Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
comely to declare the signs and the wonders that God Most High for me hath wrought (ver. 2 amended translation). The history of the king's insanity is told, not by the Prophet Daniel, but in a state paper, under the hand of the king, and quoted by the prophet. The edict is true to human nature and to the king's character. The following motives may have influenced him:
2. Conscience. It was right to admit sin and to recount its judgments.
3. A certain complacency in being the object of Divine dealing.
4. A self-respectful independence of the opinion of the crowd.
From the text occasion may be taken to discourse on the propriety of recounting the Lord's dealings with ourselves.
I. THE RECOUNTING should be marked by the following characteristics.
1. The subject-matter should be of public concern. The facts should either be already public, or such as may with propriety be made public property. There are deep things of the human spirit, which, to recount, would be good neither for ourselves nor for others. In Nebuchadnezzar's case, the facts were notorious, though it rested with him to exhibit them in a Divine light.
2. The audience may then be one whole circle. The largeness of our circle depends in part on our social elevation. The higher our standing, the larger the number who know us. Not entirely our social elevation; for much will depend on our moral elevation. Thomas Wright, the prison philanthropist; Levi Coffin, who was "the underground railway" by which slaves passed from misery to Canada, - were names known all over the world. All who had any knowledge of the king were to hear what the Lord had done for his soul (see ver. 1).
3. The tone should be kindest. "The royal style which Nebuchadnezzar makes use of has nothing in it of pomp or fancy; but is plain, short, and unaffected, 'Nebuchadnezzar the king."
4. Integrity should pervade the recital. It should constitute one whole. God's rebukes, as well as his favours, should come into our account, even though humiliating to ourselves, if the good of others and the glory of God demand it. Some striking instances of such recital of sins and the Father's chastisement, will be found in the narrative of his early life by George Muller, in 'The Lord's Dealings.'
5. The motive should be God. Certainly not our own glory - not self, nor others, save subordinately.
II. THE PROPRIETY OF IT. Such a recounting of Divine dealing with us is:
1. Good for ourselves. In the case of the king, he was led
(1) to admire the Divine acts;
(2) to infer the Divine rule.
2. Salutary for others.
3. Conducive to the Divine glory and the extension of the Divine kingdom. - R.
this great disadvantage, viz. that their minds are singularly impervious to appeals from God. A drawback this which more than counterweighs all their privilege.
I. GOD'S BEST GIFTS ARE OFTEN CONVEYED TO MEN THROUGH PAINFUL CHANNELS, God "causeth his sun to shine on the evil and the good. He sendeth rain on just and unjust alike." So with earthly riches, honour, rank, lame. These gifts betoken no special favour of the Highest. They are of so little worth that God gives them in abundance to his foes. But his best gifts are obtained only through penitence, self-denial, suffering - both vicarious and personal. Job's wealth came, at the first, almost as an accident, and it exposed him to the envy and malice of Satan. If he had lived and died in his luxurious ease, the world would never have heard of him. But suffering wrought in him patience, submission, and faith. This was wealth which entered into his character, and abides with him still. The poor kingdoms of earth may be gained by the accident of birth, or by the mere chances of diabolic war; but the everlasting kingdom can only be reached through soul-tribulation. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered."
II. GOD'S BEST GIFTS ARE INTENDED TO REVEAL HIMSELF TO THE SOUL. These gifts, when rightly estimated, are prodigies of skill and mirrors of Divine love. If God may be seen in his material works, he can be yet more clearly seen in his gracious gifts to men. Every one of these is a love-token, bearing on it the impression of his heart. Nebuchadnezzar had been wont to think that his royal good fortune was the highest good he possessed; but now he is led into the dark school of suffering, and made to learn his folly. Now he learns that God's gifts of mind, reason, memory, speech, are far nobler than royal dignities, and that for the creation and preservation of these he is indebted to the God of heaven. Further, he is made to learn that there is a higher King than himself, and that to know and love God is the loftiest good of man. Jesus Christ is God's best Gift to man, because he reveals to us the Father. Let us value most those blessings which bring us nearest to God!
