The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.Nebuchadnezzar's Dream
It does us good to hear how a man like Nebuchadnezzar spoke. We do not know what we ourselves have said, as to its effect, until we have heard some other man repeat our own words. The speaker never exactly expresses himself. He is talking to his own consciousness, and is often approved by himself; he therefore supposes that other people can hear what he is speaking to his own spirit. He does not give utterance to all his thought, that is to say, an outside aspect and effect. The speaker hears his own tones; he also hears, as it were, spiritual tones when none but himself can hear. Not, therefore, until we hear other people read our letters do we know what we have written: we are not ashamed of the letters, but we are ashamed of their reading of them. We do not know our own sermons until we hear other people quote from them; then in very deed we are ashamed that we ever preached. Quotation is the ruin of eloquence. The quotation shows how short we have fallen of our purpose. It is interesting beyond all other studies in words to hear an out-and-out worldling talk about religion; it is refreshing, exhilarating, surprising, confounding. We should listen to Nebuchadnezzar. How wondrously he mixes up gleams of the true faith with the strange crosslights of his own pagan thought and heathen education! He is perfectly willing to mix up ideas respecting any number of gods with the ideas which he has derived from the study of his own mythology. Nor must we be amused at him as at a unique specimen of the genus theologia. We are always mixing thoughts that have no proper or vital relation to one another. Herein again is that saying true, Ye cannot mix, or serve, or intermingle God and mammon. The speech of the Church is partly Christian and partly pagan The whole utterance of the Church needs revision, filtration, sanctification. In this chapter Nebuchadnezzar is both heathen and Israelitish; there is part of himself and part of Daniel in his talk; he is in an initial state of education into higher mysteries; and it is delightful to hear how this infantile giant tries to talk the new speech.
Nebuchadnezzar was an instance of sudden conversion: he began instantaneously to preach and testify and publish; he went into authorship before he was a week old in the new faith. That was characteristic of the man's ardour: he was an urgent, furious, tempestuous man, and what he did he did at once. It would have been better if he could have waited, thought, studied, prayed. But you cannot re-create a Nebuchadnezzar; we must allow him to be himself, for he never could be any other man. We must not even smile at these child-letters; there is something sweet in them, and comely, and right beautiful, such as suits the soul when it is in its finest moods. We must not parse the religion of Nebuchadnezzar; it is not laid before us for grammatical analysis and criticism. He who would parse a child's letter ought never to receive one.
Nebuchadnezzar the king thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God had wrought toward him (Daniel 4:2). This was a fine passion. Here indeed is a sign of reality. A wonderful change is marked by this new thought. Many men who look upon Nebuchadnezzar as a pagan could allow all the signs and wonders of God to pass by without note, comment, or record. We have filled up our diaries with chaff; we ought to have stored their pages as garners are stored with wheat. Many have risen to see the dawn of day from some mountain tower, and have all the while regretted that they got up so soon. Many persons allow a whole summer to pass away without ever seeing a flower; yet they think they see it. When we charge men with not having read the Bible they say they read it through once every year. Perfectly so, and yet they never read it at all; but you cannot drive into such heads the thought you mean to convey by "not reading." A man cannot read the Bible through once a year if he reads it at all; it is not an almanac; it does not admit of being read through once a year. It is the eternal, the infinite record; it arrests a man at the first verse, and will not let him pass by. If he be a fool, and can vault over the Bible once a year, who would disturb his nightmare or his mechanical piety? Nebuchadnezzar was a man of different metal. He had seen a new revelation, and he would talk about it; something new had shone upon him from the opening heavens, and he would tell all the empire about it—Armenia, Syria, and the dwellers by the Persian Gulf, and the Elamites, and all who trembled at his frown, should hear that he had seen a new aspect of the universe. Nebuchadnezzar had not yet become so ineffably pious as to say nothing about his piety. There are Christian men concerning whom it would be a revelation if one of their workpeople could be told that they even professed Christianity; an errand-boy might be frightened out of his propriety and sanity if he were told that his employer had family prayer. Nebuchadnezzar did not belong to the silent religious community: he would publish a proclamation, he would announce a fact, he would preach what little Gospel he had; he would say, There is more light in creation than I had imagined: come, let me tell you what the light is like, and what wizardry it works in colour and shadow and suggestion.
