As you, O king, were watching, a great statue appeared. A great and dazzling statue stood before you, and its form was awesome.
1. A grand unity loomed before Nebuchadnezzar. "Behold an image, one and grand" (Chaldee, ver. 31). Four empires represented, not by four figures, but one. Symbol of human power at its highest, that of universal empire, but separate from God. Same spirit and genius in all four. A common thing to represent empire by the human figure; e.g. Britannia. The colossal imagery of the dream the reflection of the magnificent scale of objects in Babylon. But:
2. A diversity.
(1) Inform; for after the head, the human form is double, in the toes tenfold.
(2) in substance: gold, silver, etc.; the diversity constitutes a successive deterioration.
3. Destruction For a time the image stands. At length there rushes through the air, self-detached, a stone, as instinct with life; it smites, destroys, pulverizes, and instantly the image is gone-nothing is left on the wide Assyrian plain but the stone, which then grows to be a mountain, a whole mountain region, filling the field of view, grand, beautiful, with its varied vegetation, from that of a tropical clime to the eternal snow. So complete was the displacement.
I. THE WHOLE. Observe respecting the ancient world-power:
1. Its unity. One image. One universal empire. One in alienation from God. This need not have been. Civil government is of God, may be a reflection of Divine government, rooted in Divine principles, administered in the fear of God, directed to the good of humanity, and so to the glory of God. The government of this world may be one in alliance with God.
2. Its majesty. Empire like this has a majesty of its own, even though alienated from God. Just as intellect or genius may. Man was made in the image of God, in this matter of dominion over men and also over nature. Of all forms of dominion, rule over a nation (much mere of nations) is of God.
(1) The idea of civil government is of God. Government must be. It is of the Divine will. Not some particular form, e.g. monarchical, republican, etc.; but government in essence.
(2) So its realization. Government of some kind is an everlasting fact, perpetuated in the providence of God. Empire has then intrinsic majesty. Much more when in alliance with God.
3. Its weakness. All things human deteriorate, unless redeemed from corruption by the saving power of religion. The life of all that lasts is of God. It would be interesting to trace, if that were possible, the gradual deterioration of heathen religiousness, from the purer Chaldee form to the Roman degradation. As life declined, so the strength of empire went down.
II. THE PARTS.
1. The head of gold: Babylon.
(1) The empire itself.
(a) First in order of time (first universal empire).
(b) Possessed certain unity (head).
(c) Characterized by intelligence.
(d) Magnificent (gold). (For illustration, see Rawlinson's 'Manual of Ancient History,' p. 35.)
(2) Its relation to the kingdom of God, Note the pressure of the all-directing hand on these heathen world-kingdoms, Babylon:
(a) Cured, by the Captivity, Israel of idolatry.
(b) Prepared the world for unity under the Roman empire, and so prepared for the Advent.
2. The breast and arms of silver: Medo-Persia.
(1) The empire. Silver less value and power of resistance than gold. So Persia inferior to Babylon. Not in extent; but greatness is never to be confounded with bigness. (For vivid picture of real state of Persia, see Eber's ' Egyptian Princess.')
(2) Relation to Divine kingdom. The Church returned healed from the Captivity. Second temple built. Persia an instrument for raising the dormant energies of Greece, which became, under Alexander, the universal empire, and spread Greek culture, civilization, and speech everywhere, and so prepared the way for the coming of the Lord.
3. The belly and thighs of brass: Greece.
(1) The empire. None other than Greece; for:
(a) Greece succeeded Persia, and, like it, was a universal monarchy.
(b) Is named in the same order (Daniel 8:20, 21).
(c) Brass armour marked the Greeks; their soldiers were the "brazen-coated."
(2) Relation to the Divine kingdom. The service of Greece to Christ's kingdom was vast. Let the following brief sentences and phrases be suggestive: Alexander no vulgar conqueror; a fusion of East and West his object; hence, colonization, intermarriages of races, foundation of seventy cities; the idea, one brotherhood of humanity. Oriental thought blended with Hellenic culture. As a part of this plan, first dispersion of the Jews; and so everywhere a synagogue, the Septuagint, and Hebrew (i.e. true) ideas of God, sin, the Saviour. Influence of the Alexandrian school on early Christianity.
4. The legs of iron: Rome.
(1) The empire. This was indeed Rome, and not the empire of Alexander's successors; for:
(a) To omit Rome frustrates the design of the image to exhibit in succession the great empires which preceded the Advent.
(b) Rome existed at the Advent, not so the empire of Alexander's successors.
(c) Compare fourth beast (Daniel 7:7: et seg.).
(d) The symbolic imagery is strikingly close to the reality of Rome.