III. GOD'S BEST GIFTS ARE INTENDED TO BEAUTIFY CHARACTER. Nebuchadnezzar's wealth, power, conquests, had brought no real good to the man; nay, they had done him harm. They had corrupted the better principles of his soul. They had made him self-sufficient, proud, tyrannical. But now, in a season of mental suffering, God's grace had touched his heart. In that humiliated state, the king learns his dependence on God, his need of Divine help, and the homage due to the supreme Jehovah. His pride is abated. His love of the world is diminished. He is constrained to give unto God his due. He is made another man. His inmost character has been benefited. He is more indebted to temporary insanity than to all his successful wars.
IV. THE BEST GIFTS OF GOD DEMAND PUBLIC ACKNOWLEDGMENT. There was the greatest propriety that the Chaldean king should proclaim to the world his obligations to God. He had been placed under weighty indebtedness, and could show his gratitude in no other way than by declaring to the world his obligation. Often had he made proclamations and edicts to propagate his own will and pleasure; it was fitting that he should now act as a dependent, as a herald of the great King. What better form - what other form - can gratitude assume, than publishing our obligations to the world? We can do no good to God in return for his kindness; we may do good to our fellow-men. If gratitude be genuine it will be publicly acknowledged. Honest recipients of blessing will say, "Come, ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul." - D.
individual as in man collective. To guide our thoughts, especially in its practical applications, it will be well, then, to keep distinctly before us the concept man, and also that other - the nation. The applications will then be rich and manifold. A striking illustration of the greatness of a nation is to be found in the slow growth and present position of Great Britain. That tree has indeed "reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth." The pre-eminence of the Anglo-Saxon race, including now the people of the United States, is a still grander illustration. Another hint - that we may not lose ourselves in the grandiloquent and miss the practical, observe that greatness is, after all, only relative, that all humanity is as nothing compared with the majesty of the Eternal. A workman may be relatively great in the workshop; a child in the school; therefore there is no limit to the applications of the subject. Apply it to the low levels of common life, as well as to the highest,
I. HUMAN GREATNESS - IN ITS RISE. Observe:
1. Its dependence. The tree and the man are alike in this - in being living things. Now, life at first is from God; and is ever sustained by effluence from him. The tone of the king (ver. 30) was that of moral madness (see also ver. 17).
2. Its growth. The tree from its tiny seed. The law of man's life is that he must grow. The tendency of man (both individual and collective) is to growth. He ought to be so indefinitely. The man that ceases to grow at forty or fifty, mentally, morally, is dead. The young, aspiring spirit is to be retained to life's last hour. Looked at on the reverse side, no greatness is instantly attained. Neither man nor nation vaults into the throne of moral eminence. Wait, but actively wait, not passively, as the child, of mere circumstance.
3. Its majesty. The tree majestic. Man majestic. So a nation. Let not false humility preach otherwise. The grander our conceptions of man, the higher our adoration of his Maker. Even sin cannot hide the original grandeur. A temple, albeit in ruins.
4. Its loneliness. Eminence ever lonely. The spires above the city. The snow-domes above the lower mountain ranges. As man rises, he retains, or he should retain, sympathy with all below; but he himself rises into a region where the lower sympathies do not follow him (see Robertson on 'The Loneliness of Christ;' and. Dr. Caird on Isaiah 63:3, in volume of ' Sermons').
5. Its conspicuousness. The tree was seen from every part of the far horizon. The more eminent man or nation, the more the observed of all observers. The attendant responsibility, therefore - virtue more influential, vice more pestilential.
6. Its use. (Ver. 12.) Literal pressing of the figure here impossible. Keep to the commanding central thought, that human greatness must not have self for its object. The eminence of man is for beneficence. We live for others, and in so doing find our richest life. One might be tempted to say that in this we contrast with God; but not so. All things, indeed, flow in upon God as their object, but only that he may again give himself, in the grandeur of his love, to the universe.
II. IN ITS DECLINE. Note:
1. The failure. In the dream-parable of the tree, nothing is said of the failure; but look at the man, Nebuchadnezzar. To appreciate his usual delinquency we must take account of the extraordinary character of his public works; the aim, pitilessly pursued, of his own aggrandizement; the consequent sacrifice of the wealth, labour, comfort, happiness, and lives of his people. (See 'Daniel, Statesman and Prophet,' R.T.S., pp. 119-121, 126, 127.) The eminence of the great king was not for use and benediction.
2. The judgment.
(1) Its time. In the very height of the king's prosperity. "I was at rest in my house, and green in my palace" (ver. 4). We do not know the exact date, but we know the time in relation to the rest of the king's life. At rest in domestic relations; no serious solicitude about public affairs; conquests achieved; great buildings finished.