That the spiritual impression of Nebuchadnezzar was of the right kind is shown by his introductory exclamation,—"How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders!" It is beautiful to see how the shining of God upon the soul affrights all our little speech. Here the man is touching the inexpressible, the infinite; he can only hint at his meaning by way of exclamation: How great his signs! how mighty his wonders! there is no attempt at analysis, explanation, measurement, definite statement. All religious exaltation is overpowering. The mischief of our piety is that we can tell just what we believe and exactly what we feel. When a man can be so definite about his religion, the question is whether he has any religion to be definite about. No religion is complete that does not simply defy the believer to tell what it is in all its scope, in all its indications, in all its exalting enthusiasms. Sometimes we can only tell our creed by our tears. When a man touches the highest point of his faith he is silent; when he does speak he speaks in great bursts of feeling. To those who listen he may indeed be incoherent and unconnected, so that they, listening, may wonder what he is saying, for the only thing definite about the man is the indefiniteness of unutterable joy. Do not measure God; report nothing concerning his stature; gather up his universe, and regard it but a symbol, poor and dim, of his majesty. We are the better for these great billows of enthusiasm rolling through the soul; it does us good to be brought into the sanctuary of the unutterable; so long as we can speak all we feel the fountains of the great deep have not been broken up. Incoherence in the sanctuary may be but the highest and grandest aspect of eloquence:—how great, how noble, how wondrous: all this is but exclamation to the man who carries his religion as a burden; but all this is inspiration to the man of whose soul his religion is an essential part.
Nebuchadnezzar will now speak about himself, and like all undisciplined minds, minds that are just feeling the first touch of intellectual dawn of the highest kind, he will tell his dream. Let us hear the king's quaint speech:—"I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace": there was nothing wanting; every goblet full of wine, every corner an echo of music, every chamber a refuge from pagan trouble and imperial excitement: I never was more comfortable or restful in my life; the house never was so charming, the palace was never so grand, and I pillowed my head on down, and expected to see visions that would make me glad by doubling and redoubling all the poetry and music and wealth of my existence: that was my delightful case; and even in the midst of that enjoyment "I saw a dream which made me afraid." Let us not tamper with this graphic language, but take it as it stands in the English tongue. Nebuchadnezzar "saw" a dream: it was part of himself, yet it was wholly outside, so that he could fasten his eyes upon it; it was in him and without him, above him, round about him, beneath him; and he was "afraid." Sometimes we ask the question, Do dreams come true? Why, they are true. A dream does not need to come true, because it is there, a fact; it is already part of the history of the brain. There need be no other hell than a dream. Who can count the resources of God? In a dream we can be burned; in a dream we can be encoiled by serpents; in a dream we can be eternally suffocated; in a dream the serpent's fang may be within one inch of striking our life, and we may have no power of resistance or flight. The dream made Nebuchadnezzar afraid, and Nebuchadnezzar was not accustomed to fear, for he had brass enough, iron enough, chariots enough, horsemen enough; at the blast of his trumpet an empire stood up in his defence: but a dream made a fool of him. You cannot strike a dream; you cannot lay your hands upon it and compel it to make terms with you. These are the resources of God. If he would fight us with lightning we could make some device that might catch the lightning and bear it away; if he would fight us always with whirlwinds we could order our masonry accordingly, and hide ourselves behind the granite wall till the great euroclydon cried itself to rest: but he will not do this; he will trouble us with dreams, and make us afraid with visions; and whilst we are flourishing in the palace he will make the floor tremble under us, or there will be a movement behind the screen, the curtain, the arras, and that movement will frighten us more than we ever were affrighted by thunderstorm at midnight. If Nebuchadnezzar had heard that an army was thundering at one of the gates of Babylon, he would have been delighted: war is the amusement of kings; battle is the recreation of royal luxury and ambition: but this was a dream that came through the great brass gates that made the great wall of Babylon memorable as one of the finest structures in the world. You cannot bar out a dream, or lock it out, or bolt it out, or set a watch to keep it out; a wakeful sentry, armed at every point, may be looking at the dream while it touches him, and he cannot touch it, or blow it back, or threaten it, or defy it; it smiles upon him, and passes on, to work its murder in the king's head and the king's heart, and turn the king's imagination into an intolerable perdition. When Pilate was puzzled about the new king and the new theology and the unheard-of sedition which was not written in the Roman books, "his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him." God has made great use of dreams in history. Spiritual impressions may be laughed at by those who read nothing but cold type; but they are regarded as having unutterable suggestion to those of a more sensitive and exalted order of mind.
