Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.
Whenever we hear of anyone's appointment to a Government place, the first question we ask is, How did he get it? generally, in order to ascertain whether or not we have at command any interest like that which has proved successful. And so it is interesting to enquire how these men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, came to be promoted in the province of that Babylon which, after all, is not so unlike this Babylon. Of course, we know how it came to pass, as we have read it in the lesson over and over again. But let us try to place ourselves in the position of persons who did not know any more than the fact that they had been promoted. What would be your conjecture as to the way in which they obtained royal favour? I venture to say that you would at once make up your mind that the promotion had been the result of "trimming" of some kind, or of what is pleasantly called sensible and wise "compromise." I see the spirit everywhere. The genius and the man of principle in politics is nowhere, except he be wanting to do work in a crisis. And, in the most worldly-wise church on earth, the asserting diplomatist is everything and the argumentative genius is nothing. The one is laden with honours; the other is reserved for use, to be turned on and turned off according to circumstances. If you say, "The miracle made all the difference; let there be as much time-serving and compromise as you please in the present day; still, if anything like what we read in the chapter before us actually took place even now, no Government — Liberal or Conservative — could resist the claims of such men as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego." Even admitting that, which I do not for a moment, I ask what caused the startling occurrence which you say would have established their claims and ensured their promotion? It did not come down from Heaven as something to mark its favourites, and to terrify the heathen monarch, and cause him to act in a conciliatory spirit towards the subjects of a superior power. No; what did it effect? This only as far as the king was concerned. It impressed upon him the character of the men with whom he bad to deal. The deliverance called attention to and attested the character of these men; but it was the character thus attested which secured their promotion. To understand their characters we must, I think, do two things:
1. We must get rid of the very prevalent idea that those who are spoken of with approval in the Bible were good as a matter of course, and breathed in and exhaled piety, virtue, and self-denial, in the ordinary course of things; while, on the other hand, those who are condemned, being, by supposition, in the same atmosphere, are much more inexcusable than we should be for not being good! I cannot attempt to prove the absurdity of this notion; I can only remind you that it is absurd. But besides getting rid of the idea that it was easy for these men to do as they did, I think that, in order to appreciate their character, we must try to ascertain how they could have done otherwise — with a view to "promotion" — if they bad lived in our own "enlightened" days. How could they have proceeded to reason with their consciences if they had had the advantage of our superior knowledge? They had many ways of escape. As loyal subjects, it was their duty to do what the king commanded; and, of course, this strong loyal feeling would be somewhat strengthened by the consideration of the alternative of the fire in the event of its repression! These men might, then, have reasoned themselves into compliance on the grounds that they ought to obey the powers that be; and their loyalty might have been stimulated and confirmed by the contemplation of the alternative furnace. When I hear or read the case of these men quoted as instances in which "the Church" opposed "the State," and received Divine sanction, and am asked to regard Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego as prototypes of modern violators of the law as declared by the courts to which they voluntarily submitted themselves when they entered the ministry of the English Church, by virtue of which they hold their position and emoluments, and from which they can withdraw when they please — I feel myself unable to argue with those who can be deluded by that fallacy. The parallel to Shadrach, Meshach, and Aben-nego is not the man who receives position or emolument, or both, from State and from Establishment, and then disobeys the law as declared constitutionally by the State; but the dissenter who refuses to worship what he considers the golden image set up by the State, and who refuses position and emolument rather than be under the control of the State, or, in other words, of the House of Commons. Whether he be right or wrong is another question. But he is intelligible; he may quote Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, because he gets nothing from Nebuchadnezzar the king; but if I disobey the law, I cannot claim martyrdom on such Scriptural authority. I am the recognised officer of Nebuchadnezzar, and my duty is to obey his law, which I accepted with my eyes open, or to cease to be under that law, which I can do when I please. You must bear with me here when I say that my argument will not be touched by saying that these were men serving the true God, and that they were asked to worship an idol. They were asked under pressure to do what they thought to be wrong. Whether or not they judged rightly is not the question. They were men who had no contract with the State. But setting aside the "loyalty" plea altogether, if they had consulted me as to how they had best manage their conscience in view of the objectionable furnace; I mean if they had consulted me as one whose sole business it was to get them out of the difficulty and keep them out of the fire, I should have said, "Look at it in this way; the whole thing is a 'matter of form.' Why should you be burnt for a form? Bow down with your body; that is nothing; you are not bowing down with your heart; that is everything." What would be the answer to this plea about mere form? Simply this: Form is nothing and heart is everything; but the association of ideas is such, with such beings as we are, that when a form becomes associated width an idea, it will be a matter of much time and much labour to sever them. The British flag is so much woollen material, but if you insult it, you insult the great nation which is in idea associated with it. And so, if these men had there and then bowed down — no matter what was in their heart — they would simply have created a wrong impression, sacrificed principle, or, to put it in plainer words, acted a lie. Again, they could have said that they might "cause a disturbance by disobeying the royal command," and that as Jehovah's servants they ought to "promote peace." What is the answer? Certainly peace, but not at the price of principle. Again, they might have said that "everyone was going," and that they had better not be singular. I say they might have said this, for it would be no argument. And looking for a practical answer in this eminently practical age, I should like to know how many of the reforms of various kinds of which we are all proud were brought about and worked by men who were not singular for many a long day. But they might have had a still more subtle and refined reason for obedience. By this single compliance, they might have said in their hearts and said to one another, they should "conciliate" the king, and so be able to do him spiritual good afterwards! But, after all, the very best of their conceivable arguments would come to this. They must sum it up into this simple question, "Shall I do evil that good may come?" They said "No." What was right they knew; what might be the result of doing it they did not know, and it was no concern of theirs. Obedience is our business. Its result, with all reverence I say it, is God's business. Our next step He generally makes plain enough. This was their practical faith, and this must be ours, if we would have the form who walks with us in the midst of our fiery trials — whether seen or hidden — to be "the form of the Son of God." These men were promoted to place; why? Because they had shown themselves to be "a power." And "a power" they would have been — in spite of Nebuchadnezzar and every other king who ever lived before or since, whether they got the places or not. Why? Because against royalty, against public opinion, and in the face of death, they acted according to their conscience, and trusted to that God whose candle within them they knew that conscience to be. The alternative presented to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego is essentially the same as that which presents itself often to everyone, high and low, young and old. We all have to face it, not once, but ten thousand times in life. And we do know that when that Book is opened, the dead — amongst whom you and I must one day be numbered — shall be judged, as we now judge Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, "according to the things that are written in that Book."
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.).
Parallel VersesKJV: Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.