Saturday, June 10th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Parker's The People's Bible Parker's The People's Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Daniel 6". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jpb/ daniel-6.html. 1885-95.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Daniel 6". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
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The Promotion of Daniel
"Of whom Daniel was first." That is the explanation of all that follows. Do not let us lose ourselves in the details of a story which has entranced us since our childhood. When we began to hear the story we did not listen to such words as these "Of whom Daniel was first"; we were then taken up with the lions, the den, the night spent in great trouble and danger: now we have had time to look away to reasons, to first thoughts, to beginnings and causes. Here we find the story in one sentence "Of whom Daniel was first." Not only first in some chronological sense, or in some mechanical sense, but first altogether, obviously, dominantly first; everybody knowing it, although some owned it with bated breath. "This Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes." The word "preferred" scarcely brings out all the meaning: substitute for it the better term "outshone"; then we read, "This Daniel outshone the presidents and princes." There was more light in him than in any of them; he was a man of divine genius; he was characterised by what we commonly express by the term "inspiration"; when he spoke there was wisdom in his speech; there was no hesitation, no spirit of doubt or controversy underlying what he said; all his words seemed to come from an infinite height, and to belong to the eternal reality and fitness of things. If other men spoke first they were sorry they ever opened their lips upon the subject when Daniel declared his judgment; he simply eclipsed them all, put them into comparative darkness; his words were light: his syllables were flashes of glory. He will have to pay for this.
All primacy has to be paid for. Do not understand that men go forward to any possessions they please up banks of glory, slopes of flowers, fancy work written in imaginary paradises. A Burmese student has lately been contesting with European claimants and candidates, and he has taken everything before him. He said the other day, "Everything is possible here to a man who works." That is an old English word. What a rebuke to those who do not toil! If the Burmese student so successful had used a long word, how many thousands of English youths would have found that long word a grand opening for a thousand excuses! But he explained his position by a very simple term, that term being none other than the good old English term "works." His primacy was paid for. Some men pay for it by work, and others pay for it by work and suffering too. There is no spirit so cruel as the spirit of jealousy; and yet men ought to compel themselves to fight that spirit every day in the week. That is a fine theological training; that is a noble spiritual education. A brother has been applauded; do not put your fingers in your ears, but listen to the applause: how it rises, swells, multiplies; and not one cheer of all the tumultuous acclamation is for you, but for him: hear it; pray yourself out of the unworthy feeling that dislikes it. That will do you good all the days of your life. If you can pray yourself into an answering Amen, mayhap you may come to join the gracious tumult, and do so not to be seen of men, but to express the emotion and the appreciation of a healthy heart. Go where your rivals are praised; read the criticisms that lift them up into larger public light and notoriety: do not scan the criticisms, and say reluctantly and half-whisperingly that you did see something of them; get them by heart: they will be bitter in the mouth, but they will sweeten as they descend; get them well into you; fight the devil on his own ground; be glad that you are not first. These are the lessons that come to us from the history of jealousy; we recognise them, we repeat them word for word: but do we repeat them as a recitation, or pronounce them as a testimony and a faith? Sometimes we think how good a thing it must be to be the outshining Daniel. It is, and it is not; everything depends upon other circumstances and elements than the mere outshining.
