events of which astonishing discoveries are some- times made of the real tempers and characters of men, and they are found quite different from what they were supposed to be both by themselves and others. How many a man has prosperity shown to be in heart haughty and cruel! And there is the balance of judgment. God hath appointed a day in which He will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
5. There are various persons who, when thus tried, shall be found wanting. The scrutiny is universal. There is none on earth so mighty as to resist it, and none too insignificant to escape it.
6. There are various modes and seasons in which God intimates to the sinner, even in the present life, His estimate of his character. He does this in exposing his true character to the knowledge end the detestation of his fellow-creatures: and how horrible is public shame and infamy when it is considered as an expression of the secret abhorrence of the Judge of all! He does this in the destruction which He brings on sinners around them in their sins, and in the exposure of their wickedness. In such sad events the sinner is made to read his own character, and to hear his own doom. He does this in the melancholy reflections of old age on a life spent without God, and closing without hope. And He often intimates this estimate of the sinner’s character to him on his death-bed.
7. There is something very solemn and awful about such intimations. There are various considerations which evince this to be the case. Were it merely the expression of human opinion it might be despised, but it is His verdict in whose hand our final destiny rests. It is often unexpected. Little did Belshazzar imagine that such an intimation was approaching. In the eye of fancy he beheld his enemies retiring from the siege of Babylon, public applause placing new crowns on his head, and a long career of prosperity and glory opening before him. Little did the man who had gone to the feast without the wedding garment imagine that on that day he was to be exposed and punished. CONCLUSION. How much is it to be desired that the lessons of this scene should be pondered by the rulers and the judges of the earth! Let them bow before Him by whom kings reign and princes decree justice. How similar to that of Belshazzar was the character and sudden exit of Charles the Second in England!--a monarch whose debaucheries were copied in the licentiousness of his subjects, and whose cruel persecutions the flatterer attempts to excuse, and the bigot to vindicate in vain. “This suddenness in his fate,” says Evelyn in his Diary, “might well create awful feelings in those who had witnessed the life he continued to lead, till the stroke of death arrested him. I saw this evening such a scene of profuse gaming, and luxurious dallying and profaneness in the palace, as I had never before witnessed.” A week after he assisted at the proclamation of his successor, and thus records his feelings: “I can never forget the luxury and profaneness, gaming and all dissoluteness, and, as it were, total forgetfulness of God, it being Sabbath evening which, this day se’ennight, I was witness to, the king dallying with his mistresses, a French boy singing wanton songs to amuse them, and a number of the courtiers in deep play round a gaming-table. Six days after all was in the dust.” But all ranks of people should listen to the instructions which are taught them by this scene. Let not any say, I shall never be moved, I shall never be in adversity. Mark every intimation which God gives you of the solemn change. Let good men receive the consolation which is imparted to them by this subject, however gloomy it may appear. Whatever disasters may happen, the kindness of God shall not depart from you, and with your joy a stranger cannot intermeddle. Let ungodly men be afraid. Make not the terrors of judgment the subject of your mirth. (H. Belfrage, D.D.)
In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
The Last Night of Babylon
I. THE JUDGMENT OF THIS NIGHT HAD BEEN LONG THREATENED. Upwards of one hundred and sixty years before this, the taking of Babylon by Cyrus had been predicted. Ages before the deliverer was born, his very name is given and his work described (Isaiah 45:1-7). Up to the very hour the probability seemed against such an occurrence. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speodily,” sinners infer that it will never come. Come it must; the march of justice may be slow but her steps are resistless, and her movements punctual to the moment.
II. THE JUDGMENT OF THIS NIGHT WAS NOT AT ALL EXPECTED. This night began with a grand festival--a royal banquet. Perhaps, amidst the riot of the talk and jestings of that season, many a contemptuous joke was passed as to the futilities of all invading projects. They were the great nation, their city the great city, their armies the great armies--none like them; yet at this very hour, Cyrus, the officer of eternal justice, was at their door. Thus it was then, as it often has been, that, at the moment men cry peace and safety, that moment destruction arrives.
