Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
And I met my face unto the Lord God.
Setting the Face unto the Lord
Daniel, when he would seek God, “set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer.” He was an eminently holy man, and far advanced in piety. His example cannot be an unfitting one to follow.
1. There must be great difficulties to the proper and effectual seeking after God. Some things we do without difficulty; our mind goes naturally and easily to their performance. Before man’s fall, his mind would as naturally turn to God rejoice in Him, and be lifted up towards Him, as he now delights in a bright and glorious day. It is not so now. It is a very difficult matter set ourselves rightly to seek God. Man cannot seek God aright unless the power of God works in him to bring him to do it. How can any bring a broken and a contrite heart, which is the proper offering before God, unless God the Spirit break it? Do we naturally give up sin, or naturally wish to do it? Is it easy to confess our sins, to find them out, to ascertain them, whether sins of the heart or life? Try earnestly and honestly to seek God, and you will soon find the difficulty. Various hindrances indeed there are, in coming to the Mercy Seat.
2. Multitudes are ever seeking God who do not set their faces to seek. Scripture is clear respecting wavers. There are many persons of this kind, earnest to-day, dead again to-morrow; by fits at prayer, and then prayerless again. Such obtain nothing of the Lord. Others, though seeking, will not give up every wilful sin. Who can he a Christian without a sacrifice? Who can enter the strait gate without a struggle? You seek in vain if you allow a worldly spirit; unless you come to God, and honestly and earnestly wish to have the love of the world destroyed in your heart. There is one way of approach to God, and but one; one name and one only to plead--the name of Jesus Christ.
3. Some hints on the setting of our face unto the Lord our God. You must give time for this. There must be going to work in right earnest; diligent inquiry for the sins of the life, and for the sins of the heart, and a confessing them with real sorrow before God. There must be, from the beginning of our seeking, a looking for, and a reliance upon, God’s help. And we may look for His help. The first honest and sincere cry or sigh of a returning sinner is noticed by a gracious God. That cry never goes up for help in vain.
4. The importance of thus “setting our face unto the Lord God to seek.” Remember that we cannot succeed without this. Think of the blessings which God bestows upon those who thus seek, what wonderful promises He has made to them. They deserve all such seeking and sacrifices as we have shown to be needful. You are commanded thus to seek God. God’s commands are the most gracious and beneficent things to us that there are.
5. Special reasons which may be given to different individuals why they should at once resolvedly, looking up to God for help, do this:
(1) Those who have never yet thus “set their face unto the Lord God” Your eternal happiness depends upon your seeking, or your everlasting perdition.
(2) Turn to some Christians. Some of you are hindered by something in your course. If you would follow Daniel’s example you might be freed from this hindrance. Again, someone is in a particular strait and difficulty. Does no door open? Is the way dark? Have recourse to thus seeking to God. Go to this duty at once. It must be done now. Let there be no delay. Begin now, earnestly, resolvedly, in prayer and dependence of God’s merciful help, and the result shall not be an early failure or disappointment. God will help the soul at its first really sincere and honest cry to Him for help. (J. E. Dalton, B.D.)
Righteousness not a Position but a Direction
That is a good word about the young Hebrew, Daniel--it says so much. “I set my face to the Lord God.” And that is the real question about life: which way are you facing; in which direction are you really looking and living? Righteousness, not a position, but a direction. Let me first make this distinction plain, and then you will see the importance of it. The common idea, then, of the difference between right and wrong is that right and wrong are two, separate territories as it were, and that there is a boundary line dividing them, like the frontier line between two countries, and that anywhere on the right side of that boundary line is right. Or, people figure particular sins as if they were separate provinces in the general territory of wrong, each sin with its own boundary line, on one side of which you are in sin--but that so long as you have not actually crossed that line into sin, you are all right. And a great deal of the moral discussion of the world has been spent on trying to map out these exact lines where the right ends and the wrong begins, the line up to which you may go without sinning. Well, that seems very plausible--and yet a glance into real life, and at some of the very commonest matters of right and wrong, is sufficient to show that at any rate there is a great deal of life in which it is quite impossible to draw any such distinct lines between right and wrong! Try to draw the line between industry and idleness, and to say exactly how industrious a man ought to be in order not to be counted an idler. But you cannot do it! Or, take selfishness. Who can lay down exactly how far I ought to consider myself, and mark the point at which selfishness begins; or how far I ought to do what I like, or how far give up to others? Why it cannot be done, if you were to argue about it for a year! Or, take such constantly present questions as that of right and wrong in eating and drinking, or any kind of indulgence. Is there any clear line to be drawn between what is temperate and what is intemperate? Certainly covetousness is a sin. But where exactly does it begin to be so? So it is, palpably, with regard to a great deal of right and wrong. But really, it is so even in things which at first sight look so clear and distinct in their moral outline that you are apt to say--that there can be no haziness or uncertainty in them. Take truth, for instance, or honesty. Truth is apt to look just as exact and precise as a mathematical figure--whether a thing is true or not true, whether you are telling the truth or not--it seems as if it ought to be possible to define that anyhow. And honesty! Is anyone going to say that honesty and dishonesty shade off into one another--why it seems like sapping the very clearest distinction of morality. And yet it is so. No exact line can be drawn in either matter. If you had been sheltering a fugitive slave in the old days of slavery, would truth make it your duty to answer the question if he was with you? Or, if you are bargaining about some goods you want to sell, does honesty require you to tell everything you know to their disadvantage, or is it enough if you answer truly every actual question that is asked you? Must truth be told to criminals when it will help them in a crime? And so I might go through every part of human conduct, and the more closely you look into it, the more you will find that there is no such thing as drawing any absolute line between right and wrong anywhere. But what does that mean? That, therefore, there is not any real difference between them, or that the distinction between them is imperceptible? Not for a moment. The difference between right and wrong is the most tremendous distinction in the world. No distinction of painful or pleasant can compare with it--only it is not of that sort There comes in the thought--and I think it is a helpful thought, that it is not a difference of place or position, but of direction. A single illustration gives it to you at once. It is simply like the difference between east and west. Is there any dividing line between east and west? No! Who can tell where the east stops and the west begins? No one; and yet does that mean that there is no difference between east and west, or that it is a hazy, obscure difference? Not at all. Simply it is this same difference not of two places, but of two directions. You cannot possibly draw a dividing line between east and west, but you can tell in a moment whether you are going east or west, or whether your face is set towards the east or towards the west. And so, though there never was a line drawn which could divide exactly right from wrong, you can tell in a moment whether you are living in the direction of right or in the direction of wrong. There, then, is thee true distinction--and now let us follow it out a little and see the importance of it. For it begins at the very beginning of life, and it lies at the root of all clear, strong righteousness. And, on the other hand, that idea that righteousness consists in not crossing some dividing line into wrong, is just the most treacherous and fertile source of wrong. As long as one fancies that sin only begins at some distinct line, one is tempted to go just as near that line as one can--while really the sin is begun, and going on all the time that one is facing that way! You can see how this works, from the cradle up. You mothers--you tell your little child, playing about you as you work, not to go out of the room. And it goes to the door--and it looks out--and if you speak it says, “I didn’t go out.” And then it puts one foot just on the threshold--very likely looking at you all the while--and then ventures it a little further,--and still, when you shake your head, it says, “I haven’t gone out!” Do you know why it is so hard to teach children the true lesson--not merely to keep from crossing some actual line of wrong, but to keep from looking that way, or going that way at all? Because so many of those who want children to be taught that lesson have not learned it themselves! Men and women are constantly just like that little child. They do not intend to sin, or at least they feel they must not, and they think they will not. But they will look towards it, and they will go to the very edge of it, and look over, and perhaps put one foot on the very threshold--and yet if conscience brings them up with a round turn, they try to justify themselves by saying that they have not actually crossed the line! That is how nine-tenths of the world’s sinning comes! Young men, don’t you know how this often works in a young man’s life--this trying how near one can go to the edge of sin without actually going over the edge? A young fellow comes up from school, or from some country home, to take his place in the great world, and the false glamour of it by and by begins to get hold of him. But he does not mean to sin; he has grace enough to shrink from that. No--he won’t sin, be says; but he begins to go with those who do; he hears them talk and brag of the pleasures they have; he half envies them the daring with which they sin--and he will go to places where it is all about--and still when conscience comes in, in quiet hours, he tries to take some poor comfort by making believe with himself that he has not actually sinned. Sinned? Why, his whole attitude is sin. His face and his heart are set towards sin all the time. And it is the same all through life. Just look up the record of any ten men who have got into jail, and you will find that nine out of the ten were led the first stops of the way which brought them there by that mischievous idea that there was some dead-line of sin, which if they did not cross, they would be right. And not only is this the source of actual crime--and of what the world definitely labels sin--but also it is the source of all the poor, unworthy life that there is in the world. The people who are not exactly thieves--but who will take an advantage of you if they can; the people who oven while they are working have not their hearts really set to work, but are facing towards idleness and amusement; that character which in business is always “sailing rather close to the wind,” and, still more common in the world, that kind of life which perhaps plumes itself on never breaking a commandment or doing anything wrong, and yet that has no real love of goodness, no genuine desire for goodness--that is the kind of life which keeps the world back, and keeps the church back, and keeps the tone of society low and mean. Friends, this is God’s call to us. Not just to keep from certain forbidden things, or from crossing some actual line of sin--but to set our faces clear the other way--towards right, towards allthe just, pure, kind, godly life. It is Christ and all His setting forth of life that have brought this out fully for us--no longer law, but love, no longer the mere keeping from a certain list of forbidden things, but, active, forward-looking service. That is the secret of effective life and of happy life to keep righteousness before us as the whole direction of our living. There is not a day, hardly an hour, but this principle--of righteousness being not a position, but a direction--comes in. It cuts right through the moral casuistry by which the steps of duty so easily get entangled, in discussing just how far this or that way may be pursued without some actual sin! Then does righteousness, in this thought of it, become not a drag, but a motive power, not a restraint, but an inspiration, not condemnation, but glory! I do not say that it is easy; there is no way of looking at it that can make righteousness easy. One may set one’s face ever so earnestly in the right direction, and still the tempting passions will allure and the weak resolution will flag and stumble. The Roman moralist confessed that while he loved the better, he sometimes followed the worse--and even Paul himself says that though he delights in the law of God after the inward man, yet he finds another law in his members bringing him into captivity to sin and death. No! There is no grand moral victory even that way, even by facing the right way--and still, it is the only really onward way at all--and with the heart and face set really towards right and God, strength must keep growing--and the sense of a Divine help that will not give us up, and the upward way becomes not quite so hard; and even through clinging weakness and sin, to keep the heart still set towards the right is itself--no! not victory, but the promise of some final victory, the prophecy of how at last we may be lifted out of the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God! (Brooke Herford, D.D.)
