Nebuchadnezzar spoke and said to them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not you serve my gods…
O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful, etc. (vers. 16-18). Sketch the leading features of this intensely interesting martyr-history; and then -
I. RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLE. And here, that we may not move in mist, let us open out, step by step, what needs to be said.
1. Principle. What is it .9 A principle is literally a first thing; a beginning; a cause. The spring on the mountain-side, whence the mighty river. The root of the tree. Newton's 'Principia.' The principle of the universe, the First, is God.
2. Religious principle. The essential idea in the word. "religion" is that of binding. (See the etymology.) Religion distinguishes that which binds man to God: it names the link that binds earth to heaven. Principle in religion is that at the root of man's being; that beginning of things in the soul which determines the outer life - word, deed, demeanour, habit, conduct.
3. The two kinds. Strictly speaking, the beginnings of religion may be in two entirely different spheres. They may be objective or subjective. There are beginnings with God, and beginnings in man.
(1) The objective principles of religion constitute the external revelation of God. That revelation is the expression of his love. Strictly regarded, this is the spring and root of all beside. From this point of view, the first principle of religion is indeed none other than God himself.
(2) The subjective principles of religion. These are the effect of the objective. They are beginnings in man; from whence all that is distinctly moral and spiritual proceeds.
(a) Truth in the mind. Fashion to decry the importance of truth; but it cannot be legitimately denied, it is vital.
(b) Feeling answering to the truth.
(c) Direction from the conscience according to truth and responding to emotion.
(d) Volition obedient to the royal authority of conscience.
4. The present form. Religious principle with us will take on evangelical forms. Our position is different from that of the three. They in twilight; we in blaze of midday. Truth came from God - for them through Moses and the prophets; for us, by Jesus Christ. They started from Sinai, we from Calvary. We begin with trust in a personal Christ - that is our first subjective principle - then follow truth, emotion, the moral imperative, obedience.
5. Moment of principle. Impossible to exaggerate its importance. What a man is in principle, that the man is all through.
II. ADHESION TO IT. A sublime example. Illustration and illumination of religious principle.
1. The temptation to abandon principle. Note what they were required to do. To bend the knee to an image of the world-power, perhaps of Bel, possibly of the king himself. All Sinai protested against it. But see temptations. Read their force in the light of our own nature.
(1) To bend the knee was a tittle thing. The moral meaning of little things; e.g. to sign another's name is forgery. To allow the Persians to pass Thermopylae!
(2) All the world would do it.
(3) Gratitude moved to compliance. (Daniel 2:48, 49.)
(4) Hope. More favour in the future.
(5) Fear. The furnace hot; the doom certain.
(6) Sight likely to be more dominant than faith. Faith sees as through mist.
2. The decision.
(1) Slowly built up. Perhaps the decision was instantly taken; but it was gradually built up in solidity and strength. The image not reared in a day. Gold to be collected. Plans. Estimates. Labourers got. The actual work. This would all take time. See mighty ruins of basements still at Dora. Some notice of the festival. Time to consult with friends, above all, with the heavenly Friend. (See John Foster's admirable sermon in 'Lectures,' vol. 2. p. 42, Bohn's edit.)
(2) The moral victory was earlier than the event. Long before first note of the music the decision had been reached, and the victory won. The pomp of the day had by meditation become familiar. All moral victory is secret and anticipative. (Illustration in common life: the Germans were virtually victorious before they crossed the Rhine in 1870-71.) So will it be with the Christian and death. (See Robertson's 'Sermons,' vol. 3:190, 195, "Victory over Death.")
(3) The decision was irreversible, once taken.
3. The act. The moral majesty of the three among millions. Alone. Yet not alone. Daniel. Sympathizers. Angels. God. All there with them I
4. Their dependence. These saints militant entrenched themselves behind two lines.
(1) God. He was:
(b) Their own God: "Our God."
(c) The object of their service. Eternal
(d) Able righteousness to deliver.
(e) Certainly, would. But if all this were not so, then:
(2) Ineffable grandeur of this moral position. Let God not deliver, not be able, be only an imagined object of service, not be their God, because indeed he does not exist. Then there is something behind and deeper than his throne. Right is right for ever and ever. Our vision of God may be obscured; our sense of right scarcely ever. This is clear:
(a) If there be a God, it cannot be right to bend down to a thing.
(b) If there be not, man is man, and still may not bow to a thing like this. Amid all life's temptations, bear in mind there is a God; and even if (for the sake of argument) there be not, there is still a soul; and in the soul a concept of absolute, unconditioned, eternal righteousness.
5. The result of the decision.
(1) As to themselves.
(a) Freedom from anxiety. "We are not careful."
(b) Silence. No noise. No apology. No elaborate defence.
(c) Salvation. In the fire, yet out of the fire; for the Saviour there.
(2) As to others. Who can estimate?
(a) On the Jews. Obedient to Sinai, but in more obscure positions than that of the three.
(b) On the heathen.
(c) On the universal Church, whenever and wherever the history of this heroism is told. - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?