Men have to pay for all exaltation; a sense of responsibility comes with it where it is honest and worthy, and men do not ascend to the primary positions instantly, but gradually, and as they ascend they become accustomed to the air, so that when they do reach the throne it seems as if they had but a step to take from the common earth to the great altitude. Thus we are trained, graduated, perfected, not by suddenness, abruptness, not by any vulgarity of government, but by that fine shading and graduation which is all but imperceptible, and which only makes itself known in all the fulness of its reality and value when we are prepared to accept the throne, the crown, the sceptre, humbly, modestly. How could Daniel bear all this exaltation? Because it was nothing to him. He had been in prayer. The man who prays three times a day, really prays, whose window opens upon heaven, cannot receive any honour; he cannot be flattered. If Darius had asked him to take the throne it would have been but a trifle to Daniel. A man who has been closeted with God cannot be befooled by earthly baubles and temporal vanities. It is with these things as with miracles. We have often had occasion to say that miracles may be approached from one of two points. Everything depends upon the point of origin chosen by the mind for the purpose of travelling towards the miracles. A man travels towards them from the earth, from limitations that are patent and oppressive, from observations that are narrow and cloudy and few in number; and he says when he struggles up the hill of difficulty, It is impossible that miracles, that these miracles, can ever have occurred. Another man descends upon them, comes out of the sanctuary of the invisible where he has been long with God, and when he comes upon what are termed the miracles he reads them as commonplaces, wonders at their smallness, takes God's own estimate of them, and sees in a penitent heart, a praying soul, a mightier miracle than can be seen in any department of nature, controlled, regulated, by a higher law, and directed to unsuspected and unimagined uses. So with this greatness of such men as Daniel; it is not greatness to them: it is but a new responsibility, another opportunity for doing good, a larger opening for higher usefulness. The man should always be greater than his office; the author should always be greater than his book; the picture should be nothing compared with the picture the artist wanted to paint. The musician does well to set aside his thousand-voiced organ because it is useless when he wants to express the ineffable. If we prayed aright, if we loved God truly, then all honours would be accepted with an easy condescension, and every gift and recognition and promotion would be used with modesty, and every honour given by men would not be despised, but would be used to the promotion of the highest ends of being. It is thus the Daniels of the world sit upon their thrones; verily, they sit upon them; they use them, they are mere temporary conveniences and symbols to them; the real king is intellectual, spiritual, moral, sympathetic, invisible, divine. It is useless for us to wish to be what Daniel was; we shall be what Daniel was, and where he was, when we have the same qualifications. The universe is not being built by an unskilled carpenter; it is being constructed I mean that inward and spiritual universe of which all other universes are but the scaffolding by a divine Builder; and he will not put the top stone in the foundation, or the foundation stone in the pinnacle; he will put us just where we ought to be. Daniel and Paul, Peter and John, the seraph all flame, the cherub all contemplation, each will have his place. O foolish soul, do not build thyself into God's wall; let the Builder handle thee, and be glad that thou hast any place in the spiritual masonry.
What was it that accounted for Daniel's primacy, Daniel's influence? The explanation is given in some words that should be remembered "because an excellent spirit was in him." Define the word "excellent" by all its possible meanings; for the occasion will take upon itself all that is dignified in intellect, all that is tender in moral feeling, all that is noble in spiritual and moral judgment. The spirit that was in Daniel was "excellent" genial, tender, sympathetic, quite large in its capacity, holding within its magnanimity all sorts and conditions of men, seeing something good in the worst of them. Anybody can see infirmities; the dullest eye may detect a cripple: it requires an eye quickened and strengthened by divinest ministries to see good or the soul of good in things evil. Sometimes men require but the warmth of fraternal recognition to blossom into quite other men. What flower can grow under frowning clouds, and what flower does not struggle to grow when the sun is doing all he can with the little root? So Daniel made an empire within an empire; he developed men who before were unrecognised; to come near him was to come into the sunshine; to hear him was to hear music; men did not grow less in his presence, but greater, not weaker, but stronger; and they felt that all his primacy was held in trusteeship, and that whatever good he could do to others he would do, and thus multiply himself not by selfishness, but by beneficence the true multiplication, the right royal road to ultimate and permanent coronation.