III. THE JUDGMENT OF THIS NIGHT ROUSED THE CONSCIENCE OF THE MONARCH TO AGONY ON ITS FIRST TOKEN. “In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand,” etc. (v. 5, 6).
IV. THE JUDGMENT OF THIS NIGHT HAD TERRORS NO MORTAL COULD ALLAY.
1. He tried the wise men.
2. He tried Daniel. Daniel gave him the meaning of the writing, but the meaning could afford him no consolation.
V. THE JUDGMENT OF THIS NIGHT SETTLED FOR EVER THE FATE OF ITS VICTIMS.
1. The fate of Belshazzar was settled. He was slain.
2. The fate of the nation was settled. The empire of Babylon received its death blow. The Medo-Persian dynasty rose on its ruins. (Homilist.)
Human historians, in the narration of events, are generally disposed to rest their narratives upon second causes. The scheme of a politician, the success of a battle, or the external resources of a people, appear to them sufficient to account for all the great revolutions by which this globe has been affected. The sacred historians express themselves in a more decided manner. Scripture makes the important discovery that moral causes are the ultimate ones, into which all others may be finally resolved. It appears to be the capital design of this singular book to convince mankind that there is a certain, though frequently an invisible connection between vice and misfortune. In recording the revolutions which happen in this world, they set down God for a principal part; and represent these revolutions as the necessary effects of His government. Placed at the head of the system, they uniformly represent Him as we would suppose a moral governor to be employed, distributing rewards, and inflicting punishments, according to their deserts, on men and nations. In discoursing, therefore, upon this subject, I shall begin with observing the causes, as they are related by the historian, which led this great king to his fall; I shall then make some observations upon the justice of his fate; and, lastly, shall consider at some length the nature of the vices themselves with which he is charged. The history of the royal house of Babylon is concise and affecting. It is a memorable instance of the danger of prosperity, and the instability of human greatness. The vices of Belshazzar were the vices of his family. The empire of the Chaldeans was brilliant, but of short duration. Like the plant of a kindly sun, it rose swiftly to its height, and as suddenly decayed. Had they but known how to use their greatness, it might have been prolonged. Power is like riches, and must be maintained by the same prudent management by which it was acquired. The Chaldean sovereign, at his entrance into public life, drew the attention of all mankind. Fired with the ambition of conquest, he passed from province to province, and extended his empire and his fame with a rapidity which had not been excelled. The Assyrian empire, ancient and extensive, first yielded to his force; and the Pharaohs of Egypt, as ancient and as powerful, who had marched, through numerous nations, to seek him on the banks of his own Euphrates, were repulsed and subdued. But he was then vigilant and active, and his people were laborious. There is something in the climates of the East which relaxes the mind, or renders it extravagant. Their air and situation produce the same effects on them as the power of an active imagination is supposed to do on other people. Hence it is that moderation is unknown in every situation, that adversity dejects their minds, and prosperity raises them far above their level. In proportion to these effects, more vigilance is requisite.