(2) Relation to the Divine kingdom and the Advent. Under the shield of the prevalent Roman law, Jesus was born, lived, and was crucified. Hence Gentile with Jew nailed him to the tree. The Crucifixion was marked by publicity. Rome destroyed city and temple, broke up the Jewish Church, and scattered the nation. The most prominent suggestions of this exposition are:
1. The almightiness of God's subordinating power. All things - interests, men, nations, kings - bend before it.
2. The way in which hostile powers serve his purpose. Often unconsciously, and in spite of their own intention.
3. Christ the Centre of history. To him, before the Advent, all things tend; and since, from him all things date. The greatness of the Lord Jesus. Imagine Christ taken out of the history of man! - R.
etc., according to their geographical and political relation to the empire in general. The various metals of which Nebuchadnezzar's image was composed represented the various kingdoms which should arise subsequent to the fall of his own empire. Their position in the body of the image clearly denoted the order of their succession. The different metals and their position also expressed different degrees of strength, riches, power, and durability. Clay, earth, and dust, of course, mean weakness, instability.
Thou, O King, sawest, and behold a great image.
Homilist.Look at evil as represented by this colossal image.
I. IT IS A COMPOUND THING. The image was made up of various substances: gold, silver, brass, iron, clay. Evil does not often appear here in its naked simplicity, it is mixed up with other things. Errors in combination with truths, selfishness with benevolence, superstition with religion, infidelity with science, injustice with law and evil, too, is in combination with customs, systems, institutions. It is a huge conglomeration. Unmixed naked evil could not, perhaps, exist. Worldly souls so compound it as to make evil seem good.
II. IT IS A BIG THING. This image was the biggest thing in the imagination of the monarch. Evil is the biggest thing in the world. The image represents here what Paul meant by the "world," the mighty aggregation of evil. Alas, evil is the great image in the world's mind.
III. IT IS AN IMPERIAL THING. The various substances that composed the image, Daniel tells us, represent kingdoms — Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. Evil here is imperial. The New Testament calls it "The kingdom of darkness." It wears the purple, occupies the throne, and wields the sceptre of nations.
IV. IT IS A HUMAN THING. The colossal image was a human figure — human head, breast, arms, legs, feet; and of human manufacture. All the errors of the world are the fabrications of the human brain; all the had passions of the world are the lusts of the human heart; all the wrong institutions of the world are the productions of human power. Evil is human, it thinks with the human brain; it speaks with the human tongue; it works with the human hand. Man is at once its creator, organ, and victim.
V. IT IS A TOTTERING THING. On what does the figure stand? On marble, on iron, or brass? No, on clay; his feet part of iron and part of clay. Evil, big, grand, and imperial though it be, lacks standing power; it is not firm-footed. It has clay feet, and must one day tumble to pieces.
(W. A. Scott, D.D.)
I. THE DREAM, ITS PREDICTIONS, AND THEIR FULFILMENT PROVE THE SUPREME AND PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE OF GOD, AND THEREBY ALSO SHOW THE TRUTH OF THE BIBLE. Now this prediction of the future destinies of nations could not be without revelations from God, nor could it be unless God be both sovereign in providence and in nature. It is God only and alone who can foretell the distant changes of time and nations; and this He can do and has done as infallibly as He knows the revolutions of the heavenly bodies. God knows as perfectly and as certainly what the commotions of the people and the thousand passions of kings and statesmen will produce, as what the thousand attractions of the stars and their most distant courses will bring about in immensity. Astronomers give us beforehand the details of eclipses, because the Creator has impressed His will upon the universe as a code of physical laws. He rules mankind, who dwell on the earth, as well as the worlds which roll in infinite space. He stays the commotions of the people, as well as the billows of the sea. He holds in His hand the hearts of the rulers of the earth, as He counts the hosts of Heaven and calls them all by name.
II. THE HISTORY OF NATIONS PRESENTS TWO ELEMENTS IN THEMSELVES PERFECTLY DISTINCT, AND YET ALWAYS MORE OR LESS UNITED, AND ALWAYS MORE OR LESS SUBJECTED TO MUTUAL AND RECIPROCAL INFLUENCES. I mean the political and religious history of a country. The religious habitudes of a people do of necessity deeply affect their morals, and their social and national characteristics. So palpable is the influence of religion upon a nation, that it has long been received as a canon of philosophical history, that the religion of a country being known, all the rest of that country's history can be easily known. It is not essential to mere physical existence that we have comfortable houses to live in, and that they are adorned with the products of industry and filled with the comforts of commerce. We could live in tents. But certainly those who have once tasted the elegances of refined life will not desire to go back to semi-barbarism. So it is not essential for all pious people to be politicians, yet all the members of Christ's Church are interested in the political interests of the world; and Christian young men should prepare themselves to take a part in the civil affairs of their country. If the administration of our laws and the outwork of our great institutions are left wholly in the hands of ungodly or unprincipled men, we cannot expect God's blessing to rest upon us.
III. Observe HOW CAREFUL DANIEL WAS TO REMEMBER HIS FRIENDS IN PROSPERITY. Like Joseph, when exalted, he was not ashamed of his poor kin. At his request his three friends were promoted to high employments in the department over which he presided.