What will an excellent spirit do for a man? Read the history of Daniel, and find the answer. Daniel was a captive; when does he complain of his captivity? His spirit is free, his soul is not in bonds, and therefore it becomes of little consequence where his body is. Does he whine and moan about his captivity? Is the groan always in his throat? Is the frown upon his dejected countenance? If you would find real joy, healthy gladness, look at Daniel. He lives in the unseen: he endures as seeing the invisible; he goes right up to heaven to find answers to the enigmas of dream and vision, and he comes back from heaven's throne with replies to human necessity. He who is spiritually minded thinks nothing of little local bodily captivity. Some people are all complaints; you never hear one cheerful word from them. They would die if they were cheerful; they would die of amazement, they would be so frightened at themselves if ever they were caught singing anything gladsome that they would expire on the spot Their only hope is in the indulgence of their infirmity. An excellent spirit is not in them, the spirit of youthfulness, the spirit of hopefulness, the Christian spirit. One man who had this spirit in abundance said, "Yea, and we glory exceedingly in tribulations also." That was triumph; that was the power of Christ. An excellent spirit raises men to supremacy, and other men are glad when they are so raised, for they know the more wealth they have, the more the poor will have; the wiser they are, the better directed will be the whole nation.
Yet here we come upon words we gladly would have omitted from the history "Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom." They tested his policy at every point; they pressed all their weight down upon the policy and purpose of Daniel in things imperial; but that policy bare all the burden "They could find none occasion nor fault, forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him." Then what should they have said? They ought to have said thus: Any religion that will make a man so faithful, so trusty, so real, and so beneficent, is a good religion, though we cannot explain it, and though we never heard of it before. Christianity would not hesitate to say that of heathenism. If heathenism can make men not only honourable, true, faithful, industrious which it may have done but if it can make them spiritual, holy, if it can give them such a sense of triumph over death as not to accept it as a fate or as an annihilation or an absorption into the sum total, if it can make them look upon death with the eyes of victors, saying to death, Where is thy sting? to the grave, Where is thy victory? if it can translate men from time into eternity, not to be forgotten, but to be developed in endless progress, Christianity would say so, it would recognise the miracle; it might even say, There is no further occasion for me to be here, for all my work has been anticipated and accomplished by an enlightened paganism. But Christianity has not found that to be the case. Christianity acknowledges all your Platos and all your moralists, but it says, This is not vital; it is not sufficient; it does not go to the root and core of things; the attitude is artistic, the manner is excellent, the calculation is admirable, but there is no regeneration of the soul in all the process; and that is what Christianity has come to do: to create men anew in Christ Jesus. The pagans therefore should have said, A religion that keeps Daniel so right in his action and policy must be a good religion, although we cannot understand its metaphysics, and although it is opposed in deadly hostility to all our Babylonian and Chaldean conceptions and imaginings. Why not reason so in modern civilisation? Here the Christian has great opportunity for doing good; he may not be able to explain the metaphysics of his Christianity, but what a chance he has for verifying its morality! And to morality the whole thing must come at some point or other. A man can never be so transcendently pious as to take out a licence to be wicked. If you are not correct in your accounts you cannot be correct in your prayers. Your piety is a mistake and a farce if it be not upheld and elucidated with dazzling illustration by your behaviour. Men then in some instances will be constrained to say that a piety which expresses itself in such conduct must be good. Through your morality men may come into God's own sanctuary; through your noble behaviour men may begin to inquire about the Cross which accounts for it: that is your chance. The penetration which belongs to metaphysical reasoning you may not possess; the power which inheres in expository and hortatory eloquence may not be your gift; but the humblest, youngest, simplest man may show what his Christianity has done for him by his industry, his punctuality, his faithfulness, his obedience, his reliableness in all circumstances, his ability to bear the test of every analysis and every pressure. So thus we may form ourselves, by the grace of God, into a great body of witnesses, each in his own way explaining the divine kingdom, and accounting for the holiest conduct in human life.