(2) Its cause. Insist on the truth that the doom of men and nations is morally conditioned. Illustrations are more than abundant in modern life.
(3) Its source. Observe: the "watchers" here are not necessarily angels; for they are not objectively real, but subjective in the dream. Still, they point to a reality in heaven.
(a) Intelligence there. The watcher intellectually was characterized by a large, piercing, sleepless eye.
(b) Holiness. This the moral characteristic. "A holy one."
(c) Arbitrament there.
(d) Power there. "Cried aloud." The execution certain (ver. 17).
3. The decay. (Ver. 15.) Compare parables of the talent and of the pound.
III. IN ITS RESTORATION. Observe:
1. The subject remains. The man indestructible (ver. 15). The moral possibilities abide.
2. The conditions of restoration.
(1) The reawakening of the consciousness of God. (Ver. 34.)
(3) Bearing practical fruit. (Ver. 27.)
(4) The conditions accepted on the ground of Christ's atonement.
The atonement, so far as its efficacy goes, is a perpetual fact. The Lamb has been "slain from the foundation of the world." Knowledge of the atonement not absolutely necessary to those blessed by it. It stands as an objective ground, justifying Divine benedictions on the unworthy. The providence of God is the atonement in action. The moral government of God is, since the Fall, mediatorial, always and every where. - R.
I. THE PROPHET HAS ALWAYS A PLACE IN THE WORLD. There has always been, and always will be, a need for him. Scientific discovery, however rapid its advancements, will never push the prophet from his niche. A vision was granted to Nebuchadnezzar by God, yet even the vision does not suffice. It only perplexes, saddens, alarms. The carnal mind cannot understand it. It is a terrific enigma - confusion worse confounded. There is need of a prophet to unfold the signification. As long as man requires authoritative interpretations of Divine truth, so long he requires the prophet.
II. THE PROPHET CANNOT BE MADE BY THE ART OR SKILL OF MAN. The Babylonian king may make decrees from morning till night, but no number of royal decrees can manufacture a prophet. He may call a certain number of recluses "wise men;" but he can never make them so. Both kings and manner men allow themselves to be easily deceived by the mere show and pretence of authority. Let kings learn that there are some things which even they cannot do. In their extremity king-made prophets fail.
III. THE TRUE PROPHET IS CREATED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD. God reveals his mind and will to whomsoever he pleases. As every power of mind is his creation, so this gift of prophetic insight is a direct donation from God. The capacity is God's, though man can improve and develop it by wise use. Prophecy is not so much a faculty of mind as the production of a peculiar temper of soul. It is strongest in the man who walks most closely with God; in other words, who is most conformed to God's character and image. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." To the same end, Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, "I thank thee, Father,... because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes."
IV. THE TRUE PROPHET MAY BE KNOWN BY HIS HUMILITY AND LOVE. Daniel did not push his way into the presence of the king, with the rest of the wise men. He calmly waited in obscurity until his presence was sought. Real merit is neither forward nor froward. Nor, when Daniel perceived the purport of the dream, was he in haste to make known the coming disaster. Astonishment and sorrow sealed his lips for the space of an hour. Then, required by the king to unburden his soul, the prophet expresses profoundest sympathy with the king's doom: "My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee." The true prophet will not only bring God's message, but will bring it in God's spirit. He "speaks the truth in love." - D.
I. WE HAVE A PICTURE OF BRILLIANT PROSPERITY. It was a common method in olden time to represent a prosperous man under the image of a flourishing tree. "The righteous shall prosper as a palm tree: he shall grow as a cedar in Lebanon." The greatness and splendour of Nebuchadnezzar resembled such a tree. He reigned in Babylon - well-nigh the centre of the then known world. His power among earthly kings was supreme. Neighbouring monarchs were his vassals. In all his wars he had been successful. Israel and Syria, Egypt and Arabia, lay at his feet. His throne was strong, and his fame reached, as it seemed, to heaven. Nor did his rule appear, on the whole, injurious. The peoples found protection under his sceptre. He encouraged the growth of art and science. But this military glory fed and pampered his pride. He deemed himself something more than man. He imagined himself a demi-god. The prosperity was outward, material, plausible. It did not touch and transform his inner nature. His body was nursed in luxury, but he was starving his soul. The flower opened in unrivalled beauty, but there was a worm at the root. Ah! deceitful sunshine.