IV. Throughout Daniel's history we see in him, as in Joseph, A DISPOSITION TO HUMBLE HIMSELF AND EXALT HIS GOD. Without prevarication or hesitancy he shows his abhorrence of idolatry, and his deep and earnest conviction that the God whom he served was the only real and true God. He claims nothing for himself. When the king asks him if he is able to make known the dream and its interpretation, he reminds the king that there had been no power in the gods of his diviners which had enabled them to do this; but "there is a God in Heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days." And in the whole affair we hear him ascribing everything to God. And his object was in part attained. The king's mind became so powerfully impressed with Daniel's arguments and demonstrations, that he made the remarkable declaration: "Of a truth it is that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings."
(W.A. Scott, D.D.)use."
(R. B. Shepherd, M.A.)Daniel 2, where, under the figure of a man in stately proportion, they are seen in their succession by a man of the Gentiles; the other from the Divine standpoint in Daniel 7 and 8, where, by a man of God, they are seen in their origin. The one, therefore, displays their outward appearance to the eye of a man of the world; the other reveals their moral character to the eye of the man of God. Nebuchadnezzar sees these nations and "times of the Gentiles" under the outward aspect of glittering gold, shining silver, brilliant brass, and irresistible iron. Daniel sees them as wild beasts, ferocious in their nature, cruel in their career. Nebuchadnezzar sees them in a dream, as a stately man, in his palace. Daniel sees them in a vision of God, as wild beasts arising out of the waters. For, "man being in honour abideth not, he is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49:12). And man apart from God, has ever gone, and must ever go down, down! Even the saint without Christ can do nothing. But man apart from God can do "only evil continually." He goes down, as it is here shown, from gold to miry clay; and from the noble lion to the nondescript dragon! Yes, man has indeed a free will, but it is ever exercised in opposition to God's will, it is "enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). Man has ever destroyed himself, and his help is found only in God (Hosea 13:9). Now look at the image. Look first at its values. All tend downwards, first gold, then silver, brass, iron, and clay. Look at its weight, its specific gravity. Gold is equivalent to 19.3; silver, 10.51; brass, 8.5; iron, 7.6; clay, 1.9. Down, down front 19.3 to 1.9. The image is top-heavy, and the first blow of the mighty stone upon the feet shall shatter its pottery, and bring it all down in pieces. So it is with the beasts, which are all emblazoned on the banners, and stamped on the coins of the Gentile nations. But they are wild beasts, and they run rapidly down from the lion to the bear, from the bear to the leopard, and from the leopard to the hybrid monstrosity. All is on the descending scale, all is seen to be growing worse and worse. Those who look for the world to improve and progress fill it developes into the Millennial kingdom, must account for this. We all agree that these things are figures, but they are figures of a reality, and that which is represented as an ever increasing descent, cannot possibly be the figure for a gradual ascent. At any rate, it was not so interpreted to Daniel by the Holy Ghost. He said to Nebuchadnezzar, "Thou art this head of gold, and after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee" (Daniel 2:38, 39). Yet, with all this advancing deterioration, there is a seeming advance in apparent greatness, but it is in reality only weakness. The first empire, Babylon, is seen as one; the second, the Medo-Persian, is seen as two; the third, Greece, becomes four (Macedonia, Thrace, Syria, Egypt); and the fourth, Rome, becomes ten. So that there is less and less of that unity which is strength, and more and more of that division and separation which is weakness. And as the image thus declines in all that is great, noble, and precious, so the beasts become more wild and ferocious. Government runs down, down! The first (Babylon) was an autocracy, "whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive" (Daniel 5:19). The second was a parliament of princes, and the law of the Persian kingdom was stronger than the Persian king (Daniel 6:1-14). The third, Greece, was a government of oligarchies; while in the fourth, Rome, we see the mingling of princely iron with the communistic clay; until, in our day, we see more and more of the clay and less and less of the iron, till good government is the one great want of the age all over the world. Man has been tried and found wanting. He cannot govern himself as an individual, apart from God. How, then, can he do it nationally? No! the descent is from God to the devil, from Christ to anti-Christ.