What was to be done? Daniel must be killed. Paganism has no other way of treating its enemies; heathenism must get its enemies out of the way: they must be poisoned, they must be imprisoned, they must be dashed from great heights, they must be thrown to lions, they must be burned with fire. That is the vulgar process of paganism. We know the story: the poor king Pilate before the time, the Old Testament Pilate was inveigled into signing something that appealed to his vanity. He was quite willing to be God for a month; it lay within the scope of Oriental vanity to be God for thirty days; a lunar month or a calendar month either would do for a man who was asked to be vice-president of the universe, and do what he liked. "Wherefore King Darius signed the writing and the decree." Daniel knew all about it, and when the writing was signed he went into his house and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. Some men you cannot write down. Kings cannot put them down; decrees cannot kill their patriotism; and even votes of Parliament cannot turn aside the noble enthusiasm of a pure purpose. Parliament has locked up all kinds of Daniels; kings have signed all sorts of decrees against praying people; persons who were eccentric, erratic, insane, have been sent to prison, have had all their goods sold in the market-place, have been branded, have been disabled by the cutting off of limbs, have had their ears wrung, their eyes gouged out, their tongues cut out of their mouths, and still they have given thanks before God as they did aforetime. Nothing was injured but the apparatus; it was only the mechanical part that was at all brought into infirmity and suffering: "Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do"; they cannot kill the soul: while the soul is alive the man is alive. Men have prayed in prison; men have turned dungeons into churches; ay, fissured rocks, caverns given over to the sovereignty of night, have heard music that has been denied to loftiest cathedral arch, music that only martyrs, hunted men, could utter. A happy, healthy man who has all he wants cannot sing like a soul that is in trouble; in its muffled music there is a pathos that pleases God.
Daniel's answer was what our answer ought always to be he went on praying. That is the only answer that God asks from us. When the Bible is attacked, publish another edition of two million copies. Oh, spare the Cross the patronage of another "defence" in the form of an elaborate and unintelligible book. When men question the reality, utility, practicability, of prayer, pray on; do not rise from your knees to conduct a debate, nothing comes from such a process. When men ask if the Cross is true in all its highest suggestions, answer by uncomplaining endurance, by patience, by forgiveness, by magnanimity. When people ask if it is possible for sin to be pardoned, because they have got some idea of all things abiding as they were under a severe reign of continuity, prove it by your spirit, by releasing the enemy who has done you most injury, by praying on the very Cross itself. It may be when they hear, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," that that prayer may do more for their conversion than all the abstract and metaphysical theology that is symbolised by the Cross itself. It is on the Cross men pray their mightiest prayers; it is on the Cross we learn what God is by feeling first the hunger created by his absence; it is on the Cross that men see the finishing of divine purpose on one side and the beginning of divine purpose on the other.
When men ask if the history of Daniel is literally true, what is their reason for asking it? It must be a frivolous one. That the history of Daniel is true has been proved every day since Daniel lived. There is nothing in the mere thing itself if it be not repeated in all history, repronounced and confirmed by all succeeding ages. To-day primacy brings jealousy; today "an excellent spirit" wins its way in society at great expense and by incurring great penalty; today men are seeking to put down praying souls and to break down all spiritual religion: it is so ghostly, so interior, so subjective in its operations, and then expresses itself in such broad and graphic moralities; and today the true Daniel-spirit regards the king's decree when it interferes with matters religious as a dead letter. Let the king say, "Pray," heed him not; he has no right so to command: if he exhort, listen to him; if he command, despise him, and pray on; if he say, "Do not pray," open all your windows Jerusalemward, and cry unto the Lord with a mighty heart-cry, and let the king's decree be burned. This spiritual religion is a divine gift; it is not under human decrees or royal patronage or imperial direction; it is a question of the soul, of the conscience, the judgment, the moral imagination; it belongs to the internal man: let every man be persuaded in his own mind. We owe our security, as we owe our tranquillity, to the Daniels of preceding ages; other men laboured, and we are entering into their labours. Let us not forget "the dead but sceptred monarchs, who still rule our spirits from their urns." Civilisation was never wrought out by delicate, sensitive, self-preserving persons, who never gave any offence; the highest civilisation has been wrought out and secured again and again by men who have turned the world upside down revolutionary souls, children of flame, enthusiasts, persons who were accounted by a cold world as beside themselves. Thus was Paul characterised; thus was Christ characterised: "He hath a devil," said the people; "why hear ye him? he worketh by Beelzebub; he is the prince of the evil powers." If they have done these things to the Lord they will not spare the servant. What we need now for one little space is persecution. We have things too much our own way. We open the church in the middle of the day now. Thirty days' wandering in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, might take some of the polish off our piety; but it would add inexpressibly to its energy.
