The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar; and the thing was true, but the time appointed was long: and he understood the thing, and had understanding of the vision.The True Majority
Michael was known amongst the ancient Jews as the angel or prince who had special charge of the nation of Israel. The very best Jewish writers concur in teaching that the name "Michael" is the same as the title "Messiah." It is held by them that the few passages in which he is referred to can be most satisfactorily explained on this supposition. The man speaking in the text was "a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz. His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude" (Daniel 10:5-6). This is the dazzling and nameless personage that has appealed to the religious imagination through all the known centuries of time. One day—not one of earth's cold, grey days, but a day of brighter cast—we shall see that Personage, and name him, and thank him for the tender veiling of a light that might have struck creation blind.
The text invites us to look at the astonishing fact that the speakers of truth have always been in a minority, and that the quality of that minority has given it the dignity and force of a majority. "There is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince." Granted that a statement is true, and surely there can be nothing more astonishing than that it should array against itself the majority of mankind. We might not hesitate to say, All beauty will be admired;—All excellence will be imitated;—All divinity will be adored. These would seem to be but commonplaces. No argument is needed to enforce them. You have but to state the transparent propositions, and the applauding world will accept them. Now this, which appears to be so simple, and so certain, is contradicted by the almost unanimous verdict of history. Take, for example, the proposition—All beauty will be admired, or, All excellence will be imitated, or, All divinity will be adored. First of all, there is an intellectual difficulty, for the man who hears the proposition will instantly say, What is beauty? What is excellence? What is divinity? Thus the ground is changed from the practical to the metaphysical. Did any two opinions ever exactly coincide and constitute a perfect agreement? The moment we come into the region of opinion we come into the region of difference. Opinions always separate men sooner or later; even when they appear to unite men it is upon a very temporary and fickle basis. There may be a large agreement, or almost agreement, or practical agreement, or agreement for purposes of expedience and convenience; but real and absolute agreement in every point and sentiment would seem to be impossible,—may we not say happily?—impossible, having in view the education of the world on a large and complete scale. But where the intellectual difficulty may be overcome the moral difficulty is most stubborn. For example, admiration ought to mean imitation, imitation ought to mean discipline, and adoration ought to be translated into self-suppression. To say that you admire beauty, and yet to remain unbeautiful, is more than a contradiction in terms—it is a practical and reprehensible irony. To profess to reverence a certain quality of character, and yet to live under conditions which minister to a precisely opposite quality of being, is surely an unintelligible and practical blasphemy. Then there is a social difficulty, which ought to be taken into account in our estimate of this whole matter. To break away, to be singular, to stand aloof, to speak an unpopular language, who does not shrink from such conspicuousness? and who does not call such cowardice modesty? The most astounding fact is that men can look on beauty and think evil thoughts in its sacred presence; men can go from the holy atmosphere of the altar and drink the poison-cups of perdition; men can bow their heads as if in prayer, and raise them as if they had been scorched by baleful fire. This is the mystery of human nature! This is the enigma of the heart! This is the infinite perplexity which needed the equal mystery of the Cross to counter-work its subtlety and undo its fearful shame!
There stands, then, the appalling, and as one would suppose the unintelligible, fact that men may see the good and yet pursue the wrong, and that if right and wrong were put to the vote today the cause of the wrong would be carried by an overwhelming numerical majority. When the religions of the world are tabulated, and the nominal adherents of each religion are set forth in arithmetical forms, it is found that Jesus Christ is at the foot of the list! This is simply incredible from the point of view of imagination. This would indeed seem to be a disproof of the Messiahship of Christ, for surely none could come from heaven, and work the right miracles, and speak the right words, without instantly touching the heart of the world and securing the allegiance of all ages and lands. All this would constitute an almost insuperable difficulty in the way of Christianity did we not see the selfsame thing in relation to other things which are divested of all theological mystery. Take the case of temperance, cleanliness, self-culture, honesty, or any of the common and palpable virtues, and it will be found that the same argument relates to them, so that if the argument proves anything in regard to Christianity it proves too much; for it would destroy the very idea that virtue is possible, and that society can be organised upon lines of righteousness and truthfulness. As a matter of fact, it would probably be found that the majority of men are today on the side of false-speaking. Even when they speak the truth in considerable degree, they may mar the whole statement by some hidden falsehood of thought, which never comes into the openness of audible speech. If, therefore, we give up Christianity on the ground of majorities of a numerical kind, we must give up every namable virtue; but as we cannot give up every namable virtue, neither can we give up Christianity on the mere ground that the overwhelming majority of mankind are opposed to the Cross of Christ. What, then, is our consolation? what is our hope?
