If the God whom we serve exists, then He is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and from your hand, O king.
I. LOYALTY TO GOD RESISTS THE ENCROACHMENTS OF HUMAN AUTHORITY. "In this matter," they affirmed, it did not concern them to answer the king. They had no answer that would be palatable to imperious arrogance. In all other matters they were prepared to render honest obedience and dutiful service. But "in this matter," touching the love and worship due to God, no other course was open than to obey God rather than man. Plainly had Jehovah said, "Thou shalt not make any graven image, nor bow down to it;" and they had responded, "All that the Lord hath commanded us will we do." It was an abuse of human authority, an encroachment on the prerogatives of Deity, to set up forms of belief or objects of worship. This is tyranny, offensive both to God and to men. Only a spirit of mean subserviency will silently submit to such arrogance. Manly courage will follow the simple rule of Jesus Christ, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."
II. LOYALTY TO GOD IS CONFIDENT OF DIVINE SUCCESS. In true service of God we learn to know him, and increased knowledge leads to stronger faith. Obedience is the main portal to the temple of Divine truth. The closer we come to God, the clearer vision of his power and greatness we obtain, and the stronger grows our assurance that we have an interest in his friendship. We do not know who God is if we are not confident that he is well able to protect us in every emergency. But the faith of these men was stronger yet. They believed that God was sustaining them in this decisive resolve, and would, in some way, appear so as to vindicate their honest fidelity. How they should be delivered, they did not know; but they were well assured that ten thousand modes of relief were open to God, and they could leave the plan of campaign with their Commander-in-chief.
III. LOYALTY TO GOD IS ENTIRELY AN UNSELFISH PRINCIPLE. Assured, though these Hebrews were, that deliverance would come; yet, even if it had been otherwise, they would not have altered their line of conduct. Whether heaven be the outcome of pious loyalty to truth, or whether it be not, renewed men can act no other than they do. Let philosophers argue as plausibly as they please, they cannot persuade the conscience that moral obligation is a phase of self-interest. A good man does not pursue virtue for the sake of what he can get, however remote the expectation be. Nevertheless, the kindness of God has decreed that virtue, faith, holiness, shall bear sooner or later the fruits of abundant joy. And so these champions of Divine truth boldly avowed to the king that, come what might - fire or freedom, grief or gladness - they would have no complicity with idols. They would buy the truth at any price; they would sell it at none. They could die, but they dare not sin. - D.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.
I. IN ABSOLUTE CONVICTION. "The God whom we serve is able to deliver us," said these dissenting Jews. There was no doubt about that. They remembered what Jehovah had done in the past, what deliverances He had wrought; and in answer to the king's incredulity, they replied with the absolute conviction of the Divine power to save. It is almost everything to us to have a deep sense of some great spiritual certainties. When evils hang over our head, when our prospects are threatened, when health, or liberty, or life is at stake, it is much indeed to stand upon the rook of some solid certitudes. God is near to us; He is observing us, and is awaiting our constancy with Divine interest and acceptance; He will reward fidelity with His loving favour; He will not allow the worst to happen, except it be right and well that it should happen; Christ will sympathise with us if we suffer, and go down with us into the deepest waters into which we may descend. If God be for us, we can afford to have the world against us (Matthew 10:28; Romans 8:31). It is a strong rampart in the day of assault to have some impregnable convictions such as these within our souls.
II. A STRONG HOPE. "And He will deliver us out of thine hand... but if not"; in other words, we have a prevailing hope that our God will exert His power on our behalf. Their state of mind was this: they knew that God was with them, and was for them, that He was mindful of their prayer and of their trust; that was certain. They could not be sure whether He would justify their faith by a miraculous intervention on their behalf, or by imparting Divine grace to enable them to bear martyr-witness to the truth. Their strong hope was that He would thus deliver them. It is open to us to act and to feel thus. We are in serious danger of financial disaster, or of being attacked by disease, or of losing reputation, or of severe bereavement, or of grievous disappointment, or of social or professional failure. We ask for deliverance. It is not for us to prescribe to the Lord of our life how He shall interpose for us. We may say to ourselves, "God will give us our desire, but if not" — we may cherish not a presumptuous confidence, but a sustaining hope.