Daniel In the Den
We have seen in what position Darius was placed by the scheming men whose case we have perused: "The king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself." That was good, but it was too late. Is it possible for reflection to come too late in life? Do some men knock at the door when it cannot be opened? What a mystery is this above all mysteries: that men reasoning, reflective, gifted men should thus play the fool! If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness; if the reasoner that is in thee have taken to this folly, how profound, yea, possibly how incurable is this insanity! What is it that has fallen within us some little outside work, some squares of the trellis-work up which the vines climb? No, no; the fall as we feel it, not as we are taught it; for teach a man anything, and he can contradict you, or argue against you, or fee himself to lie against you, but the fall as we feel it is a total fall. We have all gone together: reason, imagination, conscience, will, understanding, judgment describe the attributes and qualities of the mind as you will, yet there is the felt fact that we are the subjects of an awful apostasy. Would it were only taught to us in reading books! How then we could speak against it with vehemence, which, if lacking in argument, would be tremendous in impertinence. But it is in the heart; if our heart condemn us, why do we allow a perverted reason to indulge the licence of a loose tongue, and aggravate our fall by large effusions of impious senselessness? Let us take care lest our reflection come too late, lest our displeasure do but add to the agony felt in consequence of our sin. Hear the voice of nature, reason, experience, history, which calls us to halt, and think, and pray, and go home to tell in tears what we cannot tell in words.
The men who stood before Darius had, unfortunately for themselves, a case:
"Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed" ( Dan 6:15 ).
What is God always doing? Setting law aside. That seems strange. Certainly, God must be strange. God's government must be immeasurable in its inner thought, in its outward relation; it must be under his hand; it must lie well within the sweep of his omnipotence. Why does God set law aside? For man's sake. Law could never turn aside from the punishment of sin; the law must have its pound of flesh. Law is stern, resolute, implacable. Certainly; it must be so. Law could never accommodate itself. If this universe were wholly a question of what we understand by law, forgiveness would be impossible. The man sinned; all the laws possible to our imagination cannot alter that fact. There is the stain; there is the wound; there is the black spot on the disc of ineffable purity: what hands may touch it, remove it? what catharism can cleanse with effectual detergency that black sin? Then comes into operation what we understand by the gospel. We cannot explain it, but God has put a new word into human speech; he has so used the word himself that we have become familiar with it; now we talk right eloquently about pardon, forgiveness, forgetfulness; now we speak of the miracle of God taking up our sin and casting it behind him. Law never did that. Herein is love, the greater law, the law that goes where mere statute and precept can never enter. A mystery, certainly; of all mysteries the Cross is the culmination and the clouded glory. Let us never understand that the gospel is simple in the sense of having in it nothing profound, philosophical, rational, going deeper than all known philosophy and reason, and opening up a new kingdom of thought and a new universe of moral possibility. The gospel is simple in that a child can begin to take hold of it, but it is like its Origin and Author, infinite, eternal, requiring all the summer day of heaven to understand its beginning. When we see persons so very anxious about law we are partly surprised and superficially interested. They do not know what the law is in all the fulness of its meaning, and in all the possibilities of its application. That God could turn round and face a inner with tears in the divine eyes is the impossibility of thought, but he did it. This is the gospel. Once wounded, insulted, dishonoured, disobeyed, what has law for man but that God should turn his back upon him and go externally from him? But there is a heart in the universe; there is a Father-Mother looking over all things, handling and directing all things, leaving doors open that prodigals may come home again in the dead of night, and making proposals that the veriest sinners may accept, and accepting may themselves live again. It is because we are lost in this thought that we begin to feel its possible reality and truthfulness. When we can measure God we shall no longer adore him; to know him without knowing him touches, inspires, sanctifies our reverence.