Nebuchadnezzar had reached the summit of ambition, but what he gained in fame and power he seemed to lose in understanding. He forgot his first maxims of diligence and prudence, and became vain in his imagination. Such impiety and folly, though Heaven had not interposed, must have led him to destruction. The effect proceeded naturally from the cause, and has taken place without a miracle. But Heaven did interpose, in a manner so signal and terrible as might have left an impression upon remote posterity. This proud king was humbled, and reduced to moderation. He was driven raving to the forest, exposed to the rigours of Heaven, and mingled with the beasts whom he resembled. Where was now great Babylon, which he had builded, for the house of his kingdom, by the might of his power, and for the honour of his majesty? One would be ready to conclude that so signal an event must have left an impression, not on himself alone, but his successors. It did leave an impression, but not on Belshazzar. The reason frequently why one man is not warned by the misfortunes of another is that he considers these misfortunes as proceeding from natural causes, and not as the effects of the Divine displeasure. We consider not that there is a necessary connection, even in this world, between certain vices and sufferings. This connection is in harmony with God, and forms part of His government of the world. Yet did not his successor profit by the admonition. Elated with his rise into royal life, his heart was distended with the same pride, and he even exceeded his predecessor. In this chapter we have a memorable instance of his impiety and extravagance. While the enemy lay ready to break in at his gates, he was feasting his lords, and wasted that time, and detained those hands, which were precious to their country, in debauchery and disorder. As an insult to the God of Heaven, he commanded to bring the vessels of His temple, and employed them in his carousals. Infatuated man! thou seest not the dangers with which thou art this moment surrounded. Yes, Heaven itself, to convince thee, frantic king! that there is a power superior to thine, and to let thee know from what quarter thy destruction cometh, sends a dreadful forerunner. In the middle of the stately banquet, when all is mirth and song--dreadful apparition!--a hand appears, visible, writing on the wall the doom of Babylon and itsunhappy monarch. Then their joy is damped, fear chills their blood, the king loses his courage at this dreadful sight, and his knees smote one against another. O vain terror! the decree is gone forth, and past recalling. The reverses of this world teach us a fatal truth, that repentance itself may arrive too late to save us. The minister of God, whom he had not thought of till the hour of danger, whom he had probably left to languish in obscurity and penury, is now sent for. But to what purpose? Unhappy monarch! not the minister of God, nor the winged ministers from Heaven themselves, can retard thy fate one moment. The prophet can but declare the will of Heaven, and retire in mourning. Yet like a drowning man, he collects his strength, and struggles against the torrent. He orders purple to be brought, and ornaments of gold, and vainly thinks that he may appease God by heaping honours upon his servant. Ah, Belshazzar! how unhappy is the man who cannot be taught but by his own misfortunes? Thy unhappy house, which would never be admonished, must at last fall. Experience, the great teacher, proceeds to his last experiment: “In that night was Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, slain.” After this history of the house of Babylon, and the fate of Belshazzar, the last of that line of princes, we proceed now to mark the wise lessons which these suggest; and we will do this by making some observations upon the justice of his fate, and then considering the nature of the vices he is charged with. I know not how it happens, but we feel it to be true, that the misfortunes of the great and happy affect and interest us more than the misfortunes of those who are placed in a humble station, and even sometimes than our own. Whether it be that the fall is greater, or that we imagine their feelings to be more exquisite, or whatever may be the cause, the effect is certain. I believe we entertain a mistaken notion of the happiness of the great. A crown is subject to many cares, and requires infinite circumspection. Kings have much to lose, and much to answer for. They are subject to great reverses, and their temptations to neglect, or desert their duty, are neither few nor easily resisted. Yet the happiness of thousands depends upon their conduct; and, when they fall, they involve nations in their ruin. But the fate of Belshazzar is not to be considered merely as the consequence of his own sincerity. It must be regarded chiefly as a punishment: from Heaven. “In that night,” the night which he had rendered signal by his riot and impiety, “was Belshazzar, the king of the Chaldeans, slain.” With respect to the justice of his fate, I believe there is no man, if he consider the life of this unhappy king, who will not allow his punishment to be necessary. His daring impiety, his unbounded riot, were inconsistent with the serious cares of government, and marked a spirit which was past correction. Some of the vices which disgraced this monarch are hardly consistent with the humility of our situation; but the source from which they proceeded is common to us all. It was