Happiness Despite Circumstances
Daniel 1:8
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank…

By way of pre-eminence modern science emphasises two laws — the law of heredity, and the law of environment. With these laws as with keys, our scholars unlock the mysteries of vegetable and animal life, and also the life of man. This first law, heredity, deals with the fixed elements in the soul's career. It unveils the man's birth-gifts, and shows us from what sources these gifts of mind and body came. But this ancestral element is fixed and unchanging. No man, by tugging at his heartstrings, can change the sanguine temperament of birth to the phlegmatic or the melancholic. The beginning of happiness and usefulness is an instant and absolute acceptance of the task and temperament that God and our fathers have appointed. But when heredity has given us the fixed element in character, and the "source" from which the life moves forth, then comes in the second great law of environment that deals with shifting and variable influences and makes life flexible, makes the future uncertain, and clothes the to-morrows with wonder and mystery. This, therefore, is the problem of the great biographer. Given the youth clothed with certain ancestral qualities of strength and manliness, then, through environment, wealth or poverty, ambition, jealousy, hatred, passion, self-sacrifice are introduced. When the old birth-gifts and the new forces of environment unite, unexpected qualities and unlooked-for crises appear. And it is this unknown element that lends fascination to the great hours of life. For be it confessed that, if the acorn must remain an acorn to the end, its environment will modify the oak that springs therefrom. Planted upon a southern exposure, in deep, rich soil, it develops a giant structure, fitted for mast of ship or beam of factory. Falling in scant and rocky soil, and on northern slope, the acorn will develop but a poor and stunted life, fit for fagots and the winter's fire. And if circumstances cannot change the original birth-gift, they can develop the native capacity into full manhood and usefulness, or they can repress these qualities and make life stunted and misshapen. Having suffered much from many influences and many half-truths, our generation has suffered grievously from the over-emphasis of environment. Multitudes are the slaves of their surroundings and the victims of events. Carrying within themselves the powers that, if asserted, would make them the sons of happiness and strength, they go forward with bowed heads, sad, weary and dispirited. But if we are to understand the danger of an over-emphasis of circumstances, we must first consider its real scope and law. This we can do best of all by tracing its workings in the realms of vegetable and animal life. Ours is a world in which the rose is influenced by sunshine or shade, and in which the lark is influenced by the cage or by freedom; in which the sweet shrub is influenced by the early spring and the late frost. Carry the brilliant peacock to the dull, foggy climate of Norway, and the gay plumage within a few years is dulled into drab or a dirty grey. And if environment controls the colours of animals, sometimes it modifies, and even destroys the senses of sight and hearing. The blind fish that live in the underground rivers of the Mammoth Cave represent an optic nerve that has become a mass of ruins through disuse. We need not be surprised, therefore, that this law of environment is intellectual law and spiritual law. This law of environment as to evil appears in the proverb, "Evil communications corrupt good manners." It appears also in the proverb regarding Christ, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" It reappears in modern science, insisting that man is the sum total of his circumstances. It explains the pessimism and the sadness and gloom in our garrets and palaces. If, now, we search out the secret of the influence of circumstances, we shall find it in the simple statement that the law of environment is the law of food, succour and nutrition. The root, for example, is related to its environment in the soil. The blossom is related to its environment in the sunshine and light and heat. The leaf drinks in the light and heat, and absorbs the rich gases from the air. But if the blossom unfolds in the vicinity of a cotton factory, the leaves soon fall, choked to death by the foul gases. And if the root extends to the stream into which the same poisoned waters flow, then soon the tree and its trunk die also. And the question whether the tree is to come to full bloom and power depends upon the great facts of light and heat, and summer and winter that make up that total called the environment of the tree. Not otherwise is it with man. He is profoundly influenced by his circumstances and the atmosphere in which he lives, and breathes, and works. Only the tree has one root towards the soil and others towards the air, the man has many nerves that relate him to his environment. Physically his body is small. But assemble the foods, and the various forms of water that he drinks, the air that he breathes, throughout a single year, and how enormous the bulk that makes up his environment. He hungers for food. Cut that nerve of relation, and he dies for want of succour. Feverish, he thirsts for drink. Cut the nerve that runs toward the fountain, and he perishes for lack of water. The intellect is a nerve toward the kingdom of truth. The imagination is a nerve toward the kingdom of beauty, the face, the flower, the picture. Affection is a nerve toward the kingdom of love, in friendship, and the fireside joys. The conscience is a nerve toward the God of righteousness, as are faith, and hope, and love. Physically, man must draw his succour from an environment called the granary and the storehouse