How had Daniel lived? He had so lived as to make a very distinct impression upon the minds of those who had observed him, and he had so lived as to give a marvellous impression respecting his religion: "Now the king spake and said unto Daniel," with a choking voice, more man than king, more mother than father "Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee." A beautiful sight when a heathen stands on tiptoe and just sees the dawn of the gospel throughout, just beholds the eyelids of the morning, the morning that comes with full explanations and great deliverances, the gospel that uses law and elevates upon it as upon a pedestal the evangel of God! How Daniel must have lived so to impress Darius! Up to this time Daniel has been more than chief of the magicians even in the heathen imagination; he has displayed "an excellent spirit"; there has been moral beauty, there has been moral earnestness, in the man not seen in other persons; Daniel has acquired a ghostly influence. Any mastery that you can explain you may outlive; any preaching that you can account for is poor preaching; any influence that has a beginning and an ending, a measurable and estimable quality and value, is a dying influence. Only the spirit lives; only the spiritual is the immortal. Daniel had so lived as to exert a ghostly influence upon the conscience and imagination and whole feeling of the people. They could not understand him. Nor was he a young man; yet he was getting younger as the years increased. There is no old age possible on earth to the good man. Such a man gets younger; he is nearing the morning; he is just about to wake. Old age! shall we call threescore years and ten old? The tree in the forest laughs at the foolish suggestion. Is a man a hundred years old? He is an old man, but he is a young being. If we live and move and have our being in God, we grow God ward, youth ward, summerward; always throwing off some old self, and rising into some new manhood, and realising some larger inheritance. This is the spirit and this the power of true religion in the soul. Darius had no doubt about Daniel's faith. We do not know what Darius said except in the letter; we should have heard how he said it, with what pathos and unction, how now he turned preacher and exhorted Daniel, as if with pre-Christian comfort, to hold himself steadfastly in God, for the lions of the forest were but the creatures of his power. It is touching to hear a heathen man's first prayer. He will not be very grammatical or precise, formal, or distinguished by coinciding with precedent; yet what praying it is! What life it takes out with it! The whole heart throbs in every syllable. What beautiful preaching is the first preaching of a heathen man as we have it here! "Thy God whom thou servest" "servest continually"; why, he has hit all the thoughts: he has got hold of the case as it was in its reality. "Thy God": personal God; as if all thine; for so God treats each man, as if he were an only child, and lavishes his love upon him. "Whom thou servest," "servest continually": here is service, obedience, faithfulness, steadfastness, continuity, persistence, perseverance; a service without distraction, flaw, hesitation; a concentrated worship.
What will the upshot be? Deliverance. Darius saw the working of that law. Truly man cannot serve God for nought. When Peter told the Lord that he had "left all" to follow him, such a torrent fell upon Peter as drowned him altogether and never did he appear so pitiable a spectacle as when that deluge fell upon him: "Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life." How Peter's poor "all" was lost in that cataract like a tiny pebble! He never mentioned the subject again. Blessed is he who makes a fool of himself only once. What impression are we making upon the heathen, upon observers, upon the Dariuses who are looking at us? Do they expect us to be delivered, honoured, crowned? Or are we so full of doubts and hesitations and controversies, and so busy resolutionising ourselves into orthodoxy, that the world cares nothing about us and thinks we might be poor picking even for the lions? What impression are we making as to our Christian faith? Do worldly people say, "You cannot hurt these Christians: if you smite them on the one cheek they turn the other; if you pour contempt upon their prayers they only pray more vehemently; and if for a moment they seem to be forsaken by their God he quickly follows up the forsakenness with everlasting kindness: you cannot hurt them, you cannot stop them, you cannot hunger them into submission; it is not in the power of thirst to make them cease their prayer; when the throat is dried up and they have no more power of speech, they will look the agony of their trust, and God will answer them as if they had spoken to him many words"? The Daniels of today are poor creatures. They are anxious about their orthodoxy; would walk miles to declare themselves orthodox; would not for the world sit next to an Agnostic, even in an omnibus, if they knew it: but what are they in spiritual regnancy, supreme force, real influence upon the world? Let us take the question to heart and wrestle with it when we have most power in prayer.