pride which overthrew him; a vice which is inspired by prosperity, and is found chiefly in weak minds, who are incapable of much reflection. From this proceeded in a train, security, debauchery, tyranny, and impiety; the most ruinous and disgraceful habits of the human mind, and the most offensive to the Supreme Being. It is no new observation that any man may bear adversity; but it is not every man, nor, indeed, many men, who can bear prosperity. It tends strongly to make men forget themselves, and become vain in their imaginations. What is history but a continued narrative of the vices of the prosperous? I would content myself here with only inferring, in general, that prosperity corrupts weak minds.” Unable to reason deeply, they ascribe their success to something in themselves; and, incapable of much foresight, they apprehend no reverse, and imagine it must last for ever. They are too vain to admit advice, and, at the same time, too weak to resist temptation. It shows, therefore, the wisdom and care of Providence, in the first place, that so few are necessarily in that situation; and, secondly, that, by a necessary train of events, these few are perpetually changed, and give place to others. Last of all, the afflictions of life themselves are an instance of the same care; because, however grievous they may be, they are well calculated to abase the pride of man, and recall him to a proper sense of himself, and of his own dependence. I proceed, then to consider the vice of pride, that vice which vitiates equally sovereigns and subjects. I shall begin by describing it, and obviating some apologies which have been made for it. All vice may, in general, be defined to be the excess or abuse of some passion, or of some natural sentiment. To animate us to well doing, various premiums are held out to us. One of those is the approbation of our own minds. When we act a proper part, we are satisfied with ourselves. It is for the same reason that we are pleased with praise from others. The applause of our own minds, whether it arises immediately from our own actions, or from the praise of others, is the result of virtue, and constitutes a very pleasing part of its reward. But this sentiment, like all the other sentiments and affections of our nature, may be vitiated. The pleasure we feel from well doing incites us to do well. The pleasure we receive from praise leads us to do things worthy of praise. Perhaps we may say that, in a state like this, even a small portion of conceit is necessary to keep us in good humour with ourselves. Hence it is that every man, generally speaking, even the meanest, values himself upon something or other. It is when our self-value, or self-complacence, becomes enormous or wrong directed, when it is either utterly disproportioned to its object, or founded upon improper objects, that it is vicious. It then becomes pride, and exhibits immediately the native characters of vice--folly and malignity. The transition from the virtue to the vice, in this case, as in all others, is easy. The complacence which we feel from our actions is first converted into a conceited opinion of ourselves as we are with what we have done, we begin to think there is some remarkable merit in it. We conceive, consequently, highly of ourselves, and think there must be something extraordinary about us. From this point, the folly becomes apparent. The passion we have conceived for ourselves, like all other passions which depend on fancy, multiplies itself fast, and is fed by everything it meets with. Having departed from the original sentiment, it comes at last no longer to resemble it. We bring materials from all quarters to build our tower with. Accustomed to contemplate our own importance, we are at no loss for fancies to support it. Riches are one very common source of pride, and yet we may be vain of poverty. Titles are another, and yet we may despise titles. Praise is a third, and yet we may think ourselves above praise. We may even be vain of our humility. We may in short, be vain of anything, or of nothing. When we once take a fancy to ourselves, there is no defining it. The vice of pride is founded on weakness of intellect. It arises obviously from the want of knowing ourselves and our own state. Ignorance produces it, and want of capacity renders it incurable. A proper degree of knowledge moderates our ideas of all things, and of ourselves among the rest. If we cannot receive this knowledge, our folly is incurable. The weakest people, therefore, and the least informed, are always the most subject to this vice. A good deal also may be ascribed to education. Foolish parents make foolish children. There is something in this vice very astonishing. That a person should conceive highly of something without him is natural. But that a creature should take a fancy to itself is very extraordinary. What is without us we may be forgiven for not knowing perfectly; but one would think, if we knew anything, that we might know ourselves, at least, so far as to see that we have no great reason to be vain of ourselves. A distinction has been attempted, by way of apology for it, between pride and vanity. It alleged that vanity, as distinguished from pride, is marked by two characters. It consists in that self-importance which arises from the opinion or behaviour of others, and it is generally founded upon trifling circumstances. Pride is satisfied with itself. It is founded upon its own opinion of its own merit, and this merit