Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment…
1. PRIDE AND VANITY. In one of our famous English universities an annual sermon is preached on "Pride." No one will say that once a year is too often for a congregation, young and old, to be bidden to meditate on that thesis. Many learned things have been said and written upon the nature and essence of pride. Probably none of them could equal in impressiveness this account of pride-speaking, this repeated pronoun, the persona"" and-the possessive: "Great Babylon, that I have builded by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty." Whatever other definitions may be given of pride, certainly this is true of it, that it is the contemplation of self, a concentration in self, the having self in the throne of the being, as the one object of attention, of observation, of consideration, always, everywhere, and in all things. It is often assumed that this attention given to self is of necessity the contemplation of supposed excellence, that it is, therefore, so far as it is characteristic of pride, of the nature of self-complacency, or self-admiration, and yet some of the proudest of men have been at the very antipodes of self-satisfaction. It is the very consciousness of their own deformity, moral or physical, of their own inferiority in some prized or coveted particular of birth, gift, or grace, which has driven them in upon themselves in an unlovely and unloving isolation. Self-complacency is not the only form of pride. It is doubtful whether that self-complacency does not rather belong to the very different title of vanity. A beggar may be proud; a cripple may be proud: failure takes refuge in pride. Pride is self-contemplation, but not necessarily self-admiration; self-absorption, but not necessarily self-adoration. It is not quite evident from the words of King Nebuchadnezzar whether his besetting sin was pride or vanity. Something may turn upon the unanswerable question whether he thought or whether he spoke the "Is not this great Babylon?" I think that vanity always speaks. I doubt if the vain man ever keeps his vanity to himself. I am sure that pride can be silent; I am not sure that pride, as pride, ever speaks. If I would ascertain which of the two was Nebuchadnezzar's failing, I should look rather to the hints dropped first in the Judgment upon him, and then in the account of the recovery. From the one I learn that what he had to be taught was that "the heavens do rule"; from the other I learn that he then first praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever. This decides me that, however pride and vanity may have mingled (if they ever do mingle) in his composition, pride was the differentia; that pride which contemplates self as the all in all of life and being, not necessarily as beautiful, of perfect, or happy; not necessarily as satisfactory, either in circumstance or in character, but as practically independent of all above and all below it, — the one object of importance, and interest, and devotion; knowing neither a superior to reverence, nor an inferior to regard. Vanity, though, or perhaps because, a poorer and meaner thing, is also a shallower thing, and less vital. Vanity may still be kind, a charity. Vanity may still love and be loved. Vanity, I had almost said, and I will say it, vanity may still worship. Vanity does not absolutely need to be taught the great lesson that "the Most High rules in the kingdom of men," or "does according to His will in the army of heaven." Pride and vanity both ask, "Is not this great Babylon?" but vanity asks it for applause from below, pride asks it in disdain of One above. But in all this we may not have found our own likeness. There may be some here who are not by natural temperament either proud or vain; and yet when I think once again what pride is, I doubt whether anyone is born without it. We may not dwell complacently upon our own merits. Certainly we may not be guilty of the weakness and the bad taste which would parade those supposed merits before others. Pride itself often casts out vanity, and refuses to make itself ridiculous by saying aloud, "Is not this great Babylon?" But the question is not whether we are self-admirers, but whether we are self-contemplators; not whether we are conceited in our estimate of gifts or graces, in our retrospect of attainments or successes, in our consciousness of power, or our supposition of greatness, but whether, on the contrary, we have constantly in our remembrance the derivation and the responsibility, and the accountableness of all that we have and are; whether there is a higher presence and a diviner being always in our view, making it impossible to admire or to adore that self which is so feeble and so contemptible in comparison; whether we are so in the habit of asking ourselves the two questions: "What hast thou which thou hast not received?" and "What hast thou for which thou shalt not give an account?" as to maintain always the attitude of worship, and the attitude of devotion within, and this superscription ever upon the doors and gates of the spiritual being, "Whose I am and Whom I serve."