So Daniel's fate came upon him, and there was a point at which there was nothing between him and destruction but God. It is well to be shut up with God and to God. Men begin to pray when the rock closes in upon them, and they can see no pathway through it or over it. Then the rock becomes an altar, and when the eyes are closed in prayer, a door is opened, and the rock becomes a highway. Have we been shut up to God? Have we ever been so poor that we had not one morsel of bread for the next hunger fit? Many Christians have been in that fix. But the bread has come. Have we ever been closeted with a supremely loved one after all the physicians have gone home, and there has been nothing between us and the last wrestle but God? Even when we have failed in that controversy, so far as physical relationship is concerned, there has stolen into the heart a consciousness of triumph, and we have stood over the dead dear one more than conqueror. To have been conqueror was good; but who could explain the words "more than conqueror"? as if a thousand victories gathered themselves around the head like a divinely fashioned diadem! These are mysteries which we know of, to which we could testify, but which perhaps are sometimes at least better hidden in the heart, as fruit to eat in winter, as water to drink in desert lands.
When the king saw what happened he was "exceeding glad" for Daniel. He was glad that his mistake had proved itself to be such; that a mischievous plot had come to nothing. We know the meaning of this action in our own souls. We have lived to thank God that he turned a deaf ear to some prayers. We have had as much occasion to bless God for his denials as for his concessions and benefactions. We have lived to thank God that sometimes our best programme has been burned to ashes, and our strongest policy has been turned to confusion. Once we thought we could not do without it. God knew that we only wanted time in order to see the case in its proper lights and bearings, and then we should come back to him and say, Bless thee, loving Father, for saying "No" to us; if thou hadst given us our way at that time thou wouldst have slain us; we thank thee with full hearts that we did not go to that city, that we did not get our own policy assured to us as we desired it to be; we cannot thank thee sufficiently that thou didst forbid us to go down the brink to pluck that tempting flower: we never should have returned again. Let us be quiet, patient, hopeful, trustful. It is very bitter at first not to have one's own way; everything seems so simple, clear, reasonable: why should we not be permitted to realise our pleasure? We cannot tell; we wait; and in a year or two we come back to say, God's love was shown in God's denial.
A wonderful chapter is all this. Here you have the power of numbers on the one side, and the power of one man on the other; you see on the one hand the power of anger, on the other hand the power of holiness: here you see God known through a man. God comes to be known as the "God of Daniel." From the beginning he has incarnated himself in definite personalities. He was the God of Moses, the God of Hezekiah, the God of Daniel far better than if we had found here endless polysyllables, as God eternal, infinite, majestic, immortal, immutable; we might have lost ourselves in that grandeur: but when we read of the God of Daniel we realise an incarnation before the time.
What was it that was asked of Daniel? That he would suspend his prayers for thirty days. Why not do it for so short a time? Thirty days would soon be over; then the people would be foiled, the law would be kept, the king would be preserved from doing a very cruel deed, and Daniel would be glorified in the sight of the kingdom. Only thirty days! It is so we reason now. Only a signature, only a compromise, only a word; it may be spoken by the lips, and not by the heart: only a vow, modified and weakened by a mental reservation. Of such an "only" Daniel knew nothing; he was simple, frank, straightforward, honest through and through, because holy. Thirty days without prayer! Nay, say thirty days without sight, without hearing, without food, without friendship, without communication with the outer world; let all these combine in one agonising deprivation, and they do not touch the good man's meaning when he thinks of not speaking to God for thirty days. Why not have spoken to him in secret? Because religion has a public aspect as well as a secret phase and relation. Why not have closed the windows that looked towards Jerusalem and walked abroad and prayed in heart, looked a heathen and been a true worshipper? Because frankness, truthfulness, can have only one policy and one purpose; it cannot double itself, or so modify itself as to destroy its distinctive and immediate effect and influence. Daniel must pray as it were in form, by the appointed way. There are persons now who think they can be Christians at home; they need not go to church; they say they can read the Bible at home, and I say they cannot. The Bible is a book that is made to be read in public as well as in