III. AN UNWAVERING RESOLVE: "We will not serve thy gods," etc. Even if their hope of bodily deliverance was not granted, they would retire to the spiritual certainties on which they built, they would fixedly determine not to belie their convictions, not to offend their God, not to desert the truth, not to fail their fellow-countrymen and their coreligionists in the hour of trial. To the proud threat of the imperious and all-confident monarch they opposed the immovable resolution of upright souls that believed in God; their resolution was unqualified, unenfeebled by the shadow of a doubt, invincible. Let the young go forth to the conflict of life in this devout, this heroic spirit, and to them also shall come the victory and the crown.
(W. Clarkson, B.A.)
I. WE WILL GIVE A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS MEN, WHOSE NAMES ARE IN THE TEXT, and their praise in the church. With respect to number, they were only three; a small number to appear for the Lord God of Israel in opposition to the idolatry of the king, and the court, and the empire of Babylon. By nation and profession they were Israelites, who had been carried to Babylon in the captivity of their country. They were of the tribe of Judah, and are commonly believed to have been of the king's seed, or royal family. They were in places of power and trust in Babylon.
II. "WE SHALL GIVE SOME ACCOUNT OF THE TESTIMONY WHICH THESE IT ILLUSTROUS MEN HELD, AND THROUGH WHICH THEY OVERCAME. It was not a testimony of their own framing. The Lord God of Israel framed and wrote it, and commanded it to be observed. "He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children." That branch of the testimony for which these princely witnesses appeared, had not only been written on tables of stone by the finger of God; but, according to His promise, was written in their hearts. It had been put into the ark of His testimony which was now lost; but it was also put into their minds by His Holy Spirit, out of which it could not be erased. "Ye are my witnesses saith the Lord, and my servants whom I have chosen, that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me." "Fear ye not, neither be afraid — ye are even my witnesses. Is there a god beside me? yea there is no god, I know not any." "I am the First, and I am the Last, and beside Me there is no God." The reason inserted in the law satisfied the conscience of every pious Israelite: "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." Encouraged and awed with the sovereign reason in it, the princely witnesses entered the plain in the boldness of faith, stood before a haughty monarch without meditating terror, and spake with the dignity of men who feared Him that would not give His glory to another, nor His praise to an image of gold in the plain of Dura. With the Psalms of David and the prophecies of Isaiah they were doubtless acquainted. In the Psalms of David are these passages: "The Lord is great and greatly to be praised, he is to be feared above all gods: For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens." "Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols." "Wherefore should the heathen say, where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not. They have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not. They have hands, but they handle not; feet have they, but they walk not, neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them." In the prophecies of Isaiah, we find these and several other passages of the same import. "They have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save." "They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance; and hire a goldsmith, and he maketh it a god; they fall down, yea they worship. They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove; yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble. Remember this and shew yourselves men, bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no god beside Me." Under that dispensation, in Babylon, as in Jerusalem, believers lived by the word.
III. We shall attempt TO GIVE SOME ACCOUNT OF THEIR MANNER OF MAINTAINING THE ESTABLISHED TESTIMONY, which they received, believed, and held fast. The witnesses, in maintaining their testimony for the honour of the God of Israel, conducted themselves:
1. With discretion. Nebuchadnezzar, in his haughtiness and bigotry, added rudeness and insolence to idolatry, and impiously challenged the might of the God of Israel — "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" The witnesses, however, neither call him tyrant, nor idolater, nor oppressor, though, in fact, he was all three. On the contrary, they express themselves discreetly and mildly: "O Nebuchadnezzar!" "O king!" In their language they give no occasion to irritation, nor to any court, or to accuse them of despising dominion.
2. With composure and presence of mind. Neither anger nor fear disturbed them. The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, ruled in their hearts. The cause in which they appeared needed not the wrath of man to support it; and the fear of God, which is a sedate and composed principle, fortified their minds against the fear of man.
3. With confidence in the living Cool, as God and their God. Far from being ashamed of Him, and the testimony which He had established in Israel, they acknowledge His propriety in them, and their interest in Him, before a numerous and splendid convocation of His enemies. If their acknowledgment be boasting, it is boasting in the Lord, which is an exercise of faith.