1. In showing that certain prevailing ideas of excellence were inadequate to satisfy human wants, each one of these world-kingdoms played an important part. It has evidently been a part of God's plan to let nations try, on a great scale, their theories of human advantage. Then, as one after another nations carrying out these theories have gone down into ignominy and ruin, the fallacy of their theories of happiness has been proved. Babylon represented the idea of sensuous and sensual pleasure. There money could purchase everything, and there the grossest delights of the flesh were indulged in to the full. Its luxury was boundless. The wild and wanton feast of Belshazzar and his lords, as described in the book of Daniel, is a mild picture of the drinking habits, the profligacy and licentiousness of the Babylonians. No other nation ever illustrated so fully as they the idea that man cannot find satisfaction in material enjoyments. An Oriental people, of warm blood, living in a hot climate, with the greatest abundance about them, their very religion ministering to their ideas of pleasure, surely, they, if any in the world could do it, might find the end of life in luxury. But in this they were grievously disappointed. Their pleasure-loving was utterly demoralizing, and ended in their ruin. The Medo-Persian Empire comes next into view. This people had higher ideas of life than the Babylonian. They were monotheists, or at least dualists. They were not a luxurious people. They despised silver and gold, and when they made war upon Babylon they could not be bought off as other attacking armies. Hence Isaiah says, "Behold, I will stir up the Medea against them," — that is, against the Babylonians — "which shall not regard silver, and as for gold, they shall not delight in it." The controlling idea of the Medo-Persian Empire was glory. What they sought above all else was military renown. To them vastness of numbers and vastness of territory had a peculiar charm. At one time the empire covered an immense stretch of country, from the river Indus and the Hindoo-Koosh Mountains on the east to the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Sahara on the west. This was the empire which delighted in the most immense armies the world has ever known. Xerxes brought together against Greece two million and a half of men. But glory failed to satisfy, as had pleasure in the preceding kingdom. Presently this great empire, with its twenty satrapies, fell to pieces. The Macedonian Empire followed, bringing into view a wonderful civilization. Its days exalted intellect. Philosophy and art were the prominent forms of delight. Men sought refuge from the ills of life in the spacious groves of the academy, where Socrates and Plato and other great thinkers elaborated schemes of thought to explain all that troubles man and to provide a remedy. The faculties of man were at their highest, and in no age of the world has there been a finer development of literature and art. But it failed to meet the cravings of man, or to defend him against evil. The Macedonian Empire went down into speedy decay. With the death of Alexander it broke into two great fragments, the empires of the Ptolemies and the Selucidae, and presently another and greater world-empire swallowed up both of these. The Roman Empire was the last of these great world-kingdoms, and this set forth the idea of power. Rome, as no other nation before it, was thoroughly organized. The controlling ambition of Rome in its highest prosperity was to rule. It emphasized the ideas of law, of order, of force. It drew up a legal code that became the model for subsequent ages. Its mighty legions swept all lands, and nothing could stand before them. Lacking the grace and delicacy of Grecian civilization, caring less for fame and show than the Medo-Persian civilization, scorning in its best days the sybaritism of the Babylonian civilization, its fitting symbol was not the gold of Babylon, nor the silver of Persia, nor the bronze of Greece, but iron — hard, destructive, invincible iron. But law, though organized most thoroughly, and force, though developed into its highest forms, gave no guaranty of national permanence and secured no national happiness. Rome lapsed into weakness. The magnificent nation became permeated with vice, and easily fell a prey to the barbarians of the north. Its iron was mingled with clay.
2. And as the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold were broken in pieces together and carried away by the wind, while the stone that smote them became a great mountain and filled the whole earth, it is well for us to see how these world-kingdoms all contributed toward the establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth before they disappeared. Babylon destroyed the tendency of the Jews to idolatry. Before they were carried away into captivity they had repeatedly gone after the false gods of the nations around them. But Babylon established them in the firmest opposition to the sin. Even Rome trembled before the fierceness of their hostility to idolatry, and at their wish removed from Jerusalem its military ensigns on which were images of Caesar. This intense monotheism was a necessary preparation for the coming of Christ. The Babylonish captivity likewise scattered the Jews everywhere. But few of them returned to Jerusalem. This dispersion of the Jews served an important purpose in making ready for the kingdom of Christ. It caused a general expectation of His coming throughout the world. It provided places for the preaching of the Gospel, for wherever a synagogue stood there Jewish Christians were at first able to speak for Christ. It secured an early presentation of the Gospel in all lands. The Jews converted at Pentecost went back into every land with the story of the Cross. The Jews in foreign lands were obliged to modify largely the ritual of their fathers. The Medo-Persian Empire broke down the scandalous Babylonish idolatry and destroyed a pestiferous influence in the ruling forces of the world. By its wide conquests it broke up the fallow ground of human thought, destroyed prejudices, and so opened the way for the Gospel. It re-established the Jewish worship in Jerusalem, and so kept the Divine fire of religious truth burning till Christ should come. The religious efforts inaugurated in the time of Cyrus and Darius and other Medo-Persian kings were permanent in their results. Not simply was the temple rebuilt, but the Scriptures were collected and copied and familiarized. And what did the Macedonian Empire do for Christ? It diffused the Greek language with Greek literature and Greek modes of thought. Intellects were wonderfully quickened the world over. The Old Testament was translated by Alexandrian scholars into Greek. Thus the Scriptures were made known to the world, thus language was fitted to express the lofty thoughts of the Gospel, and thus men were lifted up on a higher plane of thought, where they could appreciate and receive the preaching of the apostles. And Rome? The great Roman Empire established a universal dominion which facilitated the spread of the Gospel. It built good roads to all lands and policed them. It secured a fair measure of good order. In consequence the apostles could carry their Divine message all over the world. The Roman Empire also had an important bearing on Christ's atonement. It was the official authority which put Him to death. Thus it joined Gentile and Jew as alike guilty before God, and alike needing the benefits of the great sacrifice. It furnished a legal, and, therefore, peculiarly incontrovertible testimony to His death. It proved His resurrection by stationing guards at the tomb, who would assuredly have been put to death if His body had been stolen by His disciples. And it ended the Jewish ritual, for shortly after Christ's death Roman legions destroyed the temple, scattered the Jews, and made impossible the temple service. Can we doubt, even after this review, that Christ's empire is superior to all that went before it, and that on their pulverized and widely scattered fragments it is built up?