II. A PICTURE OF AWFUL REVERSE. It is no uncommon thing for prosperous men to suffer a sudden and complete reverse. "Riches make for themselves wings, and fly away." The props of a throne are soon snapped. The arm of military power is soon broken. Kings have ended life in a dungeon or on a scaffold. Not more complete is the contrast between a fruit tree in spring and the same tree in the frosty days of winter, than the conditions of some men - in the morning prosperous, in the evening stripped and naked. Can Fortune's best gifts be worth much, which give no warrant of continuance? The calamity which was preparing for Nebuchadnezzar was certainly the most severe that could befall a man. Worse than disease! Worse than leprosy Worse than death! He who had "set his heart as the heart of God," who had aspired to a place among the stars, was to fall below the level of a man - was to have the heart of a beast, abject weakness instead of imperial might, imbecility in place of boasted wisdom. This disaster is said to be proclaimed by a holy watcher. This language was an accommodation to prevalent beliefs. The unfallen angels, being unburdened with a corporeal nature, and having, therefore, no need of sleep, are ever wakeful to execute the commissions of Jehovah. These watch our course, grieve over our declensions, and correct us for our follies. So did an angel scatter the hosts of Sennacherib. So did an angel smite Herod with a fatal disease. "Are they not all ministering spirits?" "Excelling in strength, they do his commands, hearkening to the voice of his word."
III. TWIN RAYS OF HOPE. The Divine sentence proceeds with a succession of melancholy chastisements, until the word "nevertheless" is reached; then the deepening darkness is relieved by a gleam of hope. The stump of the root was to be preserved. This, of course, implied that the overthrow was not absolute and final. Room was yet left for repentance and restoration. Special means were chosen to preserve the stump from rot and injury. So all God's judgments, in this life, are corrective and are designed to be remedial. Judgment and mercy are blended in human discipline. The affliction, though severe, was not to be permanent and eternal. There was a limit in respect to duration: "Till seven times are passed over him." A sad apprenticeship in the dark prison of insanity, for seven years, was to be endured. And then, what? This was the momentous question. Was the issue, then, to be death? Or repentance, amendment, life? Tremendous issues hung upon the man's use of God's judgment. Every man is upon his trial. We are here "prisoners of hope." A ray of mercy gilds our path, which ray may broaden and brighten into eternal noon, or may be quenched in blackest night.
IV. A MERCIFUL DESIGN. There is no room for caprice or chance in the government of our world, nor in any of the affairs of men. Does insanity fall upon a man? It is by a heaven]y design. "The purpose of Jehovah, that shall stand." Mark, that God's intention was not simply the good of one individual man, but the good of all living. God uses one to teach many - disciplines one, that he may be a blessing to multitudes. "No man liveth unto himself." We receive good and evil mediately from the human race. We transmit blessing or bane to the future ages. God's high design is to teach men religious truth - "that the living may know that God ruleth" To know God, as the living, reigning God, - this is among the highest blessings we can obtain. If we know God, we shall long to be reconciled to him, to enjoy his friendship. Acquaintance with God will quicken the aspiration to be like him. To know him is the way to virtue, wisdom, eminence, peace. It is comparatively easy to instruct the beggar, it is very difficult to instruct the monarch, in this lore. How hardly shall they that have riches confess themselves poor! How hardly shall they that have dominion acknowledge their dependence! The poorest in this way may become the richest; the meanest among men may become the mightiest in the kingdom of heaven. - D.
some time without uttering a word. Perhaps he stood gazing at the king in mute amazement and sorrow. At length the king himself broke the distressing silence, encouraging the prophet to cast away all fear of consequences, and to tell the meaning, whatever it might be. With much trembling, doubtless, in a tone of deep respect, with fidelity softened by tenderness, Daniel proceeded to point out the meaning - the king's sin and the king's doom. This passage in the history suggests much as to the giving and receiving of reproof. We are our brothers' keepers, but it is to be feared that this duty of spiritual guardianship is one very much neglected. Let us first look at things from the point of view of -
I. THE BEPROVED. There are many difficulties in approaching a man with even the most necessary reproof, most of which were present in this case of the king. A sinner is like a fort surrounded by many lines of entrenchment. The reprover is quite conscious of the strength of the moral fortification, and is oft deterred from his duty. The reproved is ready to repel reproof by virtue of:
1. Self-love. "Most quick, delicate, and constant of all feelings."
2. Pride. The reprover seems to assume the office of both lawgiver and judge. But what right this superiority?
3. Difference in social rank. It matters not whether, as in this case, the reproved be of superior rank or of inferior. If the former, the reproved resents the audacity; if the latter, what he is pleased to call the patronage.