arises, it is supposed, from great accomplishments. It has no relation to the opinions of others. Hence it is ready to treat them with contempt when they differ from its own, and with neglect when they agree to them. Vanity, on the other hand, is always elated with applause, and mortified when it is withheld. This distinction is merely plausible, and can give no protection to its votaries. First of all, it will not follow, though these vices were different, that they are not both vices; nor will it follow that they may not even be united in the same person. But, in the next place, it is a distinction without a difference, for there is really no difference. The sentiment itself is, in all cases, the same. It is the same opinion of our own consequence, whatever we derive it from, whether from the praises of others or from our own reflections. With respect to the one being founded upon great, and the other upon little accomplishments, that depends upon whom we make the judge. If we take his own word, every man of this character thinks his own accomplishments great, and that his pride is proper. Greatness of mind is that disposition which leads a man to great actions and sublime sentiments. Pride is that disposition which leads a man to contemplate his own actions and sentiments, whatever they are, with self-consequence. A great mind never reflects upon its own merit. A proud, or vain one, rejects upon nothing else. The former conceives noble sentiments, and expresses them in his actions, without thinking of the abilities which produced them. The latter can conceive no sentiments or actions without attending principally to this circumstance. When a greet man performs a worthy action, he does not think that he has done anything extraordinary. A proud man is wholly engrossed with this. What a difference is there between these dispositions! How mean is the one when compared with the other! A great mind is superior to a proud one, as far as a generous temper is superior to a selfish one. What a pity it is that a man should sully an action, which may in itself be laudable, with this ridiculous ingredient? What occasion is there for pride in any case? Or where is the advantage of it? May not a man act in the best manner without having his mind perpetually engrossed with his own actions? Or is acting well such a stranger to his nature that he cannot do it, in any instance, without giving himself credit for it? Must he be perpetually thinking of himself and his own consequence? I will even go farther, and venture to affirm that pride, admitting the distinction which it assumes to itself, is both more dangerous and more contemptible than vanity. Vanity can, at any time, be checked. As it is founded upon the good opinion of others, the withdrawing of this is all that is necessary to humble it. Pride is founded upn itself, and cannot be humbled but by its own destruction. It is also more contemptible. The vain man has this to say for himself, that, if he thinks wrong, he thinks but what others think. The proud man is lifted up with his own opinion. The folly of the other is pure, and admits no apology. And if pride, in its best state, be so little a sentiment, how contemptible must it be when it is founded upon little objects--such as, we may observe, the common possessions of this world may in general be said to be? This sentiment, absurd in itself, will appear to greater advantage still if we consider the effects of it. Here the vice begins to appear, and to manifest itself. We shall treat these effects under three heads; as they respect God; as they respect our fellow-creatures; and as they respect ourselves. Considered in itself, it appears rather a folly; but, observed in its operation, we immediately discern the virulence, working, as usual, with dreadful symptoms; vitiating the subject, and producing the most shocking scenes of misery among the species.
I. PRIDE IS AN ENEMY TO THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT. It affects, in the moat material manner, the most important of our connections, our connection with the Almighty. It leads us to forget, and finally to throw off our dependence upon Him. It has a manifest tendency to obstruct the intercourse, and destroy the relations, which subsist between God and created natures. It is opposite to those habits of submission and acknowledgment which result from our situation, and by which alone we can maintain an intercourse with the Great Parent of the world. Pride is the natural enemy of subordination. It destroys the habits of respect, and leads us to hate, or to avoid, the presence of superior beings. It is remarkable that this is the vice which is ascribed to the angels who kept not their first estate. If there be a God, we ought to reverence Him. This consequence follows forcibly and directly. It is a proposition which stands upon its own basis, and does not even depend upon revelation. There is an undoubted relation between God and His creation. If existence is bestowed by the one, duty becomes the other. If the one afford protection, the other is bound to gratitude. If Deity be a perfect being, He is the object of respect and homage. If men be imperfect creatures, humility is proper to them. If we live under a supreme, superintending government, we owe submission and attachment to it. These are the instincts of nature, as well as the first dictates of reason How monstrous is the mind which wants these affections? I believe it would not be difficult