(Addison P. Foster.)
Outlines by a London Minister.I. ALL WORLD-KINGDOMS DESTITUTE OF GOODNESS WILL END IN DUST. This is the doom of the great kingdoms of the world who are destitute of sufficient morality to preserve themselves in existence.
II. THE OLDER THE WORLD BECOMES THE LESS ENDURING AND THE MORE WORTHLESS ARE THE MERE WORLD-KINGDOMS. The longer anything that is dying lives, the less valuable it is. Those who are dying morally become of less and less worth in the world the longer they continue in it. So with all kingdoms founded on a mere worldly basis. Mere physical power becomes of less worth in proportion to the progress of the world by the development of moral force.
III. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD AND THAT OF CHRIST, IN THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE IMAGE AND THE STONE. In relation to size, materials; in their origin, strength, place in human history, length of existence. Lessons:
1. God may instruct a saint through the brain of a sinner. Here Daniel is instructed by Nebuchadnezzar.
2. That all the materials of the world may be used, and so consecrated, as means of illustrating Divine truth. The most common-place things can be ennobled by being the vehicles of moral teaching.
3. We must judge, not according to appearances, but according to the inherent strength of things and persons.
4. Sin will not resign its dominion unless it be smitten. We cannot drive out the devil of evil habits by gentle persuasion or long speeches.
5. There can be no success against evil unless we are connected with the supernatural. There are virtuous people in the world who are not Christians. There have been some bright examples of such among heathen nations. But they could make no head against sin around them, even if they had no strong tendencies to gross or palpable sin within. Sin within us, or around us, can only be smitten through connection with a "stronger than the strong man armed," who has himself smitten evil by a sinless life and an atoning death.
(Outlines by a London Minister.)
I. THE IMAGE. We are not left to conjecture the meaning, either of the whole or of its separate parts (v. 36-43). The head of gold meant the Babylonish empire, especially during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (v. 37, 38). The breast and arms, which were of silver, are understood to mean the Medo-Persian empire (v. 39); the belly and thighs of brass, the Grecian, particularly under Alexander the Great (v. 39); and the legs and feet, these last being divided into ten toes, the Roman, in the different conditions of an empire and of the ten kingdoms into which it was afterwards divided (v. 40-43); all of this is commonly understood, and so generally allowed, as to warrant our omitting any special or detailed proof. It will also be observed that these different empires are introduced as occurring in succession, and as bringing before us the condition of the world continuously, during a very long period. But there remaineth another characteristic of this vision. The object revealed is an image. The word translated image is indeed something employed to signify merely a figure or resemblance of something. But its more ordinary meaning, and that which the circumstances seem to require, is that of an idol. The object introduced is in the form of a man, the materials employed are like those of idols, and the greatness and strange mixture of the figure do also correspond. But the nations of the world, and especially those introduced, must in this way somehow or other be idolatrous; and the idolatry will require to be such as may be reached, as will afterwards appear, by the progress of Christianity. Thus far we are carried by the image itself; and now we are led to look around, and to ask whether the kingdoms of this world be really such as is here supposed — whether all Pagan nations are essentially idolatrous, and whether all others not yet perfect are in the sight of God chargeable with less or more of the same offence?
1. Now, first of all, it will be recollected that the same corruption which exists in the individual affects society. Speaking of man as an individual, sin was first introduced into his heart; but out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc.; and thus the whole man becomes defiled. Then families made up of such individuals must also be impure; and this not merely as regards the conduct of particular members, but as respects domestic habits, and the authority of those who are heads of families. But families grow into tribes, and tribes have laws and law-givers exercising authority over them. But again, tribes become nations, and nations, whether by conquest or federal union, become empires; and in this state the evil is still worse. The contagion is greater, and the laws and customs, if supported by public opinion, are almost irresistible; and what now would the world itself be, if left to its own corruption, but one common though varied mass of moral evil.