Daniel, the Man of Prayer
The prophet Daniel became a great proficient both in penitential and in intercessory prayer as the years went on. And he came to that great proficiency just as a great proficiency is come to in any other science or art; that is to say, by constant, and unremitting, and enterprising practice. Lord teach us to pray, said a disciple on one occasion to our Lord. But not even our Lord, with all His willingness, and all His ability, can teach any of us to pray. Every man must teach himself this most personal, and most secret, and most experimental; this greatest and best of all the arts. Every man must find out the best ways of prayer for himself. There is no royal road; there is no short or easy road to proficiency in prayer. You must also have special and extraordinary seasons of prayer, as Daniel had, over and above his daily habit of prayer. Special and extraordinary; original and unparalleled seasons of prayer, when you literally do nothing else day nor night but pray. Now, it is plain that you cannot teach a lifetime of experiment and attainment like that to any chance man; and, especially, you cannot teach it to a man who still detests the very thought of such prayer. It was his yoke in his youth that first taught Daniel to pray. And Babylon taught Daniel and his three friends all to pray, and to pray together in their chambers as we read. To be arrested in their father’s houses by Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers; to have Babylonian chains put on their hands and their feet; to see the towers of Zion for the last time: to be asked to sing some of the songs of Zion to amuse their masters as they toiled over the Assyrian sands--you would have been experts yourselves in a school of prayer like that Jeremiah, a great authority on why some men pray, and why other men never pray, has this about you in his book: “Moab hath been at his ease from his youth up; he hath settled on his lees; he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel: neither hath he gone into captivity; and, therefore, his taste remaineth in him, and his scent is not changed.” The ninth chapter of Daniel is dear to every old devotional hand. It is delightful with a delight that is not known to neophytes. It is positively delightful to see the old prophet allying in his chamber and spelling out the book of the prophet Jeremiah, the first copy of which has just been smuggled across the wilderness from Jerusalem to Babylon. We sit over and spell out old authors in literature and religion, if they are sufficiently old; but it would not pay to make a contraband trade of the authors and the preachers of to-day to the authors of to-day or to the preachers either. We exploit and plagiarise the great preachers of the great past, but we do not find much to repay us in the pulpit of our day. Only Daniel studied Jeremiah as much as if Jeremiah had been Moses himself, and more. And he not only studied a prophet whom we would call his contemporary, and his colleague, but, old prophet and old priest as he himself was, he took a new start in fasting, and in sackcloth, and in ashes, and in prayer of all kinds as he sat over Jeremiah’s now book, and felt on the floor of his chamber holding the book to his heart. Had we been in Daniel’s place, I will wager what we would have said as we read that seventy years’ passage on the new parchment: “The Lord’s ways--if this is indeed the Lord--His ways are not equal,” we would have said. “Here am I getting on to old age in Babylon, and no intimation has come to me like this. Surely I was the man that needed it, and had earned it. Why Jeremiah? What has he done? And besides, has he not fallen sway to our oppressors?” I have a feeling that I would not have been in such a meek temper as Daniel was over that book the ink of which was still wet. O Daniel, a man greatly beloved! and who deserved to be! “Why,” asks Pascal, “why has God established prayer?” And the first answer out of the three that Pascal gives to himself is this--“To communicate to His creatures the dignity of causality.” And Daniel was of Pascal’s deep, believing and original mind. For Daniel, just because he read and believed that deliverance was at the door, all the more see himself to pray as if his prayer was to be the alone and predestinated cause of the coming deliverance. Daniel put on sackcloth, and fasted, and prayed, and went back upon all his own and all his people’s sins in a way that confounds us to our face. We cannot understand Daniel. We are not deep enough. He prayed, and fasted, and returned to an agony of prayer, as if he had never heard of the near deliverance; he prayed in its very presence as if he despaired of ever seeing it. He fasted and prayed as he had not done all these seventy fasting and praying years. Read, all you experts in prayer, read with all your mind, and with all your heart, and with all your experience, and with all your imagination this great causality chapter. It is written by a proficient for proficients. It is written by a great saint of God for all such. Read it and think. Read it with your Pascal open before you. Read it and sink down into the deep things of God and the soul. Read it and practise it till you know by experiment and experience that decree, and covenant, and prophecy, and promise, and all, however sure, and however near, are all only fulfilled in immediate and dependent answer to penitential and importunate prayer. Read it and pray as never before after the answer has actually begun. See the answer out to the last syllable before you begin to restrain penitence and prayer. And after the answer is all fulfilled, still read it and the still deeper chapters that follow it, till you learn new fasting, and new sackcloth, and new ashes, and new repentance, away out to your saintliest old age. Read Daniel’s greatest prayer, and “Know thy dread power--a creature yet a cause.” (Alex.Whyte, D.D.)
Acquainted as Daniel was with the word of God as delivered by the prophets who had foretold the captivity and restoration of Judah, and confiding in the unchangeable faithfulness of that word, as his whole life testified that he did, the return of his countrymen to Jerusalem was an event on which he must have assuredly reckoned, not only as certain, but as very near. Nor were there wanting other and very unequivocal intimations to give Daniel the assurance that this event was at hand. He saw, in the conqueror of Babylon, the very person who had been referred to by name in the prophecies of Isaiah, a hundred and seventy years before. If ever there was a future event which might have been reckoned on with absolute certainty, it was this restoration of the Jewish captives to the land and city of their fathers. And yet, so far from supposing that there was no place for prayer to occupy, among the various means that were employed to bring about that event, it was just his firm belief in the certainty and nearness of it that set Daniel upon fervent and persevering supplications for its accomplishment. Because he contemplated the near approach of this deliverance, he gave himself to special prayer for the fulfilment of the promise.
1. The prayer itself was just expressing or embodying in language the state of Daniel’s mind as directed towards an object, in the accomplishment of which he felt a most intense interest. The believer never can, without belying his principles, deliberately desire anything that he knows to be contrary to the will, and inconsistent with the glory of God. He supplicates conditionally--so qualifying his petition as that it may be given him, if agreeable to his Maker’s will, or conducive to the manifestation of his Maker’s glory. But, if true to his principles, he never can cease vehemently to desire what he does know to be accordant with the will, and subservient to the glory of God.
2. With regard to the rank which Daniel’s prayer occupied among the various agencies or means that were to be employed in bringing about the object of it, he had good reason to believe that it was neither without a definite place nor in itself devoid of efficacy. Daniel knew that the event for which he longed and prayed necessarily involved in it the spiritual amendment of Judah. He saw that the return of their heart to God was essential to their triumphant return to the land of their fathers; and he felt, therefore, that humiliation and confession of sin was not only a becoming exercise in him at such a moment, but, in reality, a fulfilment in part of the very promise in which he confided. The agency of prayer is indeed a less obvious and palpable thing than that outward co-operation, whereby mankind are rendered subservient to the accomplishment of the Divine purposes. But is it not an agency of an unspeakably loftier character? Is it not the co-operation of an immortal spirit, hearing the impress of the Divine image, and at the moment acting in unison with the Divine will? By some such views of prayer I would endeavour to remove the difficulties of those who may have been perplexed by subtle speculations on the place which it occupies, and the efficacy which belongs to it in the economy of grace; difficulties which, in reality, have nothing more to do with prayer than with anything else connected with human agency. (R. Gordon, D.D.)
Prayer for National Prosperity
As the prophet made the sins, the perils, and the needs of his nation his own, and confessed and supplicated as for his life, so should we. Our sins and transgressions are as great and as many as our mercies; our perils are as real and imminent and fearful as our exaltation and opportunity and overflowing outward prosperity.
I. Lot us name SOME OF OUR MERCIES, PRIVILEGES AND OPPORTUNITIES.
1. Take into view our national heritage--its locality, extent, richness, and abounding resources--unparalleled in the history of nations.
2. Our Providential history. Our ancestral stock, Puritan, Huguenot, etc. Our wondrous growth and development. God’s special interpositions, as in war.
3. The character of our institutions. A free ballot, a free Bible.
II. Let US NOT OVERLOOK OUR PERILS, for they are many and imminent.
1. The decadence of personal integrity and public morality.
2. The rapid influx of a foreign and alien element.
3. The enormous growth and corrupting influence of our great cities.
4. The increasing prevalence of vice, pauperism, and crime throughout the land.
5. The grasping policy and overshadowing influence of combinations and monopolies.
6. The growing alienation of the great labouring class from the Church and from Christianity.
7. The audacity and strength of the Rum Power, allied with corruption in politics, to legalise the traffic in making drunkards, and in gambling on race-courses, and to keep in office disreputable and wicked men in many of our leading cities. (J. M. Sherwood, D.D.)
Prayer is often miconceived in all churches and by all parties.
1. The end of prayer, offered in private, is not to inform God. Many persons pray as if they wish to tell God what God does not know.
2. Prayer is not loud speaking, or much speaking, or any one special form whatever.
3. Prayer is not prescribed in the Scripture, or offered by a true believer, in order to work any change in God.
4. We must not associate prayer with any idea of atonement or expiation.
5. Some persons give up all hope, because God does not hear them. They say, “Our prayers are so mixed with wandering and simple thoughts, and are so imperfect that we cannot pray aright.” This implies a lingering notion that our prayers are expiatory, or a title to Heaven.
6. We must not pray, “to be seen of men.”
7. Prayer is not to be an excuse or apology for the neglect of duties.
8. It is not an exercise suited merely to a great crisis.
9. Prayer should be addressed unto God, as our Father; and in the name and through the mediation of Christ; and in the strength and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (John Cumming, D.D.)
This chapter, more than any other in the Book of Daniel, lays open to us the inner life of the prophet. It shows that he who was so illustrious in his wisdom and public relations was no less noted for his wisdom and public relations, was no less noted for his deep spirituality and earnest private devotions, whilst it suggests that the former were largely the result of the latter. True faith and living piety help to make wise and great. It appears that Daniel was a student of prophecy, of unfulfilled prophecy, and especially of the numbers and dates contained in the sacred predictions. Many consider such studies and anxieties the most barren and dangerous to which we can give ourselves. There is much reason to suspect that one of the real causes of the superficiality and leanness of modern piety is that the professed people of God no longer understand or believe what the prophets have written, and refuse to study or hear about things to come as God has revealed them for our learning. There is abundant material in this prayer of Daniel on which to dwell with interest and pride. The manner of it was deliberate, reverent, humble, and self-chastening. The character and attributes which this piece of devotion ascribes to Deity are also very impressive and sublime. The grandeur and awfulness of Eternal Majesty are blended with unsearchable goodness and faithfulness, presenting to our contemplation “the great and dreadful God, keeping covenant and mercy to them that love Him and keep His command-merits,” whose almighty hand is in all the administrations on earth and in Heaven, and all whose ways are righteousness and truth. The prayer is also occupied with confession of sin as the cause of Israel’s miseries. The expressions on this point are the most explicit, unreserved, and contrite. The great subject of the prayer was not simply that affliction might be removed, but that the house and ordinances of God might be restored, and a true, spiritual recovery wrought; for it avails but little to be released from particular punishments of sin if the inner cause of them be not healed. So the plea upon which this prayer rests is the truest and only availing one--not and merit of man, not any right or claim on the sinner’s part, but alone and entirely the mercy of God and the honour of His great name. (Joseph A. Seiss, D.D.)
With fasting, and sackcloth and ashes.
This is the first bright star which shines in the midst of the darkness of our sins. God is merciful. He is just--as just as if He were not merciful. He is merciful--as merciful as if He were not just, and in very deed more merciful than if He were too lenient, instead of blending a wise severity of justice with a gracious clemency of long suffering. We should rejoice that we have not this day to address the gods of the heathens. You have not to-day to bow down before the thundering Jove; you need not come before implacable deities, who delight in the blood of their creatures, or rather, of the creatures whom it is pretended that they have made. Our God delights in mercy, and in the deliverance of Britain from its ills. God will be as much pleased as Britain; yea, when Britain shall have forgotten it, and only the page of history shall record His mercies, God will still remember what He did for us in this day of our straits and difficulties. As to the hope that He will help us, that is a certainty. There is no fear that when we unite in prayer God will refuse to hear. It is as sure as that there is a God, that God will hear us; and if we ask Him aright, the day shall come when the world shall see what Britain’s God has done, and how He has heard her cry, and answered the voice of her supplications. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Aids to Devotion
Calvin remarks that Daniel, though naturally alert in prayer to God, was yet conscious of the want of sufficiency in himself; and hence be adds the use of sackcloth and ashes and fasting. He observes that everyone conscious of his infirmity ought to collect all the aids he can command for the correction of his sluggishness, and thus to stimulate himself to ardour in supplicating God.
The necessity and practice of fasting and repentance is set forth both in the Old and New Testaments. From the text we learn that Daniel was wont to fast, and to supplicate the Majesty of Heaven for the pardon of those national sins which he knew would justly draw down the indignation of the Almighty. Notice the special duties of fasting, such as a serious inspection into our hearts, and close self-examination of ourselves. Closely connected with this is the confession of sin. How strikingly was this manifested in the prayer of the text. Again, holy resolutions of amendment should be found in the strength of Christ, and with a due regard to His glory. Intercession is also peculiarly a duty at this season of humiliation, not only in public prayer, but also in private. Mercy to others is a peculiarly suitable accompaniment to fasting and supplication. On these days of public humiliation, when we are called upon to prostrate our guilty souls before Almighty God, sure it must become us to take such a view of the ravages of sin, and its awful consequences upon the guilty sons of Adam, as shall direct our faith to that one great sacrifice which can alone be efficacious for the healing of the nations, and for the introduction of that dispensation wherein we learn something of the achievements of the Prince of Peace; which peace shall be brought about by the subjugation of sin, and the conquest of those passions which war against the soul, and prove so fatal to man’s best interests, and so bedim his prospects of future happiness. Learn that the judgments of the Lord are calculated to teach the world righteousness. It ought never to be forgotten that, in the view of Omniscience, God sees the beginning and ending of all human events, from the hour of Nature’s nativity to the last moment of all earthly dissolution. We may refer the darkest dealings of the Almighty to the Eternal Wisdom. (Nat. Meeres, B.D.)