II. GOD'S JUDGMENT ON PRIDE. We have formed now from the history perhaps some idea of pride. We have heard what pride says to itself in the secrecy of its solitude. The same history shall suggest another thought or two about it, and the first of these is its penal, its judicial isolation. "They shall drive thee from men." We are not going to explain away the literal, or at least the substantial fulfilment of this prophecy. Though it would be untrue to say that medical history furnishes a complete illustration of the judgment threatened and executed upon King Nebuchadnezzar, yet medical history does afford a sufficient likeness of it to render the fact, not credible only, for that its being written in the Bible would make it, but approximately intelligible. Some grievous forms of insanity in which the sufferer finds himself transfigured, in imagination at least, into an irrational creature, of which he adopts the actions and gestures, the tones and the habits, under which, in that harsh and cruel treatment of madness, from which even kings down to our own age were not exempt, the dweller in a palace might find himself exiled from the society and companionship of men. Something of this kind may seem to be indicated in this touching and thrilling description, and the use now to be made of it requires no more than this brief and general recognition of the particulars of the history from which it is drawn. He was driven from men; the Nemesis of pride is isolation. The proud man is placed atone in the universe, even while he dwells in a home. This is a terrible feature; this is the condemning brand of that self-contemplation, that self-concentration, that self-absorption, which we have thought to be the essence of pride. The proud man is driven by his own act, even before judgment speaks, if not from the presence, if not from the companionship, at least from the sympathy of his fellows. This isolation of heart and soul is the Cain-like mark set upon the unnaturalness of the spirit which it punishes. No sooner is self made the idol, than it shuts the windows of the inner being alike against God above and man below. "They shall drive thee from men." Thou hast driven thyself from God! Another thought comes to us out of the history. Mark the words describing the discovery, "Mine understanding returned unto me; my reason returned unto me." What was the first use of it? " I blessed the Most High; I praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever." It is deeply interesting to notice, and it fully accords with the observations of medical men, that the return of reason is here prefaced by a lifting up of the eyes to Heaven as though in quest of reconciliation and recognition. Yes, prayer is no stranger to the hospitals and asylums of the insane. Our moral is, the pride which will no worship is of itself an insanity. Worship is the rational attitude of the creature towards the Creator. Pride, dreaming of independence; pride, placing self where God ought to be; pride, tolling of the Babylon which it has builded; refusing to recognise any being above or below external to it, yet possessing claims upon it, is a non-natural condition. Before it can recover intellect it must look upward. The first sign of that recovery will be the acknowledgment of the Eternal. We have yet one word, and it is that of the text itself: "Those that walk in pride He is able to abase." Nebuchadnezzar puts it into his proclamation of thanksgiving: "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." King Nebuchadnezzar knew it by experience; he had lived in ignorance, he had lived in defiance of it, he had reaped as he had sewn, he had walked in pride, he had been driven from men. "Seven times had passed over him." Not till he had lifted his eyes to Heaven, not till he knew that self was not all, did reason return to him. Honour and brightness came back with it. His councillors and his lords sought him. We in England know, by tradition at least, what the rejoicings are when a monarch recovers his understanding, though there may have been no judgment in that insanity which was the calamity and the sorrow of an earlier generation of Englishmen. Nebuchadnezzar may have meant only to enthrone the God of Heaven as cue God, though the chief God of the crowded Pantheon. That is nothing to us now. We can read his words and put our own construction: "Those that walk in pride He is able to abase." Solemn, awful, terrible confession; verified day by day in history, not modern only, but of to-day! How often in our experience has a proud man, quite apart from act or deed of his own, found himself under a treatment but too nicely calculated to humble him! How often has a rich man, building his house on the winnings of chance or of speculation, found to his discomfiture that he has built it upon the sand! How often has a selfish man, having but one tender spot or two in his whole moulding and making, staked his very life, we will say, upon two well-beloved sons, and then found, to use the Scripture similitude, that he has "laid the foundation of his prosperity in the first-born and set up the gates thereof in the younger." How often has a professional man on the eve of the last step to greatness developed some fatal symptoms of palsy, or consumption, which made him bid farewell to all his glory, and betake himself to his last gloomy home, in the vaults, perhaps, beneath this church! How often has a statesman, brought by the last turn of the wheel of politics to the very summit of his ambition, been laid low by the importunate strokes of a jealous and envious rivalry, and compelled to exchange earth for the melancholy Pantheon of posthumous fame!
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.