Notwithstanding the majority of evil as to mere number, the quality of the minority has outweighed its influence, and given assurance of its ultimate extinction. "There is none that holdeth with me in all these things, but Michael your prince." This is a grand "but." It points indeed to the true majority, a majority not of number, and not for the present, but a majority of quality and a majority for the future. It was upon this principle that the Apostles always operated, and by this doctrine they were continually and abundantly sustained. Even in the darkest days they comforted themselves with the assurance—"He that is with us is more than all that can be against us." "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." The Apostle Paul knew that he was in a numerical minority, yet he lifted up his voice in passionate appeal, saying, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." The Apostle knew that the present was full of grievousness and bitter disappointment, yet he knew also that the present was quite measurable, but for a few moments or years at the most, and would soon pass away, never more to be remembered. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." The Church cannot fail, simply because Christ cannot fail. "Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." The Apostles and Christian teachers of all ages have comforted themselves in all weakness and fear by knowing that the triumph of Jesus Christ was assured. "He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation; he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness." When Jesus Christ "ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." He is our Leader, and in him we have all things pertaining to life and godliness, and in him is laid up the certainty of our victory as followers of the Cross. "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." "He was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God." "He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, wherefore God hath also highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name." When the seer, in the book of Revelation, beheld the opened heavens, he saw One there on whose head were many crowns; yea, he saw the Lamb, and was assured that he was the Lord of lords and the King of kings.
All this may seem to be of the nature of religious fancy; but here again we establish ourselves by analogies of a historical kind, which cannot be denied, so patent are they, and so overwhelming in the evidence by which they are sustained. Suppose a young composer of music should say, The world has rejected my compositions; there is no sale for my books; there is only one man who has uttered a word of promise or comfort to me: there is none that stands by me in all these endeavours but Beethoven! What a noble "but"! The very singularity of the exception creates a majority in the young man's favour. Where Beethoven has contributed his signature it is of but little consequence what the rest of the world may have done as to the merit of the music which has been submitted for criticism. Suppose a young painter should say, There is none that supports me in the view I have taken of my art but one; all my fellow-students are against me; all rivals hold me in contempt; the public is blind to any merits which I may persuade myself I possess: there is none that holdeth with me in this matter of art but Raphael! Here again is the majority. Hamlet tells us that the praise of such an one is worth a whole theatre of others. This is the great principle on which we are now insisting, namely, that there may be a majority of quality when there is not a majority of number. All these are but dim suggestions as to the glory of the text; they are as if we were lighting a lamp to show the width of the firmament. The speech of the Church is—I know that I am despised and rejected; I know that my bodily presence is often weak and my speech contemptible; I know that I have but little chance of being heard amid the clamour and fury of an excited world: there is none that holdeth with me in this great plan of evangelisation and redemption but the Son of God, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. This also is the speech of truth: I am thrown down in the streets; I am not allowed to make my statement; all my pleas are carried away in a whirlwind of disapprobation and contempt: there is none that thinketh with me in this matter of reality, equity, probity, and innermost pureness of heart, but the living God, the Eternal Father, the almighty Jehovah.
But what a glorious majority is this supposed minority! "If God be for us, who can be against us?" There can be no permanent success against truth, wherever you find it—truth in building; truth in promises; truth in prediction; truth in friendship. At last the truth prevails over all things, and stands in glory when night has overwhelmed every form and claim of falsehood. In calling men to unite themselves to the Christian cause I call them to enlist with the majority. It cannot be denied that the majority of number has great fascination for minds which are but partially enlightened or educated. It is easy to go with a multitude to do evil, and it is easy to sanctify the deeds of the multitude by the sophistical proverb that the voice of the people is the voice of God. A perverted proverb may do more harm to the opening minds of a generation than could be done by the most elaborate processes of reasoning. Lay it down as a fundamental principle that right must prevail, that truth must conquer, simply because God lives and his throne is established in the universe. Appearances are against us. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it"; "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." Here we come upon the terms "few" and "many"—terms of mere number. But those who enter by the strait gate follow the Son of God; their strength is in his omnipotence, and their conquest is assured by his triumph. O Church of the living God, few in number, small in resources, contemned amongst the organisations of the earth, comfort thyself with the truth that thy majority is one of quality, and that in the long run quality prevails over number, subduing all things to itself and permeating all things with the richness and vitality of its own nature. "Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance and my God." "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem." The day of wickedness, however gorgeous and dazzling may have been its apparent triumphs, hastens to darkness and night; the day of goodness hastens on to still fuller glory, and banishes night, and enlarges itself into the splendours of eternity.