Neither have we harkened unto thy servants the prophets.
The Prophetic Ministry
It was the design of Daniel, in this sentence, to look back upon the whole course of the prophetic ministry that people had enjoyed from the time of its establishment to the time of their humiliation. We now consider the period from the death of Samuel to the close of the Babylonish captivity, a period of more than five hundred years.
I. SOME FACTS CONNECTED WITH THE PROPHETICAL ORDER. It was a class distinct from the priestly class. Their schools. The prophets were the founders of the seminaries of religion, learning, and philosophy, in which a class of men of cultivated minds and of holy hearts were raised up to influence their fellow-men. By the “sons of the prophets” we are to understand not children, but disciples. Samuel seems to have been the first tutor of these colleges.
2. How were the prophets called? It was not a matter of course, that because a man had been in a collegiate establishment, therefore he should be a prophet of God. God has never tied up His influence, never restricted His grace to any institutions of man, however wise and reasonable they may be. Thus Amos says--“I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son.” The Divine call was very discriminating.
3. The customs of the prophets. They were known by their costume. A garment of the coarsest sort--haircloth, and sometimes sackcloth. These were the signs of mourning; and they wore that attire to indicate their grief at the transgressions of the people. They were remarkable in their diet. Their deportment was very reserved and solemn.
4. The nature of their ministry. Their oral addresses were, no doubt, abundant. They addressed the multitude as popular preachers. And they sometimes acted parables. Their written predictions were a third part of their ministry. They were the historians of the church and nation of the Jews.
II. SOME REASONS WHY THE MINISTRY OF THE PROPHETS WAS ORDAINED.
1. It was partly to counteract the tendencies of an established priesthood. Under priesthoods men are in great danger of losing all view of the spiritual and moral part of their office, and sinking down into that which is merely ceremonial and ritual. The prophets often arraign the priests--often charge upon them, in very plain end faithful terms, their wickedness. Morality must ever take the lead of ceremonial institutions. God regards obedience rather than sacrifice.
2. They were to enforce the authority of the Divine law. No man can acheive anything great in reference to his fellow-men who has not first achieved the conquest of himself. The prophets were men who had learned to deny themselves, and then men who had seen visions of eternity.
3. To correct the tendency of the people to trust in heathen oracles.
4. To excite the hope of the Divine mercy in the minds of the people.
III. THE SUBJECTS INCLUDED IN THE MINISTRATIONS OF THE PROPHETS.
1. They embrace the whole social condition of the Jews during five hundred years. We say that history is the key to prophecy; but prophecy amongst the Jews was the key to history.
2. They were employed to announce the judicial visitations that should come upon the heathen.
3. A third class of subjects was a description of the Christian dispensation, as it should be set up by Messiah. (J. Blackburn.)
Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.
Estimating our Own Character
We take the words of the text in their more general reference. They are such as we ought all to use. Glory is ascribed to God; a proper view and estimate of our own character is taken.
I. GOD HAS SPOKEN TO US. Daniel speaks of “the voice of the Lord our God.” So Paul--“God, who spake in time past unto the fathers,” etc., “hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” And he exhorts us not to “refuse Him who speaketh from heaven.” The meaning is a direct communication. Not mere intimations--as by sign, works--leaving us to collect inferences. The Scriptures are--by the inspiration by which they were given--the actual voice of God to us, on all the subjects to which they refer. Fully realise the solemn truth--The great and dreadful God hath spoken to us.
II. “BY HIS SERVANTS THE PROPHETS, HE HATH SET HIS LAWS BEFORE US.” Here is the purpose of His voice. Man is distinguished from all other earthly creatures by his moral capacities and faculties. He is thus made in the image of God. Constituted God’s subject. Bound by the will of God; that will, expressed, is the Divine law. This is done in Scripture. Its principles, its prohibitions, its requirements; by direct precept, by larger explanation, in various examples, are there set before us--as the law of God, the sanctioned expression of His will.
III. THIS VOICE “WE HAVE NOT OBEYED.” Speak not now of our natural condition--our fallen nature. We have followed our own inclinations; and the action has been as the originating principle.
IV. WE ARE THUS GUILTY OF REBELLION. God is our Sovereign. We have, as to our hearts and lives, sought to dethrone Him. We have refused to His law its just supremacy. Other lords have thus had dominion over us.
V. FOR THIS REASON, “CONFUSION OF FACE BELONGS TO US.” Shame one of our natural emotions. Called for by humbling sense of real impropriety and wrong. We may be hardened; we may mix ourselves with the general mass; still, rightly viewed, sin is a shameful thing. When Divine light is received and obeyed, we feel our personal guilt. We have no excuse.
VI. NEVERTHELESS, “ TO THE LORD OUR GOD BELONG MERCIES AND FORGIVENESS.” It is a fact--not merely good to the obedient, but long-suffering to the guilty. His words reveal it as a perfection of His nature. Describes the wisdom that has devised means for its fitting and consistent exercise. God is merciful, and it is in Christ. Pardon may be had--it is through Christ. The wickedness of sin. It is rebellion against a sovereignty of purity, wisdom, love. (G. Cubitt.)
To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses.
Of God’s Mercies and Forgivenesses
There can be no so prevalent a persuasive and inducement to repentance, no so powerful a charm to win the hearts of sinners, and melt them down into a relenting compliance with the Divine will, as the serious consideration on the one hand of God’s gracious dealings with us, and of our own ungracious returns on the other hand; of His mercies and forgivenesses, and of our rebellions and disobediences. The whole business of religion is comprised in these two heads, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. How can we better come to the knowledge of God than by studying those attributes of His which make up the perfection of His very nature? And what likelier way for us to arrive at the true knowledge and right understanding of ourselves than to contemplate the pravity and corruption of our natures, and the provoking sinfulness of our lives? There being nothing else in us that we can truly and properly call our own. Divine goodness is here recommended to us by two obliging terms, of mercy and forgiveness
1. Mercy, the essential character of His nature. Forgiveness, the gratuitous product and expression of His gracious will. Mercy in the Father’s self, for He is the a Father of mercie.” Forgiveness for the sake of His Son, the Mediator. Mercy in the ordinary course of Providence; and forgiveness upon the terms and covenant of grace. Consider, then, what a gracious God we have to do with, whose very nature and being consists of mercies and forgivenesses. Let us fill our souls with a reciprocal love and answerable affections to the Lord our God. ‘Tis this mercy of our God that makes Him God: and ‘tis this mercy of His that should oblige us to His service, and make Him our God.
2. What less could be expected from a merciful God than this, that He should forgive sins? This is the special instance of mercy, that He is a God forgiving sins, and pardoning iniquities. Let us assure ourselves that what mercy we find at His hands, as we are His creatures, the same forgiveness we shall obtain of Him as we are His redeemed’ ones. (Adam Littleton, D.D.)
Forgiveness of Sins
Such is the utterance of prophetic lips. Daniel hero speaks, wrestling with God, and valiantly refusing a repulse. The words sparkle as a bright gem in his diadem of prayer. It is superfluous to state that this proclamation is not limited to supplicating Daniel; it pervades the book of Revelation as fragrance the sweetest garden. (Exodus 34:7; Isaiah 55:7; Acts 13:38-39.) To estimate forgiveness rightly, its need must be distinctly seen. It will be poorly prized, unless its value be weighed in balances of truth. What, then, is forgiveness as appertaining unto sin? It is remission of due penalties, the obliteration of incurred guilt, the withdrawal of just displeasure, the blotting out of accusing handwriting, the burying all offences in oblivion, the hushing of the loud thunder of the law, the cancelling of its tremendous curse, the consigning to a sheath the sword of justice. It is the frown of Jehovah softening into eternal smiles. It encounters sin, and strips it of its destroying power. Hence evidently forgiveness implies that sin has preceded. Where no offence exists, no pardon can be needed; they cannot be restored whose feet are always in right paths. Thus we reach the fundamental position that sin gives occasion for forgiveness. Sin is the need which calls for its intervention.
I. Sin’s essence. What constitutes its character? No unanswerable question is here asked as to the parent of its birth; here is no search into its originating cause. The simple inquiry is, Where is its sphere of work, and what is its distinctive nature? Scripture states in terms intelligible and incontrovertible, “Sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4.) God, as supreme in all His universe, fixes His mode of government. This essence appears in frightful enormity when the purport of this law is viewed. The sum of its requirements is worthy of the great Lawgiver. In Divine simplicity it only requires love. The whole inward man must be bright in one complexion--love. Any deviation from this course constitutes sin. This sublimity brightly shows the origin of the law to be Divine. As a mirror it reflects Jehovah’s excellence; it is the transcript of His glorious being; it is holiness on its highest throne; it is purity in its loveliest form; it is perfection without one alloy. How abominable, then, is that principle which hates and resists such code, and strives to crush it beneath insulting steps! It follows that the need of forgiveness is universal, for sin exercises a sway coextensive with all human life. It grasps each mother’s son in its vile arms, and stays not its assaults while time endures.
II. This need becomes more apparent as advance is made from sin’s essence to some of its developments. Here it appears a many-headed hydra, a fiend of various forms. Its outbreak towards God, towards the soul within, towards the world around, betray it.
(1) Let diverse instances show its conduct towards God. Its feelings may be thus classed. Alienation. Whatever departs from God’s rule departs from Himself. Contrariety to His law separates from His mind.
Disinclination to His will moves altogether in an adverse course. Hatred. “The carnal mind”--and every mind is such in which the Spirit dwells not--“is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neitherindeed can be.” (Romans 8:7.) Sin has strong inclinations, and they all are arrayed against His righteous ways. It has ungodly bias towards the abominable things which God hates. Contempt. With haughty look it sneers at sacred precepts. It scorns them as weak precision. It spurns the restrictions of godly walk as derogatory to man’s liberty. Defiance. It raises an insulting head. It braves displeasure. It ridicules all penal consequences. Rebellion. It shivers the yoke. It breaks restraining bands. It ignores submission. Treason. It enters into conspiracy with all Heaven’s foes. It joins hands with every adversary. Robbery. God, as Sovereign, has a right to exact obedience. Sin defrauds Him of this due. Such, and many more, are the developments of sin in reference to God. Thus the position is established, that vast is the need of vast forgiveness.
(2) The picture darkens when the developments of sin in reference to the soul are seen. It changes this garden of the Lord into a waste howling wilderness. Fragrant flowers cease to bloom; thorns and briars usurp their place. It dims the noblest jewel of God’s creation.
(3) The case assumes more frightful hue when sin’s inroads on the world around is added. Doubtless sin is inborn. It is an hereditary disease; the seeds of every evil are innate in each heart. Unaided by contagion it would universally exist; but yet by contact, influence, example, it multiplies, and becomes more rampant. A spark from without kindles the dry stubble; bad men wax worse by bad fellowship. To the forgiveness of sins attention now reverts. The subject justly claims large share of pious thought. Angels may gaze and marvel, but they have no experience of its joys; for none of that pure company exult in pardon. It is the heartfelt property of the redeemed.