Nebuchadnezzar now sought for interpretation. He had all the wise men of Babylon brought before him:—
"Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream. Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof" (Daniel 4:6-7).
In exalting God, are we to be outdone by a heathen king? Have we nothing to say for our God, our Master, our Christ, the Cross by which we are saved? Is our piety to be dumb? Are our prayers to be so spoken that none may hear them? Is there no place for enthusiasm in the service of the Church? Exclamation may be argument, enthusiasm may be logic with wings, reason on fire. Are we to take no heed of spiritual expressions? Nebuchadnezzar had his dreams, and remembered them, and encouraged them, and dwelt upon them, and sought interpretations from them. Have we no dreamings of a moral kind? Are there no efforts of imagination which require to be explained? Are spiritual impressions nothing? Is the world we can see all there is to be seen or appreciated or valued or appropriated? What! has it come to this: that we have life that could grasp the heavens, and yet must feed it with a handful of dust? It cannot be; the irony is its own answer. Is it of no account that all the wise men have failed? Christ has not yet been written down. The very noblest attempt that ever has been made to reduce Jesus Christ to insignificance has but formed part of the pedestal on which he stands in infinite uniqueness and unparalleled glory. Where are those wise men themselves? Ah me! they wrote when they were in mid-life, when the blood was full and hot, when the world was applauding and cheering and paying; but when these same assailants had to put their own theories to the test they found their polysyllables were hard pillows on which to lay a dying head. No religion is complete that forsakes a man when he is an invalid, when he has lost all his money, when his friends have withdrawn from him and left him in loneliness; no religion is worth cultivating that will not sit up with the sick man all night, and a hundred nights, and never say, I am tired. The religion of Jesus Christ has proved itself practically; it has a sublime argument and is itself an argument sublime: but when it comes to practical service, the real service of man, it may dismiss all its advocates and will prove itself by its beneficence. It wipes the tear from every eye, it trims the midnight lamp, and makes the flickering light as a dawning morning to the soul that yields itself to its inspiring, illuming, ennobling influence; it is as a rod and a staff in the valley of the shadow of death, and when our loved ones leave us Christianity tarries in the house to say: "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Christianity does not die with the dying saint; Christianity goes to the grave, fills it with flowers, and then comes back to the house of mourning, and says it will tarry till the torn hearts be healed, and they are permitted to begin a new and hopeful youth. The religion that can do that has for its symbol the Cross, and for its end the glory that excelleth.
Almighty God we cannot tell what thou art doing, but if thou wilt walk with us through all the mystery of this life, and tell us somewhat of its meaning, we shall be comforted and strengthened. There are those who tell us the meanings of thy riddles and parables, but they do not fill the soul with sacred contentment; we feel that the answer is still beyond, a larger reply than has entered into the heart of man to conceive; if thou thyself, by thy Holy Spirit given unto us through our Lord Jesus Christ, wilt explain the meaning of all that is passing around us, our edification will be assured, and thou shalt have all the praise. We see great tumult, and we are afraid of it; we see the great billow rolling towards our poor little vessel, and we cannot tell why the waters should be angry with us; then we see portents in the sky, strange lights, cross-fires, wonderful colours; sometimes we think we hear voices in the wind that we ought to know, voices of old friends, voices of genial ones, who would make our life better if they could; then in our dreaming what trouble we have: we cannot reconcile the lines or the figures or the voices; we know not what is going on around us: what wonder if sometimes our knees smite one another in fear, and we are utterly left without strength to do the duty of the day? Lord, abide with us; say unto us, Be not afraid, it is I, working out all manner of discipline for the soul's good: then shall we be glad in the storm, and we shall have our full vision in the night-time, and at midnight we shall sing, and at noonday we shall be glad to rapture. We begin to see a little of thy meaning; now that we do see it we are glad with a sacred joy, we say, This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes; we should have been presumptuous but for that affliction, we should have trusted to ourselves but for God's humiliation of our vanity; we should have said, We know all things, but that we were convinced of our boundless ignorance; we should have put forth our hand to touch the forbidden tree if God had not smitten it with disease, and left us to mourn over it as men mourn over a wreck. Now take us wholly into thy care; we would rest in our Saviour's arms; he who loved us so much as to die for us will love us unto the end, he will complete in our final deliverance what he began in our redemption. We have seen Jesus walking amongst his disciples, pitying their littleness, condescending to their weakness, anticipating their hunger, going to them through the wild winds when the waves were high; and in all this he was but expressing his inexpressible love. The same Lord rules, the same sweet Jesus looks down upon us all; he will not let one of us perish, he will put out his hands farther than sin can drive us, and he will draw us to himself again. Let the Lord's blessing be given to us as if it were a new benediction: surprise us by the brightness of thy presence, by the tenderness of thy voice, by the largeness of thy gifts: once more show thyself to be acquainted with us, so that there is not a word on our tongue, or a thought in our heart, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. If thou dost know our need thou wilt supply it; we have not been permitted to wish; thou hast been so good yesterday that we know thou wilt not fail us tomorrow. Amen.
Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.Nebuchadnezzar's Testimony
"Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him." There are moments of astonishment in all true ministries. The word "hour" should be replaced by the word "moment": Then Daniel was astonished for one moment. But into one moment how many hours may be condensed! Into one feeling a whole lifetime, with manifold and tragical experience, may enter. We have nothing to do with mere time in calculating spiritual impression, spiritual service, spiritual enjoyment. Daniel was not a man to be easily affrighted; the astonishment which befell him was moral, imaginative, not in the sense of fancying things that did not exist, but in the sense of giving realities their largest scope and meaning. He was astonished that such a fate was awaiting King Nebuchadnezzar. It was like a blow struck upon the very centre of his forehead; when he saw what was going to befall the king he was struck, as it were, with a spear of lightning, his voice altered, as did the fashion of his countenance. He had a message to deliver, and yet he delivered it with tears that were hidden in the tone of his voice. He was not flippant; he was solemn with an ineffable solemnity. Never was he in such a position before. Only the Divine Spirit could make him equal to the responsibilities of that critical hour. Many words we can utter easily, but to pronounce doom upon a life, any life, old man's or little child's, is a task which drives our words back again down the throat. We cannot utter them, yet we must do so; we wait in the hope that some relief will come, but relief does not come from this burden-bearing in the sanctuary of life. The preacher is often as much astonished as the hearer, and as much terrified. In proportion as the preacher is faithful to the book which he has to read, expound, and enforce, will he sometimes come to passages that he would rather not read. It would be delightful if we could expel the idea of penalty from our human intercommunion. Men have tried to fill up the pit of hell with flowers, and all the flowers have been consumed. It would be delightful to hide by concealment of any kind the horrors that await the wicked man, but to hide those horrors is to aggravate them. It can be no joy to any man to go forth and say, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." No man could utter such words but in obedience to the election and ordination of God. It is easy, if we consult our own flesh and sense and taste alone, to hide the Cross of agony and shame; but he who hides the Cross hides the salvation which it symbolises, and without which it is impossible. It is not easy for any man, Jonah or Daniel, Hosea or Joel, to say unto the wicked, It shall be ill with thee. We would rather live upon the other side of the hill, where the sun smiles all day, where the flowers grow as if they would never cease to unfold some new secret of colour and beauty, and where the birds trill a song from hour to hour, as if growing in capacity as they multiply in service. But the hill of the Lord is many-sided; we should be unfaithful and unjust if we did not recognise its multifold aspects, and show them to those who have come to see the reality and the mystery of the divine kingdom amongst men. Daniel looks wondrously well in the moment of his astonishment. The man's best self is now in his face. How quiet he is, and what singular tenderness plays around the sternness which befits the message that he is about to deliver! What a mixture of emotion, what an interplay of colour, what an agony of sensation! yet Daniel is a true man, and he will speak the true word, come of it what may, so far as he himself is concerned; furnace of fire or den of lions, he must speak the word which the Lord has given to him. Why do we not follow his example? Why do we try to take out of the divine word all things offensive? It would be easy to pander to human taste, and to flatter human vanity, and to assure the half-damned man that the process cannot be completed, but that after all he will be taken to heaven and made a seraph of. Who can tell lies so thick, so black? Let him eschew the altar and the Cross.