We will sing aloud of thy goodness, our Father in heaven, made known unto us by thy Son Jesus Christ our Saviour. We cannot deny thee; our own hearts would cry out aloud against us if we did not name thee aloud in adoring psalms. Thou hast made us, and not we ourselves; we have nothing that we have not received; yet we feel within us the movement of thy Spirit, aspirations not of our own creating, desires which testify to a ministry of which thou alone art the Author. We are not satisfied with time and sense; we feel that when we have thrown our arms around all possible acquisitions we have nothing but poverty; we are only satisfied with the living God. Knowing thee, loving thee, as thou art revealed in the Cross of Christ, we have all things, yea we abound in riches, and we call the riches of Christ unsearchable. We bless thee for many an experience of ecstasy which has not ended in itself, but which has enabled us to come down to the practical work and the actual suffering of life to do the one and endure the other with heroic strength, with tender patience. These are the gifts of the Holy Ghost: strength is thine, patience is the miracle which thou dost work in the impetuous human will; we magnify thee, we glorify thee, for any little strength we have ever had, for any little patience we have ever shown. Increase thy work within us; we feel how much thou hast yet to possess of this wondrous nature with which thou hast blessed us; thou hast not wholly conquered all the land of our life; the enemy is lurking behind many a fence: the foe is looking on and is ready to spring if we relax our attention for one moment. Lord, save us, or we perish; Christ of Calvary, die for us every day, and live for us again in our holiest consciousness, or we shall lose what little faith we have and fall into eternal darkness. Having begun a good work in us, thou wilt not abandon it; thou dost know the end from the beginning; surely thou wilt not throw thy comforts away upon our souls; they are meant for nourishment and stimulus and strengthening; may we receive them according to their purpose, and magnify God by their results in our life. Oh that we had hearkened unto thy law, and that we had kept thy commandments! for then our peace had flowed like a river, and our righteousness had been as the waves of the sea. Yet how little we are, and poor and mean; how narrow our conceptions; how wanting in courage and valour and sacrifice all the life we lead; how we seek ourselves rather than humanity; how we follow the instinct of our own vanity rather than carry the heavy cross to Golgotha that we may die upon it. Is there no release from this prison? Is there no liberty for us poor captives? Or are we to blame ourselves for the dungeons in which we live? Ought we not to charge back upon our own soul the accusation of guilt on this account? Verily we have enclosed ourselves in little places and within narrow conceptions; thou art not the Creator of these prisons, or the Author of these poor dim twilight views; thou art the God of the universe, the Lord of liberty. If we now confess our sins, wilt thou not forgive us our sins? If we now cry for larger spaces and fuller spiritual delights, wilt thou say "No" to the petitions thou hast inspired? Thou canst not deny thyself; thou wilt not leave thine own prayers without answer: Lord, make the prayer, and the prayer shall be its own reply. Comfort us according to the necessity of our life. Darkness falls suddenly upon us; thou dost not give us the advantage of twilight; darkness falls upon noon like a sudden judgment, and the shining of the sun is cut off in the midst of its strength: others thou dost lead by a long weary way down to the cold valley; we know not how thou dost establish this difference, but we behold it with our eyes, and wonder is awakened within us when we see the swift-falling sword and see the long-continued agony. Help us to believe that all things work together for good to them that love God; help us to cast ourselves wholly upon thee, and say, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: it is the Lord, let him do what seemeth good in his sight; he taketh one from my side today, and he will call for me tomorrow, and on the third day we shall forget the period of separation. Speak comfortably to thy people, and add to the mystery of redemption the mystery of consolation. Pity us in our weakness and manifold littleness. Thou knowest how our faces burn with shame when we are alone with thee. Pardon our guilt; it would darken every line of the sky if from the Cross of Christ thy Son there did not flame forth a light above the brightness of the sun. Amen.