I. Sin’s guilt. Guilt is that property of sin which links it to God’s wrath. It constitutes its criminality, and forbids immunity. That sin has this property is clear; it stands confessedly a convict. It cannot plead that it is guiltless; therefore avowedly it merits punishment. Thus in reference to God it has been proved to be alienation, hatred, contempt, defiance, robbery, treason, rebellion. Can such be its guilty state; can it evidently work havoc throughout all creation, and shall God sit indifferent, as though He saw no evil? The very thought strips Him of the glories of His holiness. Righteousness is no more righteous, if it withholds the righteous condemnation, Truth lies low in ignominious steams, if the words be not fulfilled, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23.) Thus the guilty cannot be screened as guiltless. Doubtless God is rich in His mercy; His mercy endureth for ever; His mercy reacheth unto the heavens. “To the Lord our God belong mercies.” But mercy cannot annihilate the attributes which sit as conquerors on the glorious throne. It lives co-equal with them. Its delight is to exalt, to magnify, to glorify them. Who now can fail to feel that the guilty sinner needs mercies and forgivenesses? Let the page of experience be next read. It is written throughout with testimony that tremendous indications of Divine displeasure pursue guilt. Amid sweet rays of mercy striving to break forth, big drops of wrath often descend. The present aspect of earth is mournfully significant; the whole creation groans and travails together. Tears and sighs and anguish in multiform misery tell what sin has brought into this earth; sufferings and agony point to their prolific parent. Thus the wide spread of misery proves that the guilt of sin awakens just displeasure. Mark, next, the terrors of conscience when aroused from apathetic slumber by the Spirit. See the man awakened to the real perils of a guilty state. He is brought into a new world, where all is dismay. The past cannot be recalled; the present must move onward; the future cannot be escaped. In what mirror are these terrors seen? Surely in the mirror of sin’s guilt. Conscience, in the Spirit’s light, convicts of sin. Guilt is its inseparable companion; vengeance from Heaven closely follows. The awakened conscience knows this and quakes. Annals of the past confirm this statement; they exhibit terrific outbreaks of Divine wrath. Let the old world toll its awful tale. Its wickedness exceeded all that is denounced as wicked; its trespass grew up unto the heavens. Enormity of evil cried aloud, and enormity of vengeance slumbered not. Thus far the guilt of sin has been viewed, as exhibited in time, and as endured on the little space of this passing scene. But sin’s results end not with earth’s brief moment.
II. Sin’s final doom now meets us. Scripture abounds in warnings; their plainness is only equalled by their awe; their terrors are all faithfulness and truth. They speak loudly that men may ponder and recaps. (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9) (Romans 2:8-9) Such are the penalties to which its guilt is righteously amenable. Such is its sure condemnation. It will be happy if through this dreary passage a glorious prospect is attained. It will be so to all who now clasp to grateful hearts the good news “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him.” Let, then, the reviving truth now have free course and be glorified. A remedy is provided. A refuge is erected. Let the tidings be devoutly prized, “Christ has suffered the just for the unjust.” In Him all manner of sin is forgiven to the children of men.. Let men be wise to seek in an accepted time this inestimable gift. Let not the only hope be slighted. It shines in Christ and in Christ alone. He is the treasure-house in which forgiveness is stored. (Dean Law.)
Views of Guilt and Views of Mercy
I. OUR FIRST VIEWS ARE VIEWS OF GUILT. Man is a rebellious subject, inasmuch as:
1. We have refused tribute. Tribute, as it respects human governments, is the sum raised, for their support. As it respects the government of God, it implies merely the homage rendered to its validity and glory.
2. We have disobeyed the law. Both the precepts and the prohibitions. In our thoughts, in our conversation, in our behaviour. We have committed sins against ourselves, against our fellow-creatures, and against our God.
3. We have abetted the enemy. He who committeth sin is of the devil, that is, he resembles him, and serves him.
II. OUR SECOND VIEWS ARE VIEWS OF MERCY. God is a merciful and forgiving Sovereign. The term mercies would be too general. In the term of forgiveness there is something specific.
1. Consider what we sometimes observe, and what we never fail to admire, among mortals. Is it not the display of compassion, forbearance, and generosity? Shall God sink in the comparison?
2. Consider the Divine precepts.
3. Consider the Divine assurances. Happy for us that they are too numerous to be recounted.
4. Consider the mediation of Jesus Christ.
5. Consider experience and fact. Believer in Jesus Christ, much more art thou a witness. (The Evangelist.)
Cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate.
The Christian’s Duty to the Church in the Present Times
I. THE STATE OF THE CHURCH WHEN DANIEL WROTE WAS ONE OF RUIN AND DESOLATION. Jerusalem, the city of God was desolate and without inhabitant, and the temple, which was the dwelling-place of the mysterious glory, was desolate. The whole nation and the whole church had gone into captivity. But does God ever forsake His people, or desert His church? The promise of God, on which the church of Israel was founded, was made to Abraham, and it was an unconditional promise. This promise was strengthened and confirmed by an oath. Such being the promise of God on which the church was founded, it is evident he could not utterly forsake His church. He might, for wise reasons, withdraw His countenance for a season from it. But the undisturbed possession of the land of Canaan, and safety from all their enemies round about them in that land--all these were no part of the original promise to Abraham. They were in a subsequent promise; a conditional promise--a promise on the condition of obedience. Wherever these temporal blessings are alluded to, it is always connected with this condition of obedience. God never suffered His truth or His faithfulness to fail. God sent His people into captivity. They had sinned; they ,were disobedient. God will never forsake His people, but for their sins He will suffer them to lose all their temporal prosperity. Our only remedy against such judgments is that of Daniel--going like him before God, humbling ourselves in His sight, confessing our sins, and asking forgiveness.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE PRAYER OF THE PROPHET. It is characterised by a deep sense of sin, a most bumble acknowledgment of the sinfulness of the nation and of the church; and although the prayer has general reference to Israel as a nation, it is impossible to read it without feeling that the prophet is also confessing his own sins while he confesses the sins of the people. Here is a spirit of heartfelt penitence, a spirit of confession, a full and ample acknowledgment that all the captivity of the nation, and all the desolation of the church, ware fully and amply deserved. He also acknowledged that God’s dealings had been all foretold and forewarned, and, therefore, the sins were sins against light and knowledge and warning, and thus the judgment of God was consistent with all the justice of God and faithfulness to His own word. In the prophet’s prayer there is also a spirit of deep humility, deep self-abasement, and at the same time an earnest spirit of pleading with God, that he would spare, and pity, and restore, the church of Israel. And if we plead the righteousness of God as Daniel did, we shall never plead in vain. Ask what you will, it shall be granted . . . There is an impressive lesson to us in connection with the general history of Israel. We ought to think a little of the blessings, and consider a little the sins, of our own nation of England, and our own Church of England. (M. Hobart Seymour, M.A.)
Prayer for the Church
A true-hearted believer does not live for himself. Where there is abundance of grace, and great strength of mind in the service of God, there is sure to be a spirit of unselfishness. No presence of mighty monarch or of his festive guests could turn him aside from delivering his fateful message. Yet Daniel was not satisfied. Whatever might be his own condition, he remembered what Jerusalem was, and what the people to whom he belonged were; and, in the depths of his soul, he sorrowed notwithstanding all that God’s grace had wrought within himself. I firmly believe that, the better a man’s own character becomes, and the more joy in the Lord he has in his own heart, the more capable is he of sympathetic sorrow; and, probably, the more of it he will have. Daniel was also a man of many visions. With the exception of John, whom Daniel greatly resembles, it has scarcely fallen to the lot of any man, unless it be Ezekiel, to have so many wondrous visions of God; yet his visions did not make him visionary. There are many persons who could not be trusted to see the tip of an angel’s wing; for they would become so proud, ever afterwards, that there would be no holding them; but he who is fully consecrated to God may see vision after vision, and he will make a practical use of what he sees, and try to find out something to be done, something to be repented of, something to be prayed for, something that shall be for the good of the Church of God. Daniel had also been studying the prophecies, and he knew, by what he had discovered, when certain predictions would be fulfilled; but he was not, like some students of prophecy in our day, utterly unpractical. They seem to be so taken up with the future that they do nothing in the present. What Daniel learned from the study of the Sacred Books he turned to practical account; and finding that a certain time was near, of which good things were foretold, be set his face toward the Lord, and began to pray--not for himself, but for his people, many of whom were at Jerusalem, hundreds of miles away from him or scattered in various places all over the face of the earth. For them, he used that bright and sparkling eye which had looked up into the fires supernal. Let it never be said that the Church of God has no feeling of patriotism for the Holy City, for the Heavenly Land, and for her glorious King enthroned above. To us, Christian patriotism means love to the Church of God.
I. First, then, Daniel speaks of THE HOLY PLACE: “thy sanctuary.” Of course, he refers to the temple at Jerusalem, which was then in utter ruin. It had been broken down and burned by the Chaldeans; and Daniel, therefore, rightly calls it desolate, but fervently prays that God would cause His face to shine even upon its ruins. My first remark is, that the temple at Jerusalem was typical of the Church of God. So we learn that, as the temple was typical, so also it was unique. There was but one temple, and there is but one Church. The temple at Jerusalem was, further, the fabric of wisdom. It could only have been built by a Solomon; and Solomon found a band of men, whom God had prepared to carry out the extraordinary work of the temple; for, from its marvellous foundations, which have been lately uncovered, even to its topmost pinnacle, it excelled all the architecture which the world had ever seen. But the Church, which God is erecting, is a far more wonderful work of a wisdom infinitely superior to that of Solomon. When it shall be all finished, it will be the marvel of all intelligences as they see what a matchless sanctuary God, and not man, has reared, and note how, in every single detail, His infinite wisdom is manifest. The temple that Solomon built was also the result of great cost. Immense wealth was lavished upon it; and you do not need that I should try to tell you at what cost the Lord is building up His true sanctuary here among men. The cost of any one of us, if we are indeed living stones, no arithmetic can ever calculate. Again, the temple, of old, was the shrine of God’s indwelling. It was the one place, under the old dispensation of types, now done away with, where God dwelt in visible manifestation amongst his ancient people. We are told that a peculiar light shone between the wings of the cherubim over the ark of the covenant, and from that pillar, which looked like a cloud by day, and flamed like a mighty beacon by night. It was there that men must go, or, at least, to that spot that they must look, if they sought the Lord; and therefore it was that Daniel worshipped and prayed with his windows open towards Jerusalem. At the present time, the one place, in all the world, where God dwells, is His Church. You can find Him anywhere upon the earth as the Creator; but the glory of the Godhead comes out most brilliantly in redemption, for it is of His redeemed people that it is written, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The temple at Jerusalem was also the place of God’s peculiar worship; and where is God worshipped now but in His living Church? The temple at Jerusalem was also the throne of Jehovah’s power. It was out of Zion that He sent forth His rod; and from that sacred shrine that He spoke, by His ancient prophets, the Word that was full of power. Who could stand against Him when He was angry, and spoke in His fury out of His holy place? And Christ’s power, through the Holy Ghost, still goes forth from His Church.
II. Now, secondly, I must speak upon THE EARNEST PRAYER: “Cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary.” And, first, I note that it is a prayer quite free from selfishness. Daniel does not even say to the Lord,” Cause thy face to shine upon me.” Have not you sometimes felt that you could almost forego the light of God’s countenance yourself if He would but bless His Church? Further, Daniel’s prayer was the child of thought. He had thought over the condition of the temple at Jerusalem; and, thinking over it, he had become troubled in hie mind. It was lying desolate, but he knew that there was a promise that it should be rebuilt. He thought over these two things; he let his soul lie a-soak in the truth about God’s sanctuary, and then he prayed. It was also, a prayer which cast itself entirely upon God: “Cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary.” He does not say, “Lord, send more prophets”; or, “Raise up new kings”; or, “Do this or that”; but only, “Cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary.” Oh, that we might learn how to pray so that God should be the subject as well as the object of our supplications! O God, thy Church needs thee above everything else! There was also great faith in this prayer: “Cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary.” Daniel seems to say, “Lord, it scarcely needs thy command, it only wants thee to smile upon thy sanctuary, and all shall be well.” But, Daniel, the temple is all in ruins. “Ah!” saith he, “that is true; but, Lord, cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary.” The face of God is as the sun when it shineth in its strength. The favour of God is not merely something to His Church, but it is everything; the revelation of His love to Hie people is not simply a blessing, but it is all the blessings of the covenant in one. It was, however, a very comprehensive prayer; because, wherever God’s face shines upon His Church, note what happens. First, her walls are rebuilt. Desolations, when God shines upon them, glow into perfection. When the Lord shines upon a church, then its worship will be acceptable unto Him; even the humblest form of it will he acceptable in His sight. Then, too, truth will be proclaimed in all its clearness. We shall not have to complain of the cloudy preaching of which we hear so much nowadays. Then, too, we shall see the beauty of holiness in all the members of God’s spiritual Church. O Lord, cause thy face to shine upon thy Church, that all thy people may walk in the beauty of holiness! Then, also, there will be delightful fellowship. And, then, there will be power in the testimony. With God’s face shining upon His sanctuary, His Word goes forth from His servants with energy and force which none can resist. Join in this prayer. Do it for the Church’s own sake. Join in this prayer also for the world’s sake. If the Church has not the Lord to shine upon her, what is the poor world to do? And, then, for God’s sake, for Christ’s sake, for the Holy Spirit’s sake, for a lifeless church is a dishonour to God.