to show that pride is connected with atheism. The mind which is self-sufficient must be uneasy at the thought of an obligation. To what impious conclusions will not this disposition lead a man, especially if he possess high passions, or any portion of ingenuity? It led Belshazzar to acts of the most frantic impiety. I make no doubt that this insolent monarch, when he ordered the sacred vessels to be produced, and applied to common purposes, meant an insult to the Deity. I believe there are few here who are in danger of proceeding to such excess as Belshazzar. But, in general, we may affirm that, of all the vices, pride is the most inconsistent with the religious temper. If it steps short of absolute impiety, it leads at least to forgetfulness of God, and of our dependence upon Him. The mind of the vain man is, first of all, engrossed with the objects of his vanity. He has neither room, therefore, nor inclination for religious objects. The weakness of mind also, out of which this vice arises, is inimical to religion. The mind which is conceited of lithe objects can have no capacity for large ones. The sentiments, in the next place, cannot consist together. The religious temper is founded in meekness, and in humility. In general, it will be sufficient to show us that this quality must, in its own nature, be inconsistent with the religious character, to reflect that the attention of a proud, or vain man, is wholly engrossed with second causes. This is, indeed, one natural and immediate issue of the vice. Whatever success may attend him, the man’s vanity continually leads him to refer it entirely to the exertions or causes immediately producing it (that is to himself), and he looks no farther. We may conclude, then, upon certain principles, that pride leads us away from God, and from the regards we owe Him. It has the effect, in the very first instance, to turn our minds from Him, and to leave Him out of our calculations. For how, indeed, in common good sense, can it be otherwise? Will a man, whose thoughts are wholly engrossed with himself, ever think of his Maker? Will a man, who is intoxicated with his own sufficiency, be sensible, as he ought to be, of the need which he has of the Divine protection? A proud man possesses not the qualities which constitute the religious character. Of all the tempers of the mind, the religious is at the greatest distance from self-sufficiency. The great duty of the present state is to improve our nature. But to this pride is inimical. A man, who supposes himself perfect enough already, will not think of improving himself.
II. The vice of pride is not only inconsistent with the religious principle. IT IS REPUGNANT TO THAT SYSTEM OF LIBERAL AND EQUAL POLICY WHICH IS THE GLORY OF OUR SPECIES, AND UNDER WHICH ALONE OUR NATURE CAN RECEIVE ITS PROPER CULTIVATION. It is calculated for a state of slaves and masters, and is subversive of the liberal connections of an equal and free society. We may regard this vice under two views, as it affects the manners and as it affects the conduct Throughout both these it preserves the same character, and exhibits the same offensive effects. It divests men equally of the manners and the qualities of their most improved state. A vain man considers himself as far exalted above others. He regards the rest of mankind as a species of inferior creatures His attentions are centred in himself, and he considers others as either below his notice or as born for his convenience. He is, therefore, obviously a selfish and a repulsive character. The natural expression of pride is insolence. A proud or vain man deserves not the regards of others. He does not interest himself in them. He has no real attachment but to himself. If a man of this description mixes with other men, he would have it regarded as a piece of prodigious goodness, and often labours to be agreeable for no other reason but that he may value himself, and hear others value him, upon his affability. What a monstrous perversion is this of the human character! It is this again which converts life into affectation, and fills the world with insincerity. But this vice appears in its full deformity when it is connected with power. This gives it the means of displaying itself; and, in this case, it usually displays itself in acts of mischief. We may observe that pride may exist in any state, but it is more usually the effect of prosperity. We may observe also, under this head, that a man of this character is incapable of gratitude. He possesses not the sentiments which are proper to his situation. He is not formed for a state where we all depend upon one another. You cannot oblige a proud man. He considers every benefit which can be conferred upon him as his due. The proud man is the natural enemy of society. Pride cannot consist with the virtues of the improved life. It breaks the natural connections of the species. In their manners, it makes men insolent, or, if not insolent, deceitful--in their conduct and deeds, oppressive. It is also opposite to the liberal policy of the species. In general, we may observe that pride is the natural quality of the barbarian, not of the cultivated citizen. Being the result of ignorance, the more enlightened the society is the less vanity will be found in it. It is the native plant of an unenlightened society, and of a violent government. The vice of pride goes to establish a system of oppression, and to place men universally in a state of hostility to one another.