4. Absence of moral aspiration. The reproved does not really desire to be better than he is.
5. Contrariety of judgment. The reproved doubts the principle upon which you are proceeding; e.g. you expostulate with a man on the sin of gambling; but he disputes your premiss, viz. that there is wrong in gambling. There is no sin or vice which some men will not be found to defend. Nebuchadnezzar may have considered all his oppressions of the poor, etc., as quite within his kingly right.
6. Suspicion of the reprover's motive.
II. THE REPROVER - his tone and spirit. He should be characterized by:
1. Sincere and simple sympathy for the man. In this respect Daniel was perfect.
2. Grief over the moral position.
3. Sorrow for the consequences.
5. Courtesy. Note the tone of vers. 19, 27. Daniel was mindful of his relation to his king.
6. Hopefulness. Daniel gave counsel simple, comprehensive, direct. And then expresses a large hope, "If it may be," etc. (vers. 26, 27). Some elements in -
III. THE REPROOF WILL BE SUGGESTIVE.
1. It was solicited. An immense advantage.
2. Based on adequate knowledge. Nothing can be more paralyzing to a would-be reprover than to find that he is proceeding either on false or unproved assumptions.
3. Strong by authority of truth. "In presenting admonitory or accusatory truth, it should be the instructor's aim that the authority may be conveyed in the truth itself, and not seem to be assumed by him as the speaker of it." "One man, a discreet and modest one (and not the less strong for that), shall keep himself as much as he can out of the pleading, and press the essential virtue and argument of the subject. Another makes himself prominent in it, so that yielding to the argument shall seem to be yielding to him. His style, expressly or in effect, is this: 'I think my opinion should have some weight in this case;' 'These arguments are what have satisfied me;' 'If you have any respect for my judgment,' etc. So that the great point with him is not so much that you should be convinced, as that he should bare the credit of convincing you."
4. Well-timed. "The teller of unpleasing truths should watch to select favourable times and occasions (mollia tempora fandi) when an inquisitive or docile disposition is most apparent; when some circumstance or topic naturally leads without formality or abruptness; when there appears to be in the way the least to put him (the person reproved) in the attitude of pride and hostile self-defence" For aught we know, Daniel may have had it on his mind for a long time to speak to the king; at length the day of opportunity dawned.
IV. THE RESULT.
1. The reproof was not at once successful. For a year more (ver. 29) the king seems to have gone on, in the same spirit, to do the same deeds.
2. But was so finally. (Ver. 34.) When reproof had been emphasized by judgment. The memory, then, of Daniel's counsel. - R.
I. REAL SYMPATHY WITH HIS FELLOW-MEN. As a servant of the most high God, he can have no sympathy with self-indulgence, pride, ambition, or any form of sin. But he has real affection for men. Beneath the thick crust of worldliness, he perceives a precious soul, bearing still some lineaments of the Divine image; and his aim is to release and rescue the real man. The prophet feels for him, enters into his perplexities, bears with him the burden of sin. He would, if he might, take those burdens on his own shoulders, and bear them to the feet of the Sin-destroyer. To a large extent he identifies himself with suffering and enslaved humanity. Daniel's silence was more eloquent than any speech, and if he could have averted the monarch's doom he would have done so.
II. CLEAR INSIGHT INTO UNSEEN REALITIES. The prophet of God has commerce with the invisible realm. He knows, as a matter of fact, that there is a sphere of life encompassing us on every side, though unseen by mortal eye. The world, which is patent to the senses is a very small world compared with the territory unrevealed to sense. The visible creation is full of pictures and symbols of the invisible. Moral truths are adumbrated for us in allegorical forms. The objects and events, with which we are familiar in daily life, serve as hieroglyphs, and reveal to our dull understandings heavenly lessons. The trees of the field illustrate man's growth, prosperity, decadence, sudden fall. His frailty may be read in the grass of the field. No material scythe is needed to mow him down. He falls before the east wind. We are dullards and fools if we do not read lessons of wisdom from the scenes of nature, especially when the messengers of God have furnished a key with which to unlock the door of interpretation.