Daniel repeats the dream to the king and says—
"My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies. The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: it is thou, O king" (Daniel 4:19-22).
This is the personal application of truth. What is an interpretation if it be not followed by an application? What is a sermon if it end not in a tremendous appeal? The great fathers of the pulpit were mighty in exhortation. They wrestled with their hearers. We have retained the exposition and the criticism, and the eloquence to some extent, but the application we have cut off, because we dare not offend the tastes of people who are going down to hell on the swift steed of self-flattery. Say what figure in history is grander, as representing the idea of ministry, than that of Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar, a prisoner before a king, a captive in the house of a man who could crush him with a word or destroy him with a frown? Yet this Daniel, captive, exile, tells the king that the whole dream belongs to himself, and that mighty though he be, yet it is written in heaven that Nebuchadnezzar shall keep company with the beasts of the field; the man's heart shall be taken out of him, and a beast's heart put in its place. It was not a pleasant message. What delight hath the Lord in "pleasant" sermons delivered to sinners? The sermon should be true, whether it be pleasant or unpleasant; and no man faithful to the divine word can make himself pleasant to all people. What skill there was in the manner of delivering the message! It was better that it should be done all at once. There are some things we must speak abruptly, or we never shall speak them at all; they must, so to say, be forced out of us: the word must come like the shot of a musket: "It is thou, O king," a short sharp stroke. Who would vacillate when he knew he was going to deliver sentence of death, worse than death, all deaths in one agonising humiliation? Better it should be after the pattern of Daniel, clear, simple, prompt, resonant, put in the very smallest words, words that a child could understand and repeat, monosyllables that made the heavens black with unimaginable terror:—"It is thou, O king."
Nor did the message end there. That is the message that must be delivered every time men meet for religious counsel, and every time the wicked man appears in the house of God. Nor is the message, in all its best applications, to be limited to mere wickedness. There are applications of this passage which fit themselves in all the necessities and varieties of human experience and relationship. Sometimes the physician has to say to a man whose constitution is of iron, whose sinews are brass, It is thou, O strong man; the sentence of dissolution has gone out concerning thee: the frame is great, strong, noble in appearance, and apparently invincible; but there is at work within thee an influence that will kill the soldier and kill the hero and kill the king. That is not a pleasant speech to make to any man. Yet, knowing the truth and keeping it back, what is he less than a murderer who does not reveal it, and give the sufferer an opportunity to set his house in order? Sometimes the preacher has to say even to a millionaire, It is thou, O rich man: it is with infinite difficulty thou canst get near Christ: how hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven! thou hast wine, and beast's flesh, and fowls of the air, and bread in plentifulness; but thou shalt sleep with strange bedfellows, yea with poverty and affliction and loathsomeness: set thine house in order: riches take unto themselves wings, and flee away; he who yesterday gave orders on the Exchange, tomorrow will beg a piece of bread to break his fast. Sometimes the teacher has to address himself to the boastful man, and say, It is thou, O boastful man: thou didst suppose thyself to be in possession of everything; to be lord and king and mighty man and counsellor and lawgiver; the word shall die on thy blackening lips, and thou who didst serve in the house of vanity shall be a bondman in the house of disappointment. This was personal preaching, the kind of preaching that is resented. We are willing that any man shall be preached to except ourselves. The minister who succumbs to that dire temptation was ordained by men, but the ordaining hand of Christ was never laid upon his faithless head.
What was the fate that befell the king?
"They shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee" (Daniel 4:25).
Some men require violent teaching. We will not obey God's love: when he whispers to us we do not hear him; unless he take up the trumpet of his thunder, we pay no attention to the voice of Heaven. Pleasant angels have come to seek us and bring us home, but we have declined their evangel and their gospel and their company; summer has come, with spring on one side and autumn on the other, all beautiful and rich, abounding in all things lovely and useful; and they have said they have come to bring us back to heaven, and we have defied the whole of them. Not until God takes up the rod of his lightning do we begin to be religious. A plague would fill the church; an epidemic would make a prayer-meeting at five o'clock in the morning seasonable: we are cowards! Yet, blessed be God, he does not withhold violence if it will do us good. If we will not have the company of angels we shall be thrust into the society of beasts, and in that humiliation we may be willing to listen to terms and proposals that otherwise would have fallen upon deaf ears; and there in the open field, with only beasts to talk to, we may begin to pray.