2. The reasoning employed in these remarks is fully borne out by facts. The sin originally introduced into the breasts of our first parents soon discovered itself in their offspring; Cain slew Abel, and because his own works were evil and his brother's good. In the course of a few generations the Church had to be separated from the world on account of the prevalence of iniquity. The same thing again occurred after the flood. It occurred to such an extent that in the days of Abraham, who was only the tenth from Noah, special provision had again to be made for the preservation of religious truth. And we have, if possible, a still stronger proof in the description furnished by an Apostle, as applicable to the world at the fulness of time. This account contains an explanation also of the corrupting principles. In different countries there are different forms of superstition, different kinds of prevailing indulgences, and laws, and customs having different tendencies; but in all, the corruption of the human heart is seen festering in society, and pervading all its arrangements. It is not merely that there is the oozing forth of the corruption of the heart, and this as defiling all things, but that all the influence of power, all the authority of laws, and strong current of public opinion, are wholly impure, unrighteous, and irreligious. And what, in like manner, are the sympathies of such a people, but sympathies in favour of corruption, of immoral indulgences, and unrighteous laws.
3. But there is another view of this subject, necessary to the filling up of our prophetical delineation. We understand the image to be representative of idolatry, and in correspondence with this we believe the world, in its unbelieving state, to be essentially idolatrous. It will be generally admitted that Pagan nations are for the most part idolaters. The true history of man's condition religiously is this: Religion is of God — is communicated by His Spirit to the individual inwardly; and to the world by the revelation of His will outwardly. It is itself pure in either way; but on coming into contact with the corruption of the human heart, and of a world lying in sin, it becomes impure, and if left alone would grow into corruption itself. Confining our illustration to the world collectively, the history of nations has only to be read that it may be seen. But this very tendency to corrupt, tends also to an ultimate annihilation of religion itself. The same alienation of mind from God, which veils in forms adapted to the human heart, leads to an utter forgetfulness of God, and distaste for everything proper to His worship. Even ancient Greece and Rome had almost reached this very condition, when Christianity stepped in and saved these nations from absolute infidelity. It will be observed that in all this we have spoken only of Paganism, but the same principle extends to corruptions of every form. The very same tendency of our corrupt nature, which converted the simple faith of the Patriarchs into Paganism, changed the doctrines and worship of the Apostles and first Christians into Mohammedanism, Popery, and other forms of error less generally known. In these residers, therefore, nearly all will admit that the nations of the world are for the must part idolaters. But there is another sense in which the nations of the world are fitly represented by the prophetical image; and although this is certainly the more abstract, it is nevertheless that which seems mainly intended. The head of gold directly pictured the King of Babylon and the glory of his reign (v. 37, 38), not the priests of Bel, or anything proper to the idolatry of Babylon; and so was it of the other parts of the image (v. 39-43). These were like the head, all severally descriptive of the nations they represented politically. And politically, therefore, must these nations be held as idolatrous. The principle arrived at in the other case will assist us. Idolatry is the giving of that honour and glory to any other which is due only to God. And so, when the flatterers of Herod shouted, "It is the voice of a god and not of a man, immediately the angel of the Lord smote him because he gave not God the glory!" (Acts 12:22, 23). And this was the very sin of the King of Babylon, and no doubt that which rendered the head of gold a part of the image (v. 28-30 and 34-37). And this is the master sin, first of the human heart, then of each family, and lastly of kingdoms and empires, including their laws and customs, and whatever else may direct or control society. And curious enough it is, that here also the corrupting tendency diverges into two separate currents, the one ending in an entire absence of everything like an acknowledgment of God, and the other in the embodying of interested and corrupt ends under the cover of Divine authority. The latter, as in forms of worship, is greatly more common than the other. Most nations embody their faith in their constitution, and some even allege the authority of the State to be Divine; nevertheless that it is in all its leading features opposed to the will of God, and essentially an organized form of oppression, and thus instrumental in promoting rather than restraining wickedness. This alliance nevertheless gives stability to such governments, and, on the principle already referred to, namely, that the ends so served are natural to man, and are sought by him. And the analogy holds equally good in the other branch, for what is a government, simply expressive of a nation's will, and without any acknowledgment of God, or any observance of His laws, but infidel? Now, both of these tendencies, it will be observed, manifest themselves in Christian as well as Pagan nations. They are the concomitants of moral corruption, the one generally in circumstances of popular ignorance and superstition, and the other in nations distinguished for intellectual attainments, or at least activity, with a less amount of practical religion. The rapid survey which we have thus taken of what may be called political idolatry, is perhaps enough to show the truth of the principle proceeded upon; and there is only one other element in this condition of the world which we shall stop to notice. It is the well ascertained fact that no nation has the power of reforming itself. No barbarous nation, for example, has ever been known to become civilized except through the interference of some other nation already in that state. All intellectual improvement originates with religion — with revealed truth. This at least may be proved, that the introduction of religion to any nation is ever followed by intellectual improvement. And it is all but proved that nothing but religion will so humanise the mind of any nation as to give it a taste for general knowledge. And so far as the lights of history guide us, we are farther induced to believe that the early improvement even of heathen nations, such as that of Greece, was brought about by the importation of knowledge from countries which had not yet wholly lost an acquaintance with Divine truth. The prophetical image was thus literally descriptive of the condition of the world. The head was of gold, and is passed downwards into silver, and brass, and iron mixed with clay; but still it was a piece of dead matter, undergoing indeed changes, but these were all downward. They were as nations themselves, still becoming more and more debased, and yet, in no stage of this progress, discovering aught of a redeeming tendency. This, be it observed, is the character under which all nations, unblessed with the Gospel, are to be seen, and in so far as any nation is wanting in moral and religious influence, it is under the same taint, and is subject to the same progress. This, therefore, is the aspect under which the world ought to be contemplated, apart from the effects of Gospel truths, or short of their full and transforming power.