III. PERSONAL REPROOF. God's prophet is bold as well as skilful; fearless as well as affectionate. Being God's messenger, he is bound to represent God; and, with all God's might for his defence, nothing can really harm him. Beside, his very eagerness to promote men's welfare inspires him with courage. He is conscious that he has no other end in view, except to please his Master and to benefit men; hence he proceeds straightway to put his finger upon the plague-spot of men's disease, and to prescribe the remedy. In dealing with those who desire their guidance, God's prophets cannot be too plain, too pointed, or too faithful. If a wanderer seeks guidance through a perilous wilderness, his guide cannot be too plain in his instructions, nor too persistent in requiring a faithful following of his words. Fearless vindication of the truth is a mark of a genuine prophet.
IV. WISE ADMONITION. "Wherefore, O king," said Daniel, "break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor." It is quite probable that this monarch bad not been scrupulously upright in his administration of public justice; quite probable that the poor had been enslaved and oppressed. In the enlargement and embellishment of his capital, it is more than likely that forced labour had been largely exacted from the poor. Possibly the captives from Palestine and from other lands were included in these oppressive measures. Anyhow, Daniel traces the coming disaster to its real fount, viz. the personal sin of the monarch; and, like a true friend, he implores the king to endeavour by repentance to avert the awful doom. If the end can be obtained by methods less severe - the end, viz. man's salvation - God has no wish to employ harsher discipline. His aim is man's good. "Judgment is his strange work." But repentance must be thorough, genuine, practical. It must show itself in real fruit, No half-measures will suffice. The great Physician will have a perfect cure. No human eloquence, however persuasive, will induce men to repent without the attendant and subduing grace of Jehovah. Along with our own efforts, there should be earnest supplication for Divine help. - D.
1. Confirmations of Bible history from the science of medicine.
2. From the probabilities of the case.
3. From secular history. (See Exposition above; and 'Daniel, Statesman and Prophet,' R.T.S., where they are given in full.)
I. THE TOOL. The very essence of sin is self-centredness, which ignores our relations with others and the attendant duties, and which blots out God. The atheism of selfishness may be only practical, but also speculative. When the latter, it is sure to be also the former. The idolater of self:
1. Confines his vision to the material. So with the king on the roof of his palace; his eye swept palace, city, land, but saw only the material magnificence. His heart was of the world, worldly.
2. Misjudges greatness. Not bulk, not material wealth, not splendid show, constitute a nation's greatness. The elements of greatness are ever moral. As with a nation, so with an individual. A nation may be small, and yet clothed upon with moral majesty. On the other side, a nation may be small (e.g. Monaco) and vile. The two things are not commensurate in any way - material size and grandeur of spirit. Some nations, i.e. constituents of nations, need to lay the lesson very much to heart.
3. Makes self the centre of the universe. Babylon was as the palace of the kingdom. The kingdom revolved around the capital, and all around the proud personality of the king.
4. ignores God. All below and around the man lies in light, but seen through the coloured and distorted medium of selfishness. All above is hidden by dense mist and cloud; as of ten, in mountain regions, the snow-clad pinnacles and the serenity of heaven are absolutely invisible. God is unseen, unrecognized. Note the sin of this in the king. We are too likely to think that where God's clearest revelation through Christ is not, no light is. We underrate the light of natural religion. God moves without witness. To the king testified nature, experience, reason, the inner light. Christ in all these (John 1:9).
II. ITS DETHRONEMENT. Self usurped the throne in the moral realm, in the heart and life of man, and so from that throne self was hurled as by a thunderbolt. Observe, the ruin of the doomed was:
1. Stayed. Did not come at once on the sin. But warning and counsel at the lips of Daniel. Then a year's delay. Opportunity' for penitence. Misused. The patience of God.
2. Sudden. "While the word," etc.; "The same hour," etc. (vers. 31-33). Whilst the king was adoring his own shadow, the phantom melted into vacancy. Striking picture of what oft occurs under the moral government of God - long respite - at length sudden and overwhelming calamity.
3. Utter. "The world recedes, it disappears," but no heaven opens on his eyes, no ears "with sounds seraphic ring." The world went; and down fell the self-idolater into a temporal hell. (Note all the particulars, in light of the text, illustrated by all we know of this form of insanity.)