4. With steadfastness. This was standing fast in the faith, and quitting themselves like men.
5. With uprightness. Nothing crooked, nor perverse, nor deceitful, appears in their conduct. Had they consulted flesh and blood, reasons might have been suggested to palliate some deviation from integrity. But flesh and blood were not consulted. The witnesses were Israelites indeed, in whose conduct there was no guile.Lessons:
1. The mean and unkindly behaviour of the mighty potentate, who projected and authorised the criminal solemnities of that memorable day. Vengeance sparkled in his eyes, with a fierceness resembling the dame of his furnace. This was unmanly, unwise, unkingly, ungodly — "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils."
2. Observe the violence of superstition armed with power. Nothing will satisfy it but either the consciences or the lives of upright and holy men. One would have thought that the king and court of Babylon might have been satisfied with the obeisance of that great assembly, without prosecuting three dissenters of a different nation, and a different religion.
3. Observe the distressing alternatives to which faithful witnesses for God have been reduced.
4. Observe the goodness of God in supporting His witnesses in such extremities. What were these three witnesses? In themselves they were weak and timorous as other men. How were they preserved from fainting, and from dishonouring, by unworthy compliances, the testimony for which they appeared? The Lord stood by them, and said, "Fear ye not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God: I will strengthen you, yea I will help you, yea I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." "Strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, by His Spirit in the inner man," they stood firm, repelled the wrath of the king and the terror of his furnace, and obtained a glorious victory, "The people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits."
5. Observe the wisdom of counting, before temptations and trials assail our faith, the expense of holding fast our profession unto the end.
6. Observe the nature and efficacy of faith in God:(1) The nature of faith in God, which is receiving and resting on the grant which He makes of Himself to us as the Lord our God.(2) The efficacy of faith in God. The efficacy of this principle is mighty. Through it, men weak and timid have resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
(W. F. Vance, M. A.)
(W. H. Nanken, M.A.)
1. The first point, then, in our lesson from the three Hebrews is to have faith in God as our God There is a strange misapprehension of faith, Christian faith, in some minds. They seem to consider it a blind confidence that certain things will take place. Only put your mind on an event, and be perfectly sure it will come, and it will come. There is not a grain of Christian faith in such presumption, but the very enemy and hindrance of faith. Christian faith is faith in God, His character, His will, His promises, as revealed in Jesus Christ His Son. Christian faith has God as its object and security. It holds all things subject to His most holy will, and knows that all things are directed by that will for the soul's good. It does not attempt to mark out God's course of dealing, but it is satisfied with that course, whatever it may be. It asks God for special gifts, but it desires God's infinite wisdom to decide concerning the giving, for a true faith humbly recognises human short-sightedness and knows well that the human wish might be very injurious if granted. Herein is the radical difference between the believer and the world. He is in communion with God, and the grace of God is his comfort and defence, while the world resists the grace and has no Divine promise and no Heavenly experience to rest upon.
2. The second point in our lesson from the three Hebrews is that faith implies service. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us," is the exclamation of the three heroes. This completely sets aside a speculative faith, which is the common faith of so many who are called Christians. Orthodoxy in opinion is not faith. There must be an action corresponding to the creed. As there can be no true faith without active service, so, of course, there can be no assurance of faith. The Christian who lazily looks after nothing but his present earthly comfort will never look at fiery furnaces with composure. Now, the service of the Lord is the use of the Divine means of grace for ourselves and for others. His grace is working in our earth for His great purpose of salvation, and He chooses us to be His co-workers. The field is the human heart — our hearts and the hearts of others. As servants of God we will take hold of this assigned work earnestly. It is in this way our faith will grow into the proportions of overcoming power that will fear no Nebuchadnezzar or his fiery furnace. Without such service we can express no such growth. Salvation is not from without and by magic. It is by a life that has faith as its motor. The three Hebrews were simply acting out their life of faith when they refused to bow to the king's idol It was the natural operation of a godly life. They served the Lord. That was their soul's position. They lived in accordance with that service. "The thing is perfectly plain. Our whole lives direct us. We shall not worship thine idol, and the burning fiery furnace is no argument." That is the way a soul in the Lord's service will always reply to an invitation to sin, even when a threat accompanies it. The reason why so many Christians yield is because they do not serve God. They wear Christ's name and serve self and the world. They have no courage because they have no faith.