III. Pride not only destroys our connections with the Supreme Being, and with one another; it not only leads us to neglect God, and abuse men; BUT IT LEADS US TO NEGLECT, VITIATE, AND FINALLY RUIN OURSELVES. First of all, this vice, like all other vices, vitiates us. We have already observed that it destroys the two great classes of our affections, the affections which we ought to have for God and for our species. So far it vitiates. But it has a more extensive effect. It acts against the whole man, and vitiates him on all sides. Pride takes many directions, but I will speak of those which are most natural to it. Boastfulness is a property of the vice. The proud are, first, boastful. They have, consequently, a continual tendency to depart from truth. “They speak,” as the apostle expresses it, great “swelling words of vanity.” The evil here operates in two directions. The same disposition which leads them to magnify themselves, leads them to diminish others. They depart from truth in both cases; till, at last, by repeated deviations, they lose the sense, and cease to perceive the value of it. Malice is a property of this vice. The proud are malicious. They view those above them with envy, and those below them with satisfaction. Their equals they are never lucky enough to meet with. What a source of malignity here opens to us! For the same reason they are pleased with the disappointments of people, and bear nothing so ill as to see a man rise and prosper in the world. This is one certain mark of folly. They are for keeping every man down that they can possibly. The proud are revengeful. Important in their own minds, if you touch their folly, or offend their consequence, they are implacable. The proud are hard-hearted. The proud are hypocrites. It is not often convenient for them to discover all the bad passions which actuate them. The proud make God and men their enemies. They act, therefore, continually in the midst of a multitude who are interested to defeat them. Such is their situation that there are always numbers of people to whom their fall would be agreeable, and who watch the opportunities of procuring it. But, in this unstable state, where every situation totters, these opportunities are frequent; and hence it happens that the proud man, when he least expects it, generally receives an impulse, from some quarter or other, which oversets him. This is the more likely to happen from another cause, that pride has the effect generally to inspire a presumptuous security and contempt of danger, which at once relax our vigilance and our exertions, and expose us to misfortunes. But, besides the external shocks to which it is liable, pride contains a source of ruin within itself. We have already observed, as one of its natural properties, that it is boastful and ostentatious. The waste and show which the proud are first led into from vanity, they soon conceive a passion for on their own account; and this becomes finally so strong that it either renders them blind to what is before them or infatuates them to that degree that they are unable to relinquish it even when they see the consequences, and when ruin stares them in the face. The same process leads them to sensuality. Indulging at first from vanity, they soon come to indulge for the sake of indulging, and acquire gross, vile habits. Arrived at this point, the motion becomes rapid; and, as it draws near the end, is accelerated. We observed that pride is naturally presuming and self-sufficient. This leads to other effects. Confidence in our own abilities, or situation, leads us naturally to security. Security, besides exposing to external shocks, gives habits of indolence; and these again have a double issue. They operate both against the virtue and the natural faculties. They act against the virtue. Idleness is the natural soil where all the rank vices gather. They act against the natural faculties. The mind becomes incapable of application from the want of applying, and it becomes weak from the want of being exercised. The vices which it collects hasten the effect. They relax the mind and body, and render both feeble. There never was a juster maxim than the maxim of Solomon, “before honour is humility, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Independent of the morality of the dispositions themselves, the one has a necessary tendency to relieve our affairs, and the other to distress them. Humility renders us watchful and active; while pride relaxes our exertions, and leads us back to ruin. I shall now conclude this subject with an improvement of it; and this I shall make by collecting, and stating shortly, some of the chief conclusions which arise from it. It is remarkable that the vice of pride is represented everywhere in the Scriptures as peculiarly offensive to God. He observes the humble with complacence. He marks those who set themselves above their kind. Let me, then, first of all, warn you against this vice, from the consideration of the displeasure of God--that displeasure which brings down the lofty looks of man, and lays the pride of empires low. To conclude, seeing that the histories of Scripture were recorded for our sakes, suffer them to produce their just effect. I have selected one memorable instance from these precious monuments for your information. The more dangerous any situation is, we ought to guard ourselves the more against it. Let the history of Belshazzar teach us not to presume upon prosperity, nor to let the season of youth and of exertion pass unimproved. Which of us can read his fate, and not tremble for his own? (J. Mackenzie, D.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Daniel 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12