4. Strictly related to the sin. As always. The deification of self and so the prostration of self. Occasion might well be taken to read off such lessons as these:
(1) The obligation of gratitude for reason - its gift and continuance.
(2) The duty of sympathy for the imbecile and insane. To be expressed practically, by prayer and contribution.
(3) That the causes of insanity can be demonstrated to be, in the vast majority of cases, moral; e.g. vanity, care in excess, alcohol, violent passion of any kind, specially the many and various breaches of the seventh commandment.
III. THE ENTHRONEMENT OF GOD. We may discourse on this by putting it in this way: we may mark the gradual steps of the return of God subjective to the throne in man. God objective - i.e. in his reality and power - is never off the throne. But he may be subjectively cast down in the thoughts and sentiments of men.
1. God remains in the mind, animating recognition. "Not even an extreme form of mania interferes with the consciousness of personal identity, of the soul's relation to God, and therefore does not abate the power to pray. Rather, perhaps, is it to be believed that in many cases the deepest and truest nature of man, his religious nature, is brought into high and brilliant relief" (see 'Daniel, Statesman and Prophet,' pp. 136, 137).
2. God recognized. "Lifted up mine eyes unto heaven. This is the recognition of God. The enthronement of God. The returning conscious recognition of God marks the advent of moral sanity.
3. Reason returns to the throne with God.
4. And with reason, an admirable twin. All that makes life worth living - conviction of the existence of God; of the everlastingness of his blessed rule; of the comparative insignificance of any man; of the universality of his empire; of the resistlessness of his might - that everything which God does is well done" (ver. 37); that "those that walk in pride he is able to abase;" - add to these convictions that there came back, with reason, brightness of outer life and the joy of fellowship with men. Note: Afflictions last till they have done their work - and then no longer. - R.
I. WE SEE PRIDE VAUNTING ITSELF IN BOASTFUL VAIN-GLORY. A year had elapsed since the faithful voice of Daniel had wakened the conscience of the king. At first the monarch intended to reform, but procrastination destroyed the sensitiveness of feeling, blinded him to the imminence of danger, and gave momentum to his downward course. The city grew in magnitude and in magnificence. The royal plans proceeded towards completion. Outward prosperity shone upon him in still clearer glory, Notwithstanding, the hour of reckoning was about to strike. Walking upon his elevated palace-roof, and surveying the grandeur of the city, Nebuchadnezzar gave the reins to natural pride - thought and spoke as if there were none greater than he. This is the end pride ever aims at, viz. to make man a god unto himself. Yet was there a solitary stone in that vast pile that had been created by Nebuchadnezzar? Was the mind that designed the whole self-originated? Were the ten thousand artisans who had daily wrought upon those buildings the workmanship of man or of God? Pride is idolatry. Pride becomes mad atheism. There is no sin that is so frequently and freely condemned in Scripture as pride. By it the angels lost their high estate. Into this pit Adam fell. "Ye shall be as gods," the tempter said. "God resisteth the proud." They are a smoke in his nostrils. "Pride goeth before destruction." One step only between haughtiness and hell. Insolent arrogance verges on madness.
II. WE SEE HUMAN PRIDE MOVING TO ACTIVITY THE COUNSELS OF HEAVEN. If the statesmen or the artisans in Babylon overheard the utterance of the king, they might have regarded it as a harmless outburst of vanity. Yet God doth not so regard it. It disturbs the tranquillity of heaven. It is regarded there as the language of hostile defiance. The limit of God's forbearance was leached. There is a time to be quiet and a time to act. The cup of Nebuchadnezzar's sin was full. He had despised the messages of kindly expostulation from Jehovah, and now no delay was permitted. The king had barely ceased to speak when Jehovah responded. But the words of Nebuchadnezzar were not intended for the ears of God. Ah! still he heard them. He regarded them as an indirect menace to him, and he at once replies. The verdict has passed the Judge's lips. The kingdom is alienated. In a moment empire is lost. Rank, honour, power, are lost. Manhood is lost. Intelligence, memory, reason, love, - all lust. Bare existence only remains. Like the prodigal boy, he descends step by step into a deeper degradation, and at length herds with the beasts of the field. Yet this is but an outward and visible portraiture of the inward degradation.