III. THE CONDUCT THAT IS CONSISTENT WITH THIS PRAYER. Well, first, we shall consider the state of the Church. Some professing Christians do not seem to me as if they ever thought of the Church at all. The next thing for us to do is to lay to heart the evil or the good of Zion. Consider it well, and then he grieved if you see sin triumphant, or error rampant, and do not perceive that the cause of God is advancing in the world. Then, if we begin to think, and begin to care, we shall try to do what we can for God’s Church. It is all very well for a man to pray, but the value of his prayer very much depends upon its sincerity, and that sincerity will be proved by his doing something that will help to answer his own prayer. The little finger would be missed if it were cut off, and there is not a tiny valve near the heart, nor a minute vessel anywhere in the human system, which could he taken away without inflicting an injury upon the whole body. Just so is it in the Church of Christ; we cannot afford to spare any part of the mystical body of Christ. But what use are you for the well-being of your fellow-members? But when we have done all that we can, let us pray much more than we have ever done. Oh! for a praying Church! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Depressed State of the Cause of God Deplored
1. Observe how Daniel deplores the desolations of Zion, and confesses his sins which had caused them. Daniel felt more as a saint for the ruin of the church than as a patriot for the desolations of Judea.
2. Observe how fervently Daniel prays for the restored favour of God to his people, and for the fulfilment of His gracious promises to them. He found in prayer his resource and refuge. Every good man has a steadfast assurance of the efficacy of prayer. This conviction causes them to fly to prayer, and to persevere till they succeed. Note what a prevailing plea Daniel employed--he appeals to God’s own honour, to His own interest in His Church. (A. W. Coggeshall.)
The Christian in Time of National Calamity
1.. What God is here entreated to behold. “Our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name.” However the developments may vary, the principles of God’s administration are, like His nature, immutable. Desolations are still the punishment of iniquity, deliverance is still vouchsafed in answer to prayer. The desolations of Jerusalem, as we are expressly told, were the direct consequence of her sin. Who can deny that the prophet pourtrayed but too faithfully our own metropolis when he said concerning the doomed and devoted city, no longer holy to the Lord--“In thee, have they set light by father and mother; in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the stranger; in thee have they vexed the fatherless and widow; thou hast despised mine holy things, and hast profaned my Sabbaths.” Happily for us, the correspondence is not complete. In Jerusalem the degeneracy was total, the delinquency was universal. But it is not so among ourselves. And if the “effectual fervent prayer of even a single “righteous man availeth much,” how can we doubt that the combined and concurrent supplications of the Church will find entrance into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth?
2. The manner in which we should entreat the Lord. Our special entreaty this day, whether in the house of prayer, in the domestic circle, or in the solitude of the inner chamber, should not only be that of contrite and lowly supplication, but of earnest intercession also. (T. Dale, M.A.)
O Lord, hear.
Answer to Daniel’s Prayer
A believer might say to one who questioned the value of prayer, that God has authourised and commanded him to pray, with the express promise that the prayer of faith, offered up in the name of Christ, shall be heard and answered, and that he can safely leave it with God himself to provide fur the fulfilment of His promise, in perfect consistency with the immutability of His counsels. He is warranted also to maintain that prayer is most deeply concerned in the determination of all the purposes of Cod concerning His people; that every believing supplication that has been, or ever will be offered up, was as much the subject of the Divine foreknowledge as any ether action or event that was to take place in the moral world. The event for which Daniel had been praying, namely, the restoration of their captive brethren to their country and their privileges, had been the subject of many a prediction variously expressed, and of special promises frequently repeated Every circumstance conspired to give him the assurance that the event which he longed for was infallibly secured. Yet he gave himself to prayer, obviously with the conviction that, in order to give efficiency to all the subordinate causes that were conspiring to bring about that deliverance of Judah, there was required an immediate determination of the Divine mind--an act of the will of Him who “speaks and it is done; who commandeth and all things stand fast.” The prayer of the prophet formed an essential part of the plan by which God was graciously pleased to carry His purposes into execution. There was, indeed, suspended on it, so to speak, that act of the Divine will that was to give efficiency to every other agency whereby the desired event was to be brought about. Did we conceive of it as we ought to do--did we know what it is that constitutes the honour, and dignity, and blessedness of our nature, there is nothing in which we should consider ourselves more highly honoured, or more richly privileged, than in being permitted and encouraged to pray. Of the truths of these remarks, we have a very striking and instructive illustration in the passage before us. Of none was it ever more true than of Daniel, that the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Yet, notwithstanding the honourable and distinguished place which had been assigned to Daniel among the servants of God, never did a soul breath its desires under a deeper sense of its own unworthiness than when he “set his face unto the Lord God.” And does not the experience of believers still bear witness to the same truth? Such is the honour which God vouchsafes to put upon His people when He gives them permission to pray; and such is the tendency of that honour to generate a spirit of humility and dependence on the part of those who enjoy it. Whether, therefore, we view prayer as glorifying God, by recognising His supremacy, and resolving our will into His; or whether we regard it as bringing us into that state which is the most salutary for ourselves, we are not without abundant encouragement to avail ourselves of this distinguished privilege. Our text furnishes other considerations calculated to excite us to frequent and earnest and persevering prayer. But the point to which I specially direct attention is the fact here stated by the angel, that at the beginning of Daniel’s supplication the commandment went forth, a fact which places in a very striking light the important place which the prayer of the prophet occupied, among the various means which God was pleased to employ, in effecting the deliverance of Judah. In as far as concerns the condescension of God, and the encouragement which He has given us to pray, our text virtually tells us that the blessing was in readiness--that it waited, so to speak, only to be applied for--and that its actualcommunication was suspended on the supplication of the prophet Nor was this a privilege confined to particular individuals as Daniel, or to special times like those in which he lived. It appears, from the whole tenor of the preceding context, that the immediate object of the prophet’s anxiety and concern was the redemption of his brethren from the bondage of Babylon; that he felt as if it were possible that there might still attach to them so much of their former impenitence and forgetfulness of God as would provoke Him to protract the period of their captivity; and that it would have been, in the prophet’s own estimation, a full and satisfying answer to his prayer had he simply received the assurance that God’s “thoughts toward Judah were still thoughts of peace.” But how exceedingly abundant, above all that he asked or had conceived, was the communication which was made to him in answer to his prayer! We cannot suppose that when he “set his face unto the Lord God” he anticipated the extent of the answer which was vouchsafed to him. If such, then, be the encouragements whereby we are excited to prayer, how shall we think, without humiliation and shame, of the disinclination which we may frequently have felt towards engaging in that holy exercise, and of the formality with which we have so often observed it? The habit of mind--preparedness for prayer--will not be cultivated from a mere sense of duty alone. Prayer is in truth the protection, the safeguard, of the Christian. (R. Gordon,D.D.)
The Power of Prayer
From this remarkable scene we learn several lessons in reference to prayer.
I. THAT PRAYER IS A LEGITIMATE AND EFFECTUAL METHOD OF COMMUNICATION BETWEEN MAN UPON EARTH AND THE WORLD OF SPIRITS.
II. THE RECEPTION AND RECOGNITION OF TRUE PRAYER ARE IMMEDIATE, ALTHOUGH THE ANSWER MAY BE DELAYED. “At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth.”
III. THAT PRAYER SECURES FOR ITS OFFERER THE SERVICE OF THE GREATEST AND MOST EXALTED OF GOD’S SERVANTS.
IV. THAT PRAYER IS A VALUABLE AID IN THE STUDY OF DIVINE THINGS. “I am now come forth to give thee knowledge and understanding.”
V. THAT THE SUCCESS OF PRAYER DEPENDS UPON THE MORAL POSITION THE OFFERER OCCUPIES BEFORE GOD. “For thou art greatly beloved.” (J. H. Morgan.)
Daniel was a man of high birth, of extraordinary talents, of singular tact in the-affairs of government, of strong magnanimity, of great generosity, and of singular sympathy. Three things respecting him are worthy of notice. He was a close theological student.
He was remarkable for his disinterestedness and public spirit. And he was distinguished by a spirit of prayer.
I. THE PROPHET’S OCCUPATION AT THIS TIME. He was secluded from the bustle of business and the turmoil of Society, and engaged in meditation on the things of God, and in communion with his own heart While retirement is necessary on occasions for all men, it is especially necessary for those who are busily employed in the concerns of public life. There are two extremes into which it is possible for us to fall on this subject. There are two devotional employments in which Daniel was occupied.
1. Penitential confession of sin. This was both personal and relative.
2. Intercessory supplication.
II. THE SEASON AT WHICH DANIEL WAS THUS ENGAGED.
1. It was the evening hour.
2. It was a time when he was desiring and expecting a revival of the Church, and the return of the people of God.
III. THE SUCCESS WHICH FOLLOWED DANIEL’S DEVOTIONAL EMPLOYMENT.
1. The promptitude of the bestowment.
2. The messenger who conveyed the intelligence.
3. The nature of the communication which Daniel received through the instrumentality of this Heavenly messenger.
Partly it respected his own personal character. And partly he obtained clearer and much more copious views of the designs of God in reference to a fallen and ruined world. Learn, then, that humble and devotional prayer to God is one of the best means of ensuring clear views as to the prophecies of God, and clear views as to the prosperity of the Church in the latter days. (John Clayton, A.M.)
Even the man Gabriel.
Words of the Angel
Daniel’s history is in every way profoundly interesting, and stands in connection with spiritual phenomena most startling and sublime. These verses are the words of an angel, whose name was Gabriel (the strength of God). Gabriel furnishes this intelligence in obedience to the command of another intelligence of the celestial order, one perhaps of a still higher rank in the angelic hierarchy. Daniel had seen this angel before (Daniel 8:15-27). The object of the present visit was to answer Daniel’s prayer, and that answer we have in the words before us. The following thoughts are suggested by this angelic language in relation to human prayer.
I. THAT THAT GREAT GOD OF THE UNIVERSE IS ATTENTIVE TO THE GENUINE PRAYER OF GOOD MEN. We say genuine prayer, for such is the prayer before as. How intensely earnest it is! How profoundly humble! How thoroughly vicarious! God is never inattentive to such prayer; it always touches His great heart, He never fails to answer it.
II. GOD SOMETIMES ANSWERS TRUE PRAYER BY THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS. When Christ said to Peter, “Thinkest thou not that I could pray to my Father, and he would send me twelve legions of angels,” the doctrine is implied that angels are employed to render Divine relief to the earnest suppliant. Note:
1. This angel dealt with promptitude to the suppliant.
2. This angel dealt with the mind of the suppliant. He assured him of the Divine regard; and he threw light on the subject that pressed on his heart. Three epochs are discovered by interpreters in this passage.
(1) The return of the Jews to their own country.
(2) The advent of Messiah. At the close of this period we are told two things would take place. The departure of the world’s Deliverer; and the advent of the Jew’s destroyer.
(3) The establishment of Messiah’s system upon earth, and the destruction of Jerusalem. Evidently, then, God answers prayer by acting on the mind of the suppliant. This is the true and effective answer to prayer. (Homilist.)