II. THE STONE CUT OUT OF THE MOUNTAIN WITHOUT HANDS. The cutting of this stone out of the mountain was not coeval with the commencement of the succession of kingdoms set forth in the image. "Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out," which is explained in the 44th verse thus: "And in the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom." Then, as to the execution of the threatening that this stone should smite the image, it is said in the vision, "which smote the image upon his feet," that is, during the continuance of the Roman empire; and yet, in doing this, it is added that not only the iron and clay, but also "the brass, the silver, and the gold" were to be broken to pieces together. This leads us at once to the time of the cutting out of the stone. It was to be looked forward to during the times of the Babylonish, the Medo-Persian, and the Grecian Empires; but it was to occur under the Roman. And how is it then possible for anyone to doubt as regards the fulfilment? The explanatory description is, "In the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed." The figure introduced is in many respects fitted to bring before us the leading characteristics of the Church aa regards the world.
1. And first, as to its origin. Quarries were of old frequently in mountains, and there is nothing perhaps in this beyond a proper keeping with the imagery employed; but its being cut out of the mountain "without hands" was no doubt intended to point at the Divine origin of Christianity, and this as distinguishing, it from every other form of religion. It was literally of God. Its foundation stone was His own incarnate Son — its first propagaters were His inspired Apostles — the first Christian Church was born under the special power of Pentecostal influence. Such an institution is eminently of God, and must, from its very nature, endure for ever.
2. Another of its characteristics is set forth in the power of the stone to break the image. We all know that among the rude implements of ancient times employed in breaking any piece of carved work, a mass of stone was the most natural, and that which was most frequently used. Now, be it remembered, that the prophetical image has been explained as meaning not the abstract constitution and power of nations, but their idolatrous character — and this, whether it respects the moral condition of their superstitious and polluted worship, or their self-willed and unrighteous, if not also impious, governments. The thing to be broken, therefore, and reduced to powder, is not the ordinance of government, which is of God, but the idolatry of nations, which is wholly of man. And now it will be seen that Christianity, as taught by the Apostles, was eminently fitted to effect this — was so fitted as simply by its progress to carry out all that is here meant. But allow conscience to be once awakened — let the individual once feel himself restrained from wonted habits, and compelled to unwonted causes of conduct — and even he will be brought into collision with his fellow men. His own family will take offence, and his neighbours will eye him askance, and by and bye an arm of power will be lifted up against him. But allow the one to become a thousand, and the thousand to become many thousands, and now the cry will be raised of "turning the world upside down." It will now become a matter of necessity, either that such parties shall be freed from sinful laws and customs, or that they shall be put down by the hand of power. What reason would thus pourtray, history narrates. The day of Pentecost was but as yesterday, when the doctrines of Peter and John gave offence, and they were called before the Jewish Sanhedrim, and taught as they had been by the Master himself to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's," they were nevertheless compelled to say to the High Priest and his Council, "whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God judge ye, for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19, 20); and on another occasion, "we ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). This of itself affords proof as well as illustration; but the instructions of the Saviour, originally given to His Apostles, are more direct and certain. (Matthew 10:16-18, 34-36.) Nothing can more Clearly show that the Church was to be brought into collision with the idolatry of the world, and that it was in the first place to suffer.
3. It may, however, be well to rest here for a little, so as to look at what is said of this smiting of the image even on the feet, that the whole image was thereby reduced to powder. In this we have just another proof of the principle on which we are proceeding. Suppose mere idolatry, as known under some particular form, to be meant by the image, then would the stone require to have been applied to the head of gold, as well as to the feet of iron and clay. But if the idolatry meant, be as we have been alleging, that alienation from God, and substitution of the corrupt will of the creature for the unerring will of the Creator, then will the idolatry brought before us be one as the prophetical image, no matter that the head and the other parts are of diverse materials. It will be thus seen that the kingdom of Satan is one, though of many successive ages, and that it remained in power down to the time of the first planting of Christianity. And it conveys to us this farther idea, which is of some practical importance, namely, that whatever remains of national alienation from God, is in reality a part of the kingdom of Satan, and such as ought to be kept under the power of the stone. And what would you more? it will be said. Would you have her to do as she had been dealt by? Would you have her to persecute? By no means. And what would you then? Simply to carry forward the work in which she had been engaged, with all the advantages of her acquired power; not to rest, but to carry forward the work of Christ as regards Scriptural instruction, till, by the blessing of God, the remaining outfield be as the vineyard of the Lord; and not to rest as regards laws, and customs, and authority, till these be severally based on the Word, and imbued by a spirit of piety.