III. WE SEE HUMAN PRIDE MEETING WITH FITTING RETRIBUTION. We have here in concrete form - in the history of a living person - the abstract truth, "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." This is its natural and fitting outcome - its proper fruit. We cannot doubt that every form and degree of sin has, in the Divine code, a suitable and adequate punishment. There is not simply one rigid penalty for every mode and measure of transgression. The justice that presides on the eternal throne has eyes of subtlest discrimination and balances of exquisite nicety. Every step in the judicial procedure of God is accordant with natural principles. Even the forces of material nature will possibly be employed in vindicating the Divine Majesty. The indolence and sensual indulgence of the Babylonian palace served to emasculate Nebuchadnezzar. The rousing energy which war had demanded in earlier years had braced the monarch's mind. But now the years of public peace had been so misused that inertia bred softness and luxury produced effeminacy. Step by step character deteriorated, though, perhaps, not detected by mortal eye. At length, by the Divine fiat, Reason abdicated her seat; the animal got the better of the man. In his imbecile condition the king imagined himself an ox, and preferred to browse in the fields. He was held last by this hallucination. His relatives and attendants, very possibly, feared to resist him. They humoured his infatuation until, in the royal paddock, his hair grew ragged and coarse, his nails became long and bent like eagles' claws. This is the monarch who disdained to recognize God - the monarch who plumed himself on his self-sufficiency! Draw near, all proud doffers of God, and see this portrait of yourselves! - D.
I. PRESENT CHASTISEMENTS ARE NOT FINAL. This is a gracious alleviation of the severity. The darkest element in the Divine judgment is absent. There is scope for amendment, repentance, return. A ray of hope lights up the darkness of the scene. Yea, more; the chastisement, however severe, may be transfigured into supremest blessing. "It was good for me to be afflicted." "Out of the eater may come forth meat." A rough and prickly shell may enclose the sweetest kernel. The fire which consumes the dross may only beautify the go]d. Loss may be only an unrecognized form of gain. Through faith in God's faithful love we can "glory in tribulation also." "At the end of the days" the king's insanity ceased.
II. LOSS OF REASON DESTROYS MAN'S SENSE OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY. God had taken pains, on previous occasions, to convince Nebuchadnezzar that the invisible Jehovah was the true God of the universe, but the king had hardened his heart against the conviction. His inveterate pride prevented his belief. Fain would he be his own god. "Our wills are our own: who is Lord over us?" Such was his favourite doctrine. It was pleasant to be self-contained. It was a sweet morsel for the carnal appetite, this flattering unction that his own skill and strength had gained him this success. And so ingrained into his nature had this habit of self-trust become, that only the severest discipline from God could dislodge it. But when his understanding became dark, and memory failed, and Reason abdicated, and manhood became a wreck, he learnt in the school of personal experience what he refused to learn before, viz. how frail and dependent is man - how absolute a sovereign is God. At last self-sufficiency is rooted out, and a spirit of meek humility takes its place. Be it ours to learn the lesson without so severe a discipline!
III. RECOVERED REASON TEACHES US GOD'S ETERNAL SOVEREIGNTY. The native tendency of man's mind is to circumscribe its thought about itself. It makes self a centre round which all its thoughts and plans revolve. It vaguely imagines that when personal self fails, the world will collapse. It thinks little about the past, and what has led up to our present privileged position; it cares little about the remote future. But when foolish man "comes to himself," after his aberrations and follies, he learns that for untold ages One has ruled on the throne of the universe, and is making all events to work out his designs. He was King long before we appeared upon the earthly scene; and he will remain Master of the situation long after we have passed away. His authority none can dispute. Yet, for his hormone and for our consolation, it shall be said that his will is right and just and good. "His will is our sanctification." "It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good."
IV. THE RIGHT USE OF REASON IS TO GLORIFY GOD. It is the primary and pressing duty of every man to learn the proper use of his faculties. When we have reached years of discretion we should often ask ourselves, "What is God's intention in giving me this understanding, this conscience, this reason?" Our plainest duty is to ascertain, if possible, his intention, and to follow that intention closely. To be self-consistent, we must either deny that he is our Master, and repudiate his every claim, or else we must acknowledge his authority over every part of our nature, and over every moment of our lives. A partial obedience is no obedience at all. This would be a setting up of self to be the judge when obedience should be rendered, and would be a virtual dethronement of God. Here hesitation or debate is excluded. If my reason be an endowment from God, I am bound, by every tie of obligation, to use it for his honour, and to magnify him therewith. Therefore the first principle of genuine religion is this: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever." - D.