Ministry of Angels in Individual Life
“Some time ago I visited a furniture dealer’s shop in West London. The man was a Jew, and, noticing my clerical dress, he began to talk on religious matters. We had an interesting conversation, and, as I mounted my bicycle and said ‘Goodbye,’ the man called out in Hebrew, ‘Peace be unto thee,’ using the pronoun in plural number. ‘Why did you not use the singular?’ I asked. ‘Who was the other one to whom you were wishing peace?’ ‘Do you not know,’ replied the Jew, ‘I said, Peace be to you, and to the angel over your shoulder.’ All poetry has not gone out of old London--no, not yet!” (G. A. Johnston Ross.)
The Great Spirit-World
We are taken into a world of visions, and trances, and mystical imagery. The East has touched, us with its brooding dreams, with its vast symbolism. We move amid exaltations and hear strange voices. There is a world within a world; there is a life beyond life, and with this we hold communion. It is sketched in shadowy outlines, and peopled by figures that can be known and named. It is not simply gathered up into the all-sufficient name of the Eternal God, but there are mediating presences. There is organisation and rule, there are levels and degrees. This mysterious realm half discloses itself in glimpses that come and go. There is effort and patient purpose slowly worked out to ordained conclusions. There are activities, and principalities, and dominions. It is a host. It is a kingdom. It moves according to law. It has issues far away out of our reach: “The Prince of the Kingdom of Persia withstood me one-and-twenty days, but lo! Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I remained there with the Kings of Persia.” What are we talking about? Who can say? Who can tell what is symbolic and what is real? But in the Book of Daniel these rare presences pass under the control of the sole directive will of the Most High. They are not multiplied indefinitely. They do not fasten the imagination and interest and curiosity upon themselves. They are absorbed in moral acts. They are bent and treated as solemn instruments of spiritual destiny. And it is noticeable how close these presences are kept to man. They are no formless genii, but like unto a son of man. That is the shape that the vision receives. All excess, all exuberance is pruned. There is no fantastic fancy at work letting itself loose in airy and arbitrary imagination. They are not even winged. “One like unto a man touched me,” so runs the text. All through the book we have the insistence on human nature as the typical organ of the Divine manifestation. Man supplies the form through which God can he revealed. So, on this eve of St. Michael and All Angels, we may well reassure ourselves by noting how in our own later days this environing and mysterious life of mediating spirit, into which, the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel introduce us, has once again been brought near to us. We are being made aware again how little conscious and reflective knowledge has covered of the possibilities within which we move. We know how we have tried so hard and so long to isolate the field of known experience, to cut it absolutely off from disturbing elements that have been unexamined. We had set ourselves to secure complete and certain control over that which we have made our own, and to purge thoroughly out of it anything that traversed or perplexed our certified scheme of things. We were to be positive about whatever we did know, however much might be outside which we did not know. That was our old agnostic programme. What we did not know was to be left out of account in dealing with what we did know. And that is the programme which has been broken down. The facts have been too much for it. No such isolation is conceivable. In and out of the life that we can cover with our rationalised experience, there are influences, forces, powers, which are for ever playing and passing, which belong to a world beyond our scientific methods. We float in a mysterious ether to which no physical limitations apply. Sounds, motions transmit themselves through this medium, under conditions which transform our whole idea of what space or time may mean. Again and again through and beyond this semi-physical mystery, a world of spiritual activity opens upon us. It has capacities of which we have never dreamed; it allows of apparent contact of spirit with spirit, in spite of material distance and physical obstruction. Communications pass between those who are separated, without visible or tangible mediation. There are modes of communion which are utterly unintelligible to our ordinary scientific assumptions, yet which actual experience tends more and more to verify. If we would see the vision of the prophet we must be able to pray the prophet’s prayer. And what a prayer it is! It is one of the greatest of those prayers which gave the final form to the Jewish ideal of Supplication, and which has passed for ever in type into the Christian liturgy. As in some of the Psalms, as in the great prayer attributed to Solomon at the opening of the temple, so here it would seem as if it was impossible for man’s outpourings to take a finer or purer form. The whole secret of the Jew speaks in that prayer; his constant sense that God’s good purpose for him never fails, even when the darkest evil falls upon him, for still it is that judgment, a judgment that leads on to forgiveness and to restoration. Nothing will break his belief in the faithful fatherhood which smites only in order that men may seek Him afresh. “Therefore,” he cries, “hath the Lord watched over the evil and brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all His works.” Yet may it be not our prayer unto Him that we might turn from our iniquities and understand the truth? So he confesses. And still, he says, the old covenant stands, the pledge given to the fathers. Back to that, as to an unfailing assurance. He turns to appeal. “And now, O Lord our God Thou hast brought Thy people forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and has gotten them renown, as at this day. We have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, according to all Thy righteousness I beseech Thee let Thy anger and Thy fury be turned away from Thy city Jerusalem, from Thy holy mountain. O my God, incline Thine ear and hear. Open Thine eyes and behold our desolation, and the city which is called by Thy name, for we do not present out supplications before Thee for our own righteousness, but out of Thy great mercy. O Lord hear; O Lord forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for Thine own sake, O my God, for Thy city and Thy people that are called by Thy name.” There is the prayer, a prayer in which there is highest and purest intensity, and to such a prayer as, that in its passionate pleading the vision comes, the Presence is felt, the mystery discloses itself. The man Gabriel flies swiftly and touches him at the hour of the evening oblation. I repeat, in order to know what those visions meant, we must be first found so praying. And you will note that it is not for himself, but for his people, the prophet raised that prayer. He had understood, he tells us what was meant by the old prophecy of Jeremiah over the desolations of Jerusalem. It is the public sin for which he sets himself, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes, to pray unto his God. It is the national restoration of the Holy Mount for which he lifts his supplications. In view of that terrible desolation he can but turn to prayer. Can we look out over our Jerusalem as he looked out over it of old, and not turn with something of his poignant grief, with something of his burning shame, to do as he did when he set his face unto the Lord God and made his confession, saying, “O my God, incline Thy ear and hear; open Thine eyes and behold our desolation; O Lord hear, O Lord forgive, O Lord hearken and do; defer not for Thine own sake, O my God, for Thy city and for Thy people who are called by Thy name.” Pray as he prayed, Pray as he did, in the spirit of contrition and patience, for the indignities which are brought upon the Church of God. Pray in the heart of a great hope, as he did in the prophetic fashion of a victory which shall yet be won. Pray long, and hard, and humbly; it is our power of intercession and supplication that is now so weak. (H. S. Holland.)
At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth.
The Dawn of Revival, or Prayer Speedily Answered
Prayer is useful in a thousand ways. It is spiritually what the old physicians sought after naturally, namely, a catholicon--a remedy of universal application. There is no case of need, distress, or dilemma, in which prayer will not be found to be a very present help. In the case before us Daniel had been studying the book of Jeremiah, and had learned that God would accomplish seventy weeks in the desolation of Jerusalem, but he felt that there was still more to be learned, and he set his face to learn it. His was a noble and acute mind, and with all its energies he sought to pry into the prophetic meaning; but he did not rely upon his own judgment; he betook himself at once to prayer. Prayer is that great key which opens mysteries. To whom should we go for an explanation if we cannot understand a writing, but to the author of the book? Daniel appealed at once to the Great Author, in whose hand Jeremiah had been the pen. In lonely retirement the prophet knelt upon his knees, and cried unto God that he would open up to him the mystery of the prophecy, that he might know the fall meaning of the seventy weeks, and what God intended to do at the end thereof, and how He would have His people behave themselves to obtain deliverance from their captivity. Daniel made his suit unto the Lord to unloose the seals and open the volume of the hook, and he was heard and favoured with the knowledge which he might have sought for in vain by any other mean. The particular point in the text to which I would direct your attention is that Daniel’s prayer was answered at once, while he was yet speaking, ay, and at the beginning of his supplication. It is not always so. Prayer sometimes tarrieth like a petitioner at the gate until the king cometh forth to fill her bosom with the blessings which she seeketh. The Lord when He hath given great faith, has been known to try it by long delayings. If it pleases Him to bid our patience exercise itself, shall He not do as He wills with His own? Beggars must not be choosers either as to time, place, or form, We must not take delays in prayer for denial; God’s long-dated hills will be punctually honoured; we must not suffer Satan to shake our confidence in the God of truth by pointing to our unanswered prayers. However, in the case of Daniel, the man greatly beloved, there was no waiting at all. In Daniel’s case the promise was true, “Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.” The man Gabriel was made to fly very swiftly, as though even the flight of an angel was hardly swift enough for God’s mercy. Oh, how fast the mercy of God travels, and how long his anger lingers! “Fly,” said He, “bright spirit, try thine utmost power of wing! Descend to my waiting servant and fulfil his desire.”
I. First, have we any REASONS TO EXPECT THAT AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF OUR SUPPLICATIONS THE COMMANDMENT OF MERCY WILL COME FORTH? Rest assured that we have, if we are found in the same posture as Daniel, for God acts towards His servants by a fixed rule. Let self-examination be now in vigilant exercise while we compare ourselves with the successful prophet. God will hear His people at the commencement of their prayers if the condition of the supplicant be fitted for it. The nature of such fitness we may gather from the state of Daniel’s mind and the mode of his procedure. Upon this our first noteworthy observation is, that Daniel was determined to obtain the blessing which he was seeking. Note carefully the expression which he has used in the third verse--“I set my face unto the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplication.” That setting of the face is expressive of resolute purpose, firm determination, undivided attention, fixed resolute perseverance. “I set my face towards the Lord.” We never do anything in this world until we set our faces thoroughly to it. The warriors who win battles are those who are resolved to conquer or die. The merchants who prosper in this world are those who do their business with all their hearts, and watch for wealth with eagerness. The half-hearted man is nowhere in the race of life; he is usually contemptible in the sight of others, and a misery to himself. If a thing be worth doing, it is worth doing well; and if it be not worth doing thoroughly, wise men let it alone. Especially is this a truth in the spiritual life. Wonders are not done for God and for the truth by men upon their beds asleep, or out of their beds, but still asleep. A man if he would do anything for God for the truth, for the cross of Christ, must set his face and with the whole force of his will resolve to serve his God. The soldier of Christ must set his face like a flint against all opposition, and at the same moment set his face towards the Lord with the attentive eye of the handmaiden looking towards her mistress. This was the first proof that God might safely give Daniel the blessing at once, for the prophet’s heart was fixed in immutable resolve, and there was no turning him from the point. Next, Daniel felt deeply the misery of the people for whom he pleaded. Read that expression, a under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem.” The condition of that city, lying in ruins, her inhabitants captive, her choicest sons banished to, the ends of the earth, afflicted him very sorely. He had not a light superficial acquaintance with the sorrows of his people, but his inmost heart was embittered with the wormwood and the gall of their cup. If God intends to give us souls he will prepare us for the honour by causing us to feel the deep ruin of our fellow-creatures. In the next place, Daniel was ready to receive the blessing, because he felt deeply his own unworthiness of it. I do not know that even the fifty-first Psalm is more penitential than the chapter which contains our text. Read the chapter, and note how he humbly acknowledges sins of commission, sins of omission, and especially sins against the warnings of God’s word and the entreaties of God’s servants. Let us confess our unworthiness, our coldness, and deadness, and lethargy, and wanderings of heart, and the backsliding of many among us, and then, having confessed our faults, we may expect that at the very commencement God will visit us. When the vessel is empty, Heaven’s fountain will fill it; when the ground is dried and chapped, and begins to open her mouth with thirst, down shall come the rain to make fat the soil. But again, we have not exhausted the points in Daniel which deserve our imitation; you will notice that Daniel had a clear conviction of God’s power to help his people in their distress, his lively sense of Divine power being based upon what God had done in the olden time. One is interested to note in the history of the Jews, how in every dark and stormy hour their minds reverted to one particular point in their history! Just as the Greek would remember Thermopylae and Marathon, and feel his eyes sparkle and every sinew grow strong at the thought of the heroic day when his fathers slew the Persians, and broke the yoke of the great king, so with nobler emotions, because more Heavenly, the Israelite always thought of the Red Sea, and what the Lord did to Egypt when He divided the waters, and they stood upright as a heap, that His people might pass through. Daniel in the prayer says, “Thou hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day.” He lays hold upon that deed of ancient prowess, and pleads in effect after this fashion: “Thou canst do the like, O God, and glorify thy name anew, and send deliverance to thy people.” We worship the God who loves His chosen now even as He did of old. But once more, the most apparent point about Daniel’s prayer is his peculiar earnestness. To multiply expressions such as “ O Lord! O Lord! O Lord!” may not always be right. There may be much sin in such repetitions, amounting to taking God’s name in vain. But it is not so with Daniel. His repetitious are forced from the depths of his soul, “O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hearken and do!” These are the fiery volcanic eruptions of a soul on fire, heaving terribly. It is just the man’s soul wanting vent. No prayer is at all likely to bring down an immediate answer if it be not a fervent prayer. We must get rid of the icicles that hang about our lips. We must ask the Lord to thaw the ice-caves of our soul and to make our hearts like a furnace of firs heated seven times hotter. Thus much upon that first reason. We may expect a speedy answer to prayer when the condition of the suppliant is as God would have it. Secondly, I believe we have every reason to expect a blessing when we consider the mercy itself. That which we as a church are seeking is, if I understand your hearts and my own, just this: we want to see our own personal piety deepened and revived, and we want to see sinners saved. Well, is not that in itself so good a thing that we may expect the giver of every good and perfect gift to give it to us? What we ask is for God’s glory. We are not seeking a boon which may glorify us or may exalt some one of our fellow-men. We crave not victory for the arms of a warrior; we ask not success for the researches of a philosopher. Thirdly, there is another thing which encourages me, namely, the nature of the relations which exist between God and us. Is not that a choice word, “O man greatly beloved”? “Yes,” you will perhaps say, “it is easy to understand why God should send so swift an answer to Daniel, because he was a man greatly beloved.” Ah! has your unbelief made you forget that you are greatly beloved too? Who will refuse to ask when such encouragements are suggested to our, minds?