What was the end of this exile? Daniel explains the purpose of the providence:—
"Till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25).
Yet there was something left in all this:—
"And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots, thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule" (Daniel 4:26).
God does not make an utter end of us; he leaves a root, a stump, something that may yield a scion, something that may come to branch and leaf and fair flower or rich fruit What have we left? Reason, power of thinking, reflection, memory, power of forecast; we have our mother tongue left us, and we could put all its words into prayer; we could build our mother's words into a cathedral of praise. It is not quite night yet; the darkness is not yet outer darkness; there is time to get home before the night settles in black and endless dominion upon the earth: hasten to be wise; make the sunset hour a time of return; sanctify the evening by the sacrifice of obedience: in thy Father's house there is bread enough and to spare.
The providence was not lost upon Nebuchadnezzar. He bethought himself; he was brought back to the habitations of men, and when he saw the purpose of God and accepted it he uttered his testimony: he was not ashamed to declare what wonders had been wrought:—
"At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase" (Daniel 4:36-37).
That is the testimony of history on both sides. Have we no testimony to bear? Is there no word we can speak on behalf of divine providence? If we are not theologians we can still observe the ways of God amongst men. We are not called upon to talk theology, but we are called upon to talk gratitude. Thankfulness is decency, and if we have received mercies of the Lord and never mentioned them, we are ungrateful, and we deserve no repetition of divine favours, and our deserts would lead to an abandonment of our life by the sunny and instructive providence of God. The testimony is always acceptable. Testimony may be argument. When a man cannot put into logical form his ideas of God he can still himself stand up and say, "Once I was blind; now I see." How were thine eyes opened? Hear the answer:—"A man that is called Jesus opened mine eyes." That is due to the Saviour of the world; if we said less we should surely be thankless, and unjust, and unworthy altogether. If the Church would be faithful in the deliverance of a simple, personal, definite testimony, who can say that the world would not be won to Christ? If on every hand unbelievers heard the testimony of belief, who knows but that a miracle would be wrought along the whole line of their thinking? But if unbelief is continually seeing in the Church doubt, denial, suspicion, suggestion of possible error or failure, what if unbelief should say, "Better be certain in unbelief, than uncertain and hesitant in so-called faith; thorough, sound, emphatic denial has advantages which are not possessed by a hesitant religion, by a continually self-readjusting and self-excusing theology"? We may not be strong in metaphysics, but we can be strong in personal experience. You were once amongst the beasts of the field; where are you now? Stand up and praise the Lord, saying you have returned unto the habitations of men. Once you had no hope, and now you have a light that the wind cannot blow out: who kindled that flame? speak out the name; have no fear: it will do you good in body, soul, and spirit to be fearless in your testimony. Say simply, frankly, This is the miracle of Christ.
"It must be observed that, in accordance with the principle enunciated by St. Paul in 1Corinthians 14:15, dreams, in which the understanding is asleep, are recognised indeed as a method of divine revelation, but placed below the visions of prophecy, in which the understanding plays its part.... In exact accordance with this principle are the actual records of the dreams sent by God. The greater number of such dreams were granted, for prediction or for warning, to those who were aliens to the Jewish covenant. Thus we have the record of the dreams of Abimelech (Genesis 20:3-7), Laban (Genesis 31:24), of the chief butler and baker (Genesis 40:5), of Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-8), of the Midianite (Judges 7:13), of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1, etc.; Daniel 4:10-18), of the Magi (Matthew 2:12), and of Pilate's wife (Matthew 27:19). Many of these dreams, moreover, were symbolical and obscure, so as to require an interpreter. And where dreams are recorded as means of God's revelation to his chosen servants, they are almost always referred to the periods of their earliest and most imperfect knowledge of him. So it is in the case of Abraham (Genesis 15:12, and perhaps Genesis 15:1-9), of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-15), of Joseph (Genesis 37:5-10), of Solomon (1Kings 3:5), and, in the New Testament, of Joseph (Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2:19, Matthew 2:22). It is to be observed, moreover, that they belong especially to the earliest age, and become less frequent as the revelations of prophecy increase. The only exception to this is found in the dreams and 'visions of the night' given to Daniel (Daniel 2:19; Daniel 7:1), apparently in order to put to shame the falsehoods of the Chaldaean belief in prophetic dreams and in the power of interpretation, and yet to bring out the truth latent therein (comp. St. Paul's miracles at Ephesus, Acts 19:11-12, and their effect, Acts 19:18-20)."—Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.