3. The third point in our lesson from the three Hebrews is that God's service runs counter to the world's requirements. Hence there must be a collision. A man who will serve God will clash with the world. Nebuchadnezzar was but a specimen of the world. The world will insist upon some form of idolatry of every one, and will threaten the fiery furnace for disobedience. The world hates God, and will not recognise His exclusive demands. Political, commercial and social customs will bring a tyrannical pressure upon the soul, and the Christian in the name of his God will have to resist. The fiery furnace has different forms. The more resolute he is, the more wrath the world has and the hotter will it make the fire. Then is the opportunity for the Christian to triumph in his faith and to taste the glory of his position as with God. Deceit, Sabbath-breaking, impurity, fraud, lying, intrigue, to which the customs of the age allure the Christian, are all forms of idolatry, for they are revolts from God after the gods of covetousness, ambition, or carnality. Now, there is no other treatment of these by the godly but positive, open, uncompromising resistance, at any cost. The only position, then, of the Christian who would be at peace with God and with himself is the position of the three Hebrews — the position of faith. There he is afflicted with no doubts, anxieties, or remorse. He knows that God will be with him, even if it be a valley of death-shadow that he is to traverse. He will find the inexpressible comfort of the Divine presence, and feel at every step the strong upholding hand of his God. He will not miss earthly friends in such exalted companionship. In contrast with this steady believer is the one who fears the world's opposition, and endeavours to soothe and subdue it. This is always done by giving up God for the world. This Christian is of all men most miserable. He gets worse than the fiery furnace in the tortures of his conscience, in his failure to make anything satisfactory out of the world, in his own self-contempt and his dreary, blank prospect.
Monday Club Sermons.It was in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, according to the Septuagint, that he set up this image of gold in the plain of Dura. If that date be correct (and there appears no reason to discredit it), it was done to celebrate the recent destruction of Jerusalem, and the subjection of various enemies of Babylon from India to Ethiopia.
I. THE SECRET OF LOYALTY is a simple and undisturbed trust in God. Of course, there can be no loyalty without faith; none to man, none to God. That which impresses us in the case of these Hebrew youths is that their trust was so serene. And now, when the stress of the king's command is put upon them, they are not taken off their guard; they are not overwhelmed with surprise or dismay. They trust in God. They believe His word. But the arm on which they leaned was omnipotent. The wisdom to which they confided their way was unlimited. Jehovah cared for them. He had kept them; He would keep them in the time to come. The truest courage is the calmest. Peter and John looked into the faces of the Sanhedrim, and put the question simply back to them, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." Paul, arraigned before Roman kings and Hebrew governors, turns from his own defence on a technical complaint, to deliver the message with which his master had charged him. A loyalty thus based is ready for any emergency. It is not a strain; it is only a confidence. It does not go into heroics; it is unconscious that it is heroic. During the time of the civil war, much was said about the extraordinary bravery of Admiral Farragut in having himself lashed to the mast while passing the forts under fire at Mobile. In answer to an inquirer about it afterwards, he said, "I cannot understand why they make so much of my going up into the maintop. It was nothing special that I did at Mobile, and I was not lashed there at all. When going into action, or in any time of danger, I always went up there, because I felt it my duty to be where I could overlook everything in person, and be seen by all of the men, and set them an example of sharing their risks." True courage does not promise, nor posture, nor explain. It goes on quietly and acts. It does not care to answer.