II. If we are to gain the blessing at the commencement, IN WHAT FORM SHOULD WE PREFER TO HAVE IT? Could I have my heart’s desire, I would crave a blessing for every one of you. I was turning over in my mind how early and sweet a blessing it would be if the Lord would give us to-day some conversions. But make no tarrying, O our God! Make haste our Beloved. “Be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether,” for Thy name’s sake. Amen. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For thou art greatly beloved.
A Man Greatly Beloved
Daniel was alike eminent as a prophet of the Lord and as a man of piety and goodness. His piety was enlightened, decided, and persevering. He had, doubtless, his infirmities; but nothing is alleged against him.
I. THE EXALTED CHARACTER OF DANIEL.
1. The inflexible constancy with which he adhered to the service of Jehovah. No honours could win him from his allegiance to the true God; no dangers could deter him from openly maintaining and professing the true religion.
2. He was s man of prayer. Such firm and determined adherence to true religion as his could be kept alive only by regular and intimate intercourse with Heaven. He prayed frequently. He prayed in a right spirit--this is seen in his just views of God; in his deep humiliation before God; and in the earnestness of his pleadings.
3. He was eminently faithful in discharging the duties of his exalted station. The insidious acts of designing men could not impeach his integrity, or darken the lustre of his character. This fidelity and honesty in his office were indeed the natural effects of his eminent piety. Religion is the only sure foundation for the regular and faithful performance of the duties of our office and station in society. Principles of honour, and prudence, and self-interest properly understood, will often go far in leading to fidelity in secular trusts; but religious principles will enable men to resist greater temptations, and be more uniformly and perfectly upright than any inferior motive. If our religion has not a similar influence upon us, to that his religion exerted on Daniel, it is vain and insincere. Faith in God necessarily leads to right conduct towards mankind.
4. Daniel was distinguished by the pious and patriotic interest which he took in the welfare of his countrymen. Every Jew, indeed, had something of this feeling. In a particular manner, however, were these the sentiments and feelings of Daniel. His views on national matters were of a more enlightened and spiritual character than those of his countrymen in general. He saw that the glory of God and the interests of true religion were intimately connected with the re-establishment of Israel. This made him so peculiarly ardent in the cause of his people, and led him to use all the influence of his exalted station, and all the might or power which he possessed with God, that Zion might no longer be a desolation. Patriotism is a feeling honourable to the character. But how is that feeling hallowed and exalted when we feel that, with the prosperity of our country, the glory of God and the everlasting interests of mankind are most intimately connected.
II. THE HIGH PRIVILEGE OF DANIEL.
1. He was greatly beloved of God. All the people of God, indeed, are the subjects of His affection. But, in addition to this, He bears to everyone of them a love of complacency founded on the amiable and holy qualities with which they are endowed by the Spirit of grace. No privilege is more amazing than that with which Daniel was favoured. Gabriel was despatched from Heaven with an ample answer to his prayer, and a pointed assurance that he was a special favourite of Heaven.
2. Daniel was greatly beloved of men. It is natural to us to desire the esteem and friendship of men, and the gratification of that desire is, in no slight degree, conducive both to our usefulness and our happiness. And this did Daniel enjoy in no ordinary measure. Then
(1) Imitate the conduct and character of Daniel. Like him, be steadfast in the faith. Like him, be men of prayer. Like him, discharge with fidelity the duties of your station. Like him, be solicitous for the good of the Israel of God.
(2) Remember that, if you resemble Daniel in character, you shall also be like him in privilege. You shall be in favour with God and man. (James Kirkwood.)
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people.
Shutting, Sealing, and Covering: or, Messiah’s Glorious Work
The Lord God appointed a set time for the coming of His Son into the world; nothing was left to chance. Infinite wisdom dictated the hour at which the Messiah should be born, and the moment at which he should be cut off. Note, again, that the Lord told His people somewhat darkly, but still with a fair measure of clearness, when the Christ would come. Thus he cheered them when the heavy clouds of woe hung over their path. This prophecy shone like a star in the midst of the sorrows of Israel; so bright was it that at the period when Christ came there was a general expectation of Him. The first advent of our Lord is spoken of in our text as ordained to be ere the seventy weeks were finished, and the city should be destroyed; and so it was even as the prophet had spoken.
I. First, LET US SURVEY THE MESSIAH’S WORK. The first work of our Lord Jesus Christ is the overthrow of evil, and it is thus described--“To finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity.” But our Lord’s labour is not all spent upon down-pulling work; He comes to build up, and His second work is the setting up of righteousness in the world, described again by three sentences: “To bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” The first work of the Messiah is the overthrow of evil. This overthrow of evil is described by three words. If I were to give you a literal translation from the Hebrew I might read the passage thus: “To shut up the transgression, to seal up sin, and to cover up iniquity.” According to learned men, those are the words which are here used, and the three put together are a singularly complete description off the putting away of sin. First, it is “shut up”; it is, as it were, taken prisoner, and confined in a cell; the door is fastened, and it is held in durance; it is out of sight; held to a narrow range: unable to exercise the power it once possessed. In a word, it is , restrained”--so the margin of our Bibles reads it. The Hebrew word signifies to hold back, to hold in, to arrest, to keep in prison, to shut in or shut up. Its dominion is finished, for sin itself is bound. Christ has led captivity captive. But it is not enough to shut up the vanquished tyrant, unless he be shut up for ever; end, therefore, lest there should be any possibility of his breaking loose again, the next sentence is, “To seal up.” The uses of the seal are many, but here it is employed for certainty of custody. Thus is sin placed doubly out of sight; it is shut up and sealed up, as a document put into a case and then sealed down. “Finished” and “made an end of” are the two words used in our authorised version, and they give the essence of the meaning. To borrow a figure--Arabi, the Egyptian rebel, is shut up as our prisoner, and his defeat is sealed, therefore his rebellion is finished and an end is made of it. Even thus is it with transgression; our Lord has vanquished evil, and certified the same under the hand and seal of the Omnipotent, and therefore we may with rapture hear Him say, “It is finished,” and also behold Him rise from the dead to seal our justification. Yet, as if this might not suffice, the next term in the Hebrew is “to cover up”; for the word to make reconciliation or expiation is usually in the Hebrew to cover over. “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Christ has come to cover sin, to atone for it, and so to hide it. The two former sentences speak of finishing transgression and making an end of sin, and these expressions are full and complete, while this third one explains the means by which the work is done, namely, by an expiation which covers up every trace of sin. Thus in the three together we have a picture of the utter extinction of sin both as to its guilt and its power, ay, and its very existence; it is put into the dungeon and the door is shut upon it; after this the door is sealed and then it is covered up, so that the place of sin’s sepulchre cannot be seen any more for ever. Observe that the terms for sin are left in an absolute form. It is said, “to finish transgression,” “to make an end of sins,” “to make reconciliation for iniquity.” Whose transgression is this? Whose sins are these? It is not said. There is no word employed to set out the persons for Whom atonement is made, as is done in verses like these--“Christ loved the church and gave himself for it”; “I lay down my life for the sheep.” The mass of evil is left unlabelled, that any penitent sinner may look to the Messiah and find in Him the remover of sin. What transgression is finished? Transgression of every kind. The Messiah came to wipe out and utterly destroy sin, and this is, and will he, the effect of His work. Put all the three sentences into one and this is the sum of them. I take the sentences separately and press each cluster by itself. And first notice that it is said He came to finish the transgression. As some understand it, our Lord came that in His death transgression might reach its highest development, and sign its own condemnation. Sin reached its finis, its ultimatum, its climax, in the murder of the Son of God. It could not proceed further; the course of malice could no further go. Now hath sin finished itself, and now hath Jesus come to finish it. “Thus far,” saith He, “thou shalt go, but no further; here in my wounds and death shall thy proud waves be stayed.” The huge leviathan of evil has met its match, and is placed under the power of the Avenger. Thus saith the Lord, “Behold, I will put my hook in thy nose and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee by the way by which thou earnest.” The Lord hath set bounds to the transgression which aforetime broke all bounds. Where sin abounded, grace doth much more abound. Sin is shut up that grace may have liberty. Now take the second sentence, which in our version is, “To make an end of sin.” Messiah has come to proclaim so free, so rich, so gracious a pardon to the sons of men that when they receive it sin virtually ceases to he; it is made an end of. But the Hebrew has it “to seal up sins.” Now I take it to mean just this. There are certain handwritings which are against us, and they would be produced against us in court, but by the order of the judge all these handwritings are sealed up, and regarded as out of sight; no man dare break the seal, and no man can read them unless the seal be broken; therefore they will never be brought against us. They have become virtually null and void. Everything that can be brought as an accusation against God’s people is now sealed up and put out of the way once for all, never to be opened and laid to their charge before the living God. Or, if you regard sin as a captive prisoner, you must now see that by Christ’s death the prison wherein sin lies is so sealed that the enemy can never come forth again in its ancient power. But now, the last expression is in English, He hath come “to make reconciliation for iniquity”; that is, to end the strife between God and man by a glorious reconciliation, a making again of peace between these twain; so that God loveth man, and, as a consequence, man loveth God. In the blessed atonement of Christ, God and man meet at a chosen meeting-place. Now, take the Hebrew for it, and read the sentence thus--to cover iniquity. Oh, what bliss this is; to think that sin is now once for all covered! I fail to describe this triumphant overthrow of sin and Satan. I have neither wisdom nor language answerable to such a theme. I invite you now to consider the second work, namely, the setting up of righteousness. This is set before us in three expressions; first, in the words “to bring in everlasting righteousness.” And what is that? Why, his own righteousness which is from everlasting to everlasting. Happy are those spirits to whom Christ gives an everlasting righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom and in it they shall shine forth as the sun. Next, in order to the setting up of a kingdom of righteousness He is come that He may “seal up vision and prophecy.” That is, by fulfilling all the visions and the prophecies of the Old Testament in Himself, He ends both prophecy and vision. He seals up visions and prophecies so that they shall no more be seen or spoken; they are closed, and no man can add to them; and therefore--and that is the point to note--the gospel is for ever settled, to remain eternally the same. Christ has set up a kingdom that shall never he moved. His truth can never be changed by any novel revelation. There always was something better yet to come in all times till Christ arrived; but after the best there cometh none. This, then, is an essential part of the setting up of that which is good--namely, to settle truth on a fixed basis, whereon we may stand steadfast, immovable. The candles are snuffed out because the day itself looks out from the windows of Heaven. Then, as if this were not enough, He is also come to anoint the Most Holy, or the Holy of holies, as you may read it And what means this? Nothing material, for the Holy of holies, the place into which the High Priest went of old is demolished, and the veil is rent. The most holy place is now the person of the Lord Jesus Christ; He was anointed that God might dwell in Him. Together with Christ the Holy of holies is now His Church, and that Church was anointed or dedicated when the Holy Ghost fell at Pentecost, to be with us, and to abide in us for ever. That was a noble part of the setting up of the great kingdom of righteousness, when tongues of fire descended and sat upon each of the disciples, and they began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Heaven rings with the praises of the Messiah who came to destroy the work of sin, and to set up the kingdom of righteous-hess in the midst of the world.