private. There are some portions you can never touch the meaning of till you read them in the great congregation; then by a touch human and divine the whole thing comes up before us in the amplitude, glory, and mystery of its meaning. There are those who think they can pray at home. They can only pray a little there; the great prayer is in the congregation, in the fellowship of prayer, in the communion of saints, in the realisation of the household of faith. Prayer at home we must have; reading at home we cannot do without; but the public aspect of these things is as important as the private. Daniel therefore must have his windows open. He must make his testimony and his declaration very simple and clear. If you are trying to win the worldling's applause by not going to church, but praying a good deal in secret, you are playing the fool; you are trying to do what is impossible to be done. You have no right to look a worldling, you have no title to exclude yourself from your Father's house: he does not call upon you to make for yourselves a hole in the rock where you will be hidden and unknown; he asks you to come to his holy mount; he loves to see his hosts gathered together; and over all voices there comes one sweet appeal, fit for Sabbath morning: "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, for ye belong to one another." All voices are required to make up the one voice, all tones to constitute the complete music. Do not give up your forms, your altars, your manner of testimony; abide by them, and God, who ruleth all, will accept the altar you have built accept it by burning it with his own fire.
Almighty God, when thou dost ask us great questions we can only answer, Thou knowest. Thou dost train us by asking us questions; thou dost challenge us, and there is no answer in our mind; we fall down before God and say, Thou knowest. We cannot follow the way of the Lord; as the heaven is high above the earth, so is the Lord's way above our way, and the Lord's thought above our thought. We will therefore stand before God, and say, Thou knowest; thy will be done: the Lord reigneth. We have come to thank thee for all thy succour and love; we have come to thank thee in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. We have all things and abound if we have Christ; there is no want to them that have the Cross. To that, Cross do thou bring our love in willing and adoring consent; may it be the inspiration of our life, the object of our manhood, by which we are known; may we live in its spirit; may we exemplify its purpose. We have come to kiss the hand that has given us all we have. Thou openest thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. There is no complaint in thy universe where there is obedience; there is no want to them that fear thee. Thou hast many ways in which thou dost sustain all life: it is not for us to say it must be so, or thus, or otherwise; it is for us to say, God's will be done. We cannot say this but for the grace of God; we know the words, but we cannot utter their spirit unless the Holy Ghost dwell within us. Good is the will of the Lord; hard is the will of the Lord; inscrutable is the will of the Lord: yet thou hast taught us to say willingly and lovingly, The will of the Lord be done. Hear us in our various pleas, petitions, thanksgivings, and adorations. Thou hast made us one, yet thou hast made us variously; behold us in our varied unity, in our united variety, and come to each as each may be able to receive thee. To some come as a light, for they have sat long in darkness, and they have brooded sorely in the night of desolation. Come to others like the summer in all its plentifulness, for they have suffered famine; they have not known sufficiency; they have desired to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, but their eyes have long been holden. Come to the churchyard of all and raise the dead; we would not that thou shouldst raise them in body, but that we should have them in our love evermore, a bright vision in the memory, a tender object in all the outgoing of the heart's deepest solicitude. The Lord look upon us in all our relations, and bless us according to our necessity. We pray always for broken hearts; there are broken hearts under laughter that is assumed; there are shattered lives that never tell the story of their ruin; there are souls that long for God, but dare not say so in the hearing of men. Thou knowest our ambitions, our plans, our purposes, and our desires; if it be for our soul's good, frustrate them all and burn them with unquenchable fire. Create in us thine own purpose, thou Holy Spirit; fashion us to thine own will, and use us to thine own ends. Take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us; show them all, show them every day; they will be above the brightness of the sun in their glory, and at night-time they will put out all the stars. Blessed be the Christ of God, our Saviour and our hope; to him we give ourselves day by day; to him we would live, for him we would serve, and him we would see when this mortal shall put on immortality. Amen.