4. But this carries us forward to another and most important branch of this subject; we mean the stone becoming the mountain and filling the whole earth. It is altogether too large to be received merely as one characteristic; and, therefore, we shall speak of it in parts. It will be observed, then, from the vision, that the pounding of the image and the enlargement of the stone, so as to become a mountain and to fill the earth, were not strictly consecutive, that is, the stone did not first become a mountain filling the earth, and then smote the image, neither that the stone first broke to pieces the image, and that when this was quite done it became a mountain, for the co-existence of the stone and the image for some considerable time is clearly implied (v. 44). The thing meant was, that the stone, when first cut out of the mountain, and when still portable, was employed in pounding the image, and that as this went on, so it grew, till by a diminution of the image and an enlargement of the stone the one took the place of the other. The one disappeared and the other became a mountain, filling the whole earth. And this we have in part seen. As Christianity grew, Paganism and Pagan rule decayed, and nominally at least, Christianity is even now seen as some lofty mountain towering over all human institutions, and as it grows applying its weight — its influence — to the demolition of another and another position of the fabric of Paganism.
5. But we ought not, perhaps, to conclude this series of remarks without adverting to an interpretation of this and similar passages, which has, in different ages, been the cause of great social mischief, and which ought to be guarded against. When the Reformation in Germany had well-nigh reached a state of general diffusion, there broke out among the half-instructed people an opinion leading to revolution and bloodshed. Galled with the continuance of political grievances, they sought to obtain deliverance under the influence of religious motives. They fancied themselves entitled to revolutionise states and overturn governments, for the purpose of erecting in their room others more in accordance with what they believed to be the will of God. And the effect was, first a civil war, and afterwards the destruction of the parties engaged, and last of all the hindrance of religion, as regarded its progress and also its legitimate influence. On these accounts it may be well very distinctly to guard whatever is said on a subject of this kind. This is due to Society — it is due to as many as would be instructed and act on their belief; but it is due also to religion. And it is a matter of satisfaction that this may be done simply by pointing back to the doctrine of the vision. It is not, then, be it remarked, that the Church is to interfere with the affairs of the State, and far less that Church members are to draw the sword, and thus forcibly to alter the laws and constitution of kingdoms. The Church is spiritual, and it is to carry on its pounding process only by spiritual means. It is to shed abroad the light of the Gospel on society, and thus to dispose the nation to righteous laws and right government.
(D. Macfarlan, D.D.)
I. THE GREAT EMBLEMED WORLD-EMPIRES.
1. The Babylonian monarchy was the head of gold. The head well emblemed it for its unity and intelligence. The sagacious and despotic will of the king bound the far-reaching kingdoms into one. Nebuchadnezzar's victories were those of peace as well us of war.
2. The Medo-Persian Empire. Emblemed by the breast and arms of silver. For two centuries it was the universal empire. But it lacked the unity of the kingdom it overthrew and was as inferior to it as silver, for value and solidity, is inferior to gold. Cyrus was its greatest ruler.
3. The Empire of Greece was emblemed by the belly and thighs of brass. Its soldiers were known among the ancients as the brazen-coated Greeks. Its founder was Alexander, a swift, transcendent, military genius. He sought, with wise, philanthropic aim, to blend the nations of Asia and Europe into a brotherhood.
4. The Roman Empire was emblemed by the legs of iron, with the feet part of iron and part of clay. The stern, if not savage, valour of Rome was well pictured by iron. The Romans, the ironsides, the iron hearts, vanquished the world to their power. But their power was mixed with weakness, for they gathered nations into their citizenship without inspiring them with their own hardy virtues. So Rome ended in being divided into many kingdoms. All the four powers became embodied in the Roman, which was the world-power when our Saviour was upon earth, and thus may all be deemed as broken with it.
II. CHRIST'S EMBLEMED KINGDOM. The stone cut from the mountain.
1. Humble in its beginning was Christ's kingdom.
2. Heavenly in its origin. "Without hands" was the stone cut. God set up this kingdom. His strength is in it. It is from God, for it makes men God-like
3. It is destined to be universal. The stone grew till it filled the whole earth. So is Christ's kingdom to grow. That kingdom is coming in the hearts and homes and lives of men.
4. This kingdom is eternal. When many kingdoms have passed, this has survived the treachery of friends and the fierce assaults of foes. Its glory cannot be extinguished. It shall "endure for ever." (G. T. Coster.)
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