II. LET US NOW ENQUIRE AS TO OUR PARTICIPATION IN THESE TWO WORKS. First, Christ has come into the world to do all this good work, but has He done it for us? There is a general aspect to the atonement, but there is quite as surely a special object in it. The first question that is to help you to answer that enquiry is this--Is your sin shut up as to its power? “Sin shall not have dominion over you” if Christ is in you. How is it between your soul and evil? Is there war or peace? The next question arising out of the text is, Is your sin sealed up as to its condemning power? Have you ever felt the power of the Holy Spirit in your soul, saying to you, “Go in peace; thy sins which are many, are all forgiven thee”? “There is no peace saith my God, to the wicked.” There is no peace to any of us till Christ hath made an end of our sin. How is it with your hearts? And next, is your sin covered as to its appearance before God? Has the Lord Jesus Christ made such an expiation for your sin that it no longer glares in the presence of the Most High, but you can come unto God without dread? Further, let me question you about the next point. Has the Lord Jesus Christ made you righteous? Do you glory in His blood and righteousness, and do you now seek after that which is pure and holy? Furthermore, are the prophecies and visions sealed up as to you? Are they fulfilled in you? When God declares that He will wash us and make us whiter than snow, is it so with you? When He declares that He will cleanse our blood, which has not yet been cleansed, is it so with you? Nor is this all; are you anointed to be most holy to the Lord? Are you set apart that you may serve Him?
III. Lastly, THE RESULTS OF PARTICIPATING IN ALL THIS. The results! They are, first of all, security. How can that man be lost whose transgression is finished, and whose sin has ceased to be? What is there for him to dread on earth, in Heaven, or in hell? And now, inasmuch as you are secure, you are also reconciled to God, and made to delight in Him. God is your friend, and you are one of the friends of God. Rejoice in that hallowed friendship, and live in the assurance of it. But now, suppose when I put the question, you had to shake your head and say, “No, it is not so with me.” Then hear these few sentences. If the Messiah has not done this for you, then your sin will be finished in another way--sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. An awful death awaits you--death unto God, and purity and joy. If Christ has never made an end of your sin, then mark this, your sin will soon make an end of you, and all your hopes, your pleasures, your boasting, your peace will perish. Has not Christ reconciled you? Then mark this, your enmity will increase. Have you never had the righteousness of Christ brought in? Then mark this, your unrighteousness will last for ever. One of these days God will say, “He that is unholy, let him be unholy still; he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” Are not the prophecies fulfilled in you, the prophecies of mercy? Then listen. The prophecies of woe will be written large across your history. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God.” Lastly, will you never be anointed to be most holy? Then remember, holiness and you will stand at a distance for ever, and to be far off from holiness must necessarily be to be far off from Heaven and happiness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A general summary of what those seventy-sevens are to see accomplished is the first thing explained by the angel. If we ask for what these periods are thus divided out, we here get the answer.
1. “To consummate transgression”--finish it, bring it to its final stopping-point, after which there will be no more of it.
2. “To make an end of sins”--seal them up, shut them in prison, so as never to break forth again.
3. “To cover iniquity”--expiate it by adequate satisfaction, blot it out, hide it for ever.
4. “To bring in everlasting righteousness”--put man in normal relations with God, set human life into thorough accord with Jehovah’s will and law, induce a condition of moral rectitude, which thenceforward shall never again be interrupted, but endure for all the ages.
5. “To seal vision and prophet”--authenticate and vindicate by fulfilment, make good and finish out in fact and deed all that God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
6. “To anoint”--consecrate, put into place and effectiveness--a “holiness of holinesses,” which is the literal sense of the words in this last clause. It can refer to nothing less than the completed outcome of the redemptive administrations as a whole--the ultimate result and crown of grace and providence, of which all the prophets speak. Everything promised, prophesied, or ever to be hoped for Israel is thus summed up in what these seventy-seven years are to bring. (Joseph, A. Seiss, D.D.)
God’s Set Times
This text was an answer to a prayer--one of the warmest, humblest, and most earnest prayers that was ever offered up. In answer, the angel told Daniel of the time when the Son of God was to come down, and of all the blessed things He was to do for man’s salvation.
1. As to the time. Seventy weeks. Punctually the Lord came.
2. See the description of what He was to do. His name is expressive, “Most holy.” His qualification is “anointed and consecrated,” What was His undertaking? Something He came to do away with. “Finish the transgression, and make an end of sin.” And to make reconciliation for iniquity.” Jesus not only does away with the guilt of the sins which men have committed, but He breaks sin’s power in them for the time to come. See what He comes to do. “To bring everlasting righteousness.” He “sealed up the vision and the prophecy” by bringing it to pass. Reflections.
(1) What a respect does the Lord Show to a humble and a contrite supplicant.
(2) How punctual is the Lord; how faithful to His own set time!
(3) What a glorious event for man was the first coming of the Lord Jesus. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
And to bring in everlasting righteousness.
An Everlasting Righteousness
1. What we are to understand by the word “righteousness.” Some would say “moral honesty,” doing justice between man and man. It likewise signifies inward holiness, wrought in us by the Spirit of God. I think the word here used means “imputed righteousness.” When Christ’s righteousness is spoken of, we are to understand Christ’s obedience and death; all that Christ has done and suffered for an elect world--for all that will believe on Him. It might be called a blessed righteousness, a glorious righteousness, an invaluable righteousness; the angel here calls it an “everlasting righteousness.”
2. On what account is it called an “everlasting righteousness”?
(1) Because it was intended by God to extend to mankind even from eternity. From all the ages of eternity God had thoughts of us.
(2) Because the efficacy of Christ’s death took place immediately upon Adam’s fall. Christianity in one sense is as old as the creation.
(3) Because the efficacy of it is to continue till time shall be no more.
(4) Because the benefit of it is to endure to everlasting life. Those whom God justifies, them He also glorifies.
3. What are we to understand by Christ’s bringing this righteousness in?
(1) Our Lord’s promulgating and proclaiming it to the world. It was brought in under the law, but then under types and shadows, Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.
(2) Jesus brought in this righteousness, as He wrought it out for sinners upon the cross.
(3) The expression also implies Christ’s bringing it, by His blessed Spirit, into poor believers’ hearts. “An unapplied Christ is no Christ at all.” Are there any here that can go along with me on this doctrine? (G. Whitefield, A.M.)
Even in troublous times.
The Wall Built in Troublous Times
Jerusalem was a type of the Church of God; and as the former was built “in troublous times,” so is the latter.
I. THIS IS TRUE OF INDIVIDUALS. This world is the house of discipline in which Christians are broken to the Divine service by severe management. There are seasons which in a peculiar sense are “troublous times.” And it is in such seasons more than any other that they grow in grace, and thus prepare to carry up the walls of the Heavenly Jerusalem, or to enlarge the Church triumphant. Their choicest experiences are obtained, and their selected graces are acquired, in times of trouble. Afflictions are the rod which chastises them to duty--the furnace in which the gold is purified from the dross.
II. THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM GENERALLY ARE BUILT UP IN TROUBLOUS TIMES. In such times the greatest advances have been made in the interests of the Church. Illustrate from the history of the Church from the time when the foundation was laid in the promise of the woman’s seed. To the civilised world at large these are troublous times. While the enemy are vapouring and raging; while, leagued against all morality and religion, they are bearing away the ancient landmarks of society; while the apostles of infidelity are fast proselyting the world, and a third part of men are gone after Baal--even in such times the walls of Jerusalem are rising. Things are likely to continue the same in our day. Let not troublous times stagger the faith of Christians. Let us not be terrified “as though some strange thing happened to us.” We have company enough in these matter. From the days of Adam all the saints have had to encounter similar trials. (E. D. Griffin, D.D.)
The Church Built up in Trouble
It was a feeble and a broken remnant which wound its weary way out of Babylon to rebuild the city d their fathers and the Temple of their God. Long captivity had wrought its sure work upon the people. They had been “mingled with the heathen, and learned their ways.” They were so slow to build the Temple that the threatening voices of Haggai and Zechariah hardly stirred them to the work by every entreaty and menace and judgment. With such mingled materials, the Tirshatha and the priest had a great work to do. Though the king’s edict was clear, and his favour undoubted, the Jews had many enemies, and they fierce, strong, unscrupulous. Slander, falsehood, and violence, open attacks and secret wiles, must all be repelled. Yet all difficulties were overcome. “The street was built again, and the wall,” though the times were troublous. The Temple of God did arise out of its ashes. Why was this result only to be attained through these difficulties? These are some of the reasons. By their being thus tried a provision was made by which, amongst, those who undertook his work, the true-hearted might be sifted from the false and hollow. For though at last the will of God must be done by all, by good and bad, the obedient and the disobedient, by saints and reprobates, by angels and devils; yet to do consciously and rejoicingly His will, this is the blessing only of the faithful. And not only were the good severed from the bad, by the difficulties with which they had to struggle, but in the several hearts of the faithful, this same work was being wrought.
A sifting was going on in their moral nature; a parting of the precious from the vile. And this trial of their faith drove them to God in their work. What is all this which we have traced out, but the universal law under which the Church of Christ is placed. From first to last this is its history. It is built up, but in troublous times. How plain is this feature in its earliest history! What was the earthly life of our blessed Master but a service under trial? With what tribulation and, suffering were the foundations of the Church laid. Since the apostles’ time this has been the law of the Church. They who at any time have done great things in it have been trained and exercised in manifold sufferings, inward and outward. Thus only can the Church be purged. Thus only can the work be done within God’s servants. The countersign of sanctified affliction should be on the Church; the patient waiting, the burnished arms, the earnest prayer, the united hearts, the untiring watchfulness, the deep humility, the prevailing intercessions, the unwearied labours, the godly jealousy, of those who hold fast to God amidst a self-choosing, and, therefore, a gainsaying generation. There is for each one of us, as separate members of Christ, the self-same voice. Here is the secret of our inmost life. To hold on amidst discouragements--to lift up to God, a face often wet by tears, and soiled by mourning--to know outward trials and inward--to be tempted, buffeted, yea, above all, betrayed! This is our life. Hardly, and after many a struggle, does the evil depart from us. The building goes on slowly--with arms in our hands--amidst reproaches--with watching unto prayer. Let us seek to know this for ourselves in very deed. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
Shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself.
“Cut off, but not for Himself”
The Messiah here mentioned is the great and only God, who, in reference to His office as the anointed Saviour, was called Messiah, and also Christ. He is said to be “cut off, but not for Himself.” His being “cut off” denotes His being made a sacrifice. His being “cut off,” but “not for Himself,” implies His being made a sacrifice for us--that is, as our substitute. In no other way can justice be appeased; in noother way can sins be forgiven. The expression implies that He died as a sacrifice for the general good, and as a vicarious sacrifice. Christ died to make an atonement for our sins; and without that atonement we could never have been saved. (W. Durham.)
For the Sake of Others
On the side of some mighty tower you may see often a fragile rod. The rod saves the tower. It directs the vague, all-destroying electric flame of which the stormy air is full harmlessly into the earth. Such a lightning-rod is every righteous man to the city or class in which he lives. His one desire is to win some wondrous good for his fellow-men. That is what Christ did for all the world, and we are true Christians in as far as we are consciously trying to do for others the work of Christ. We cannot at the best do much we have only one life, one second that is in God’s eternity to do it in, but that becomes majestic when it is regarded as part of one mighty whole. (Dean Farrar.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Daniel 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26