II. THE TESTING OF LOYALTY is permitted of God. Nor is it any contradiction to the constancy of His care for His people that it is so. The Lord can do better for His own than to shield them from all hardship. Even their spiritual gifts and graces deserve something better at His hands than sheltering. They ask for cultivation, for the opportunity of development, for the privilege of growth. Protection from evil ceases beyond a certain point to be a kindness. It is more to be strengthened than to be sheltered. The trees which grow always in the forest, protected from the sharpness of the winds, never compelled to battle with the storm, grow up toward the light, but do not spread their branches above ground or their roots below. If the barrier by which one of them has been shielded from the winds were taken suddenly away, the first blast of the tempest would lay it low. It is not braced against it. It stands, not because it is strong, but because it is supported. But on the mountainside the oak grows, or the cedar. From a sapling the breezes have played with it, and it has bonded but held on. And, equally, what power of discipline, what opportunity of courage, what development of strength would the church and Christian of the present day be deprived of, if, by more delicate but no less searching tests, its loyalty were not continually put to the proof.
III. THE SUPPORT OF LOYALTY is promised and assured. "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." "My strength shall be sufficient for thee." "Certninly I will be with thee."
IV. THE VINDICATION OF LOYALITY IS CERTAIN.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
1. The value of this faith is seen in that it gave the captives boldness to express their convictions.
2. The value of this faith is seen in that it prepared the captives for adversity and suffering.
3. The value of this faith is seen in that it secured the captives a noble victory. God stood by His servants, baffled their opponents, and gave them a glorious victory. God's enemies might appear to conquer at first, but Jehovah only delayed the victory of His people that, when it did come, it might be more marked and distinguished. To fight against God, and against God's people, always means defeat and ruin in the end. Pharaoh and his army were buried in a watery grave aa they pursued the Israelites.
1. By this we may he reminded, of what it is important at all tinges to keep in view, that for adherence unto God we may be exposed to great difficulties and dangers. At the beginning it was foretold that there "would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman," and no prediction has ever been more strikingly fulfilled. Those that are born after the flesh have always persecuted them that are born after the Spirit. What injuries have thereby been done unto the church!
2. Though these young men were menaced with danger, though all that was dear to them was in peril, yet they openly adhered unto God. They did not feign an excuse for absenting themselves from the dedication. They did not content themselves with adhering to God in their heart, while they bowed down to the idol with their bodies. When accused, they had not recourse to any specious disguise or subtle ambiguity. And, though everything like ostentation is to be avoided as a sin, we ought openly to hear our testimony for God, whatever difficulties we may have to encounter. It is not enough that we wish well to the cause of God in our hearts — it is not enough that we desire and pray for its triumph — it is not enough that we give it secret aid, while we remain openly among its enemies. When any acknowledge a cause to be good, and stand hack from avowing their attachment, because of the odium which they may incur, or the danger to which they may be exposed, this is unequivocal evidence that the fear and the favour of man have more effect upon their minds than the fear and the favour of God. Christ was not ashamed to own us publicly. God and angels, men and devils, saw Him publicly die for us upon the cross. And shall we ever be ashamed to confess Him before men!
3. Their adherence unto God was not only open, it was also resolute. Nothing like hesitation, or suspense, appears in their conduct. Their minds seem as resolute as if all inducements had boon upon the side of duty — as resolute as if adherence unto God had been the way of advancement, instead of leading, as it did, to a fiery "Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." We must beware of everything like halting, hesitating, and wavering. A halting, wavering, undecided frame of mind, is spoken of in Scripture in the language of contempt. Why halt ye between two opinions? if Jehovah be God, then choose ye Him, but if Baal be God, then choose ye him.