and the fountain. Spiritually, he draws his life from an invisible environment, named God. Cut these nerves of relation, and death ensues. Feed and strengthen these nerves until all the Divine tide comes in, and man has life more abundantly. Upon the basis of the great scientific law, therefore, Christ said, "Without me ye can do nothing." And this spiritual law of environment appears when men exclaim, "In God we live and move, and have all our being." Having emphasised the truth as to the influence of circumstances and environment, consider the untruth involved therein. Misunderstanding, we have coined a proverb, "Among Romans do as Romans do." If this proverb asks a youth to be divinely good if he is with the angels, it bids him become a demon if his companions happen to be devils. Over-emphasising the influence of circumstances, some youth from the country will come into the city this coming autumn, with his stainless purity and beauty. Chancing upon evil companions, he will be confused by their profanity, he will blush at their salacity. But, accustoming himself to his circumstances, he will at last pride himself in that he can listen to a vulgar story without a blush, and roll off an oath without a single thought of revulsion. Yet it is given to the soul to rise above these untoward events, for happiness is not in circumstances, but in the will, and victory is not in events without, but in the trustful soul within. History holds a thousand examples of this great law of victory over circumstances. For forty years, until life had passed its maturity, Moses lived in the king's palace, and was the child of wealth and opportunity of leisure. Then the sceptre of power dropped from his hand, and in old age he dwelt apart in a desert and tended sheep. Never were circumstances so cruel, and yet, dwelling in the desert, Moses matured his great laws and plans of reform, and we know that his life in the palace was the era when his soul was poverty stricken, and that life never became deep, rich, and victorious until he wore a coat of skins and slept in a desert. And there is no temptation so fiery, and no testing so severe but that the soul can rise superior to these circumstances that try man's souls. In the palace Potiphar's wife tempted Joseph, and promised the youth that he might succeed to the great man's name and position, but Joseph came out of the fierce flame with no smell of fire upon his garments. Women, too, have defied circumstances. The soldiers' camp was once notorious for the grog shop, for gambling and licentiousness, and yet even there Florence Nightingale and Augusta Stanley moved in and out, lifting soldiers up from baseness to sobriety and integrity; cleansing the filth from others without staining their garments of spotless purity. Does not the sunbeam cleanse the soil and yet remain itself unstained? Our age has failed to realise the importance of the will. God has made the soul king over its own territory. And circumstances cannot rob the righteous man of his strength, nor spoil him of his happiness and his victory. Moreover, man can rise above circumstances that involve temptation, and maintain spotless purity amidst conditions vicious and surcharged with evil, for the sanctuary of the soul is sacred. It is a castle that has one key, and that is controlled by the owner. Evil can stand in the street, under the soul's windows. Evil can display bribes, offer gifts, hold out a cup brimming with sorcery and sing the siren's song. But sin, with its cloven foot, can never cross the threshold until the will draws back the bolts and bars. Sin has no hypnotic power. And the soul stands above evil as the hero stands looking down upon the serpent, knowing that even the heel can crush the serpent's head. Away with the excuse that the soul is the victim of circumstances. It is given to the disciple of Christ to walk through the fire of temptation, and feel no harm. It is possible, also, to maintain happiness, midst trouble, disquietude, and defeat itself. For happiness is not in events on the outside. It is given to all to say with Paul, "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." For know, all ye young hearts, that environment is not in dwellings or palace. It is in the heavens above you. The apple tree is rooted in the soil, yet this orb of luscious fruit is not of the earth. Ninety per cent of the crisp, dripping juices were absorbed from the glowing sunbeams, from the forces of the great upper world, for the branches, stretching toward the sky, are the true roots. And man's body is a root that runs toward the house and street in which he lives, but the great invisible world above is the true world, toward which faith and hope, and prayer, and love, and aspiration, are branches dissolving invisible food, and there is man's true environment. There is your true life. The imagination can create its own environment. Only let the chambers of imagery he filled with lustrous scenes and noble imaginations. Doubtless the teachers of life are trouble and temptation, as well as joy and success. But happiness and victory are the ends thereof. It is possible to live victorious over all life's troubles. God wishes his sons and daughters to go singing through the years. Even in the tornado, it is said, there is a central spot where there is perfect quiet, and the particles of air are undisturbed. And he who trusts Christ his Saviour, and lives close to God's heart, has a chamber of peace in the very thick of life's storm. Be original in yourself, and overcome the circumstances that would degrade you.

(N. D. Hillis, D.D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

WEB: But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's dainties, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

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