Almighty God, we have come out of the winter to praise thee for the spring; we have come from the wilderness into the garden of God; we have come from the field of battle to the home of peace. The world is one great fight all the week long; some win, some lose: but through all the action there is a tone of misery. The world is full of wailing; there is no happiness unmixed. We have left the plough in the furrow that we may come for a while to pray; we shall go back to the plough the stronger if thou wilt answer our heart's desire. All the work is standing still whilst we worship; blessed be thy name, we can say to our toil, Stand here while we go and worship yonder. We mean to take on the yoke again, and to resume all the fight, and to endure all the misery; but we can do all this better if we see God as it were face to face through Jesus Christ his Son. We want to pray, our hearts are full of desire, but in our mouth there are no words fit to tell all our pain and all our want; hear thou what little we can say, and answer it in the boundlessness of thy Fatherly love. We want to say how glad we are that we have not been forsaken; even in the night we have had stars to keep us company: it has not been all darkness; sometimes we thought we saw the dawn soon after midnight. Thou hast kept us, fed us, led us, and we are now in this green garden, this paradise of God, waiting to give thee praise and to see thy light. We want to tell thee how sad our heart is that we have done wrong; but wrong we are always doing: we are accustomed to do evil; we do it with the one hand as skilfully as with the other; we are practised in things forbidden. God be merciful unto us sinners, because our faces are hidden at the foot of the Cross. We look up for a moment to see the Sufferer; he is our Priest; he is doing our work; he will save us every one; our hope is in the dying, rising Christ. We come to him with fulness of love and fulness of trust, and if we know aught of distrust it is not in God, but in ourselves. Humble us, that we may be raised up, tread us deeply in the dust, that at last we may stand up before God elevated and sanctified by his grace. We want to give ourselves more perfectly to thee; to this end give us health, full, radiant, bounding health; may the blood run well, may the brain be strong, may every nerve respond to the fingers of the sun: and thus in great health of body may we entertain a healthy, loving soul; may the mind be a mind of health, loving the fresh air of God, and seeking only to nest itself in the very light of heaven. Take away from us all disease, all infirmity and imperfectness, every sign and token of death; may we trample grim old death in the dust to which he belongs. Thus do thou hear our cry. Thou knowest our meaning, though we cannot utter our words aright; thou dost not look at our words, but at our thought, the thing we would be at, the great desire, the master impulse. We give one another to thee in a great act of dedication; we would be born in God's house and wedded at God's altar, and we would live under God's roof: yea, we would dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, crying out our little miseries there, and there singing our little songs of joy, and there plighting and trothing one another in holy trust and generous hospitality. Help the bad man to overthrow the devil: turn aside the counsel of the mean of soul, so that their seed may never come to fruition; when they go out to seek the harvest may they cut down sheaves of darkness. Help the good man to be better; give him more light, more confidence: so often is goodness associated with timidity that thy people strike feebly when they might strike with a battering-ram. Help those who have to carry great burdens; say to them that at the most it is only for a handful of days, that there may be one or two moments of agony, but they are like the gates that fall back upon heaven. The Lord be in our sick-chamber and make it the brightest room in the house; the Lord be in the nursery and take care specially of the weakest child, and specially of him whose forecast in this world is very dark because he is lame, deformed, blind, incomplete, poor. The Lord be everywhere like the living air, a great ventilation, a great hope, a great impulse, a great inspiration. Lord, the little earth, so little, is still thine, though it is stained through and through with sin. Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling-place, and when thou hearest, Lord, forgive! Amen.