4. The adherence of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego unto God was steadfast. Many are bold when danger is at a distance, who faint when the hour of trial draws nigh. But these young men were steadfast and immovable. They not only declared their resolution to suffer everything, they actually submitted to be cast into the furnace when it was heated seven-fold. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." Much depends on the steadfastness of soldiers in the day of battle — the issue of the conflict, and the fate of their country. Openly, decidedly, and steadfastly to adhere to the cause of God's glory, in despite of all trials and difficulties, is no easy matter. They who are called to such work would do well to count the cost, and consider their abilities. It is God alone who can teach the hands for this war, and the fingers for this fight. And He has promised to do so. Has He not said, "Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. My grace is sufficient for thee, and my strength shall be perfected in thy weakness." These promises were made good, in the case of His three witnesses, on the plains of Dura. When He called them to more than ordinary work, He furnished them with more than ordinary strength. God not only supported His three servants under the trial to which they were exposed; He, in due time, delivered them. This deliverance was in many respects miraculous, and, in so far as this was the case, we are not warranted to expect that any such interposition will be made in our behalf. But the manner of their deliverance was in most respects similar to God's ordinary method of interposing for His church and people.(1) This deliverance was seasonable. It took place at the very best time. In the exercise of infinite wisdom, Jehovah discerns, and seizes the critical moments and though His people may think Him long in coming, He will never come too late.(2) This deliverance was of such a kind that it could not have been conceived beforehand. And the manner in which God delivers His church and people is, in general, altogether different from what anyone could have conceived beforehand.(3) The deliverance of these three children took place immediately after their confidence in God and submission to His will had been fully tested. They put themselves into God's hand.(4) This was a God-like deliverance. It showed itself to be God's work. All the power and ingenuity of the created universe could not have saved these young men after they had been so long in that dreadful furnace. Although no visible manifestation of the Deity had been granted to them, the fact of their preservation in the fire would have shown that the arms of the Almighty God had been around them. All pure and holy deliverances come from God, and generally bear upon them the impress of His hand. The deliverer of the three children was one in the form of the Son of God.(5) Their deliverance, therefore, came from a God' in Christ. And all the deliverances of the saints come from a God in covenant, and. they come through the second person in the adorable Trinity. He is not only the Saviour of the soul, He is also "the Saviour of Israel, and the help thereof in the time of trouble."(6) In delivering His witnesses from the furnace, God vindicated their conduct. He showed that in refusing to obey Nebuchadnezzar they had done what He approved. How greatly did He honour them in the midst of their enemies, when He thus visibly owned them us His friends, and altered the very laws of creation on their account! And in delivering those who had been sufferers for His cause, God generally vindicates their testimony and puts honour on their names.(7) In short, this was a very wonderful deliverance. It afforded a remarkable display of the power, and the wisdom, and the loving kindness of the Lord. "This is the doing of the Lord, and wondrous in our eyes." And in God's greater works of deliverance, there is in general something so superhuman, something so God-like, as to fill every serious observer with admiration. What wonderful things has He done in behalf of His people! How blessed is that people whose God is the Lord! He can bring them u through fire and through water to the wealthy place." And He will make the worst and severest dispensations that befal them, to promote the honour of their names, and the everlasting welfare of their souls.
I. In unfolding the lessons of the text, let us begin with THE NARRATIVE, let us analyse this passage in the history of our race. And, first, who can look at the scene here portrayed without blushing for the degeneracy and corruption of our race? The spectacle presents a brilliant panorama. The morning is bright, and the eastern sun is kindling a blaze all over the plains of Dura, us its beams are reflected from silver and gold and diamonds, in which princes, satraps, peers, the whole jewelled aristocracy of that magnificent court, are arrayed. High on a throne of royal state, gorgeous with barbaric pomp and splendour, sits the Chaldean monarch. And from the centre of this Oriental and most imposing pageant, soars aloft, glittering and dazzling, the colossal image, the cynosure of every eye — attracting the admiration and homage of that uncounted multitude. The spectacle is grand; but what an exhibition of human nature! On every side I behold the earth carpeted with the softest green, enamelled with a flushing luxuriance of variegated and fragrant flowers. Cool fountains gush up in the groves, and transparent streams murmur through the valley. I breathe delicious odours. I am refreshed by the balmiest zephyrs. Heaven and earth are rejoicing in their loveliness. From nature I turn to man, and what do I find? Recollect, here is no mob of the ignorant and brutal, but the monarch and his patricians — all the gathered wisdom, refinement, honour, of the empire. What do we see openly and superciliously displayed in them all? Idolatry, hostility to God, selfishness, cruelty, the most vindictive malice. In this countless host what a diversity of talent and taste and character; but those detestable passions reign in every bosom. And this depravity flows from an inexhaustible fountain in the human heart. In all this multitude here are only three men who worship the true God, and what have they done? whom have they injured? It is simple mockery to speak of liberty if the mind and conscience be not free. The persons, the property, the lives of his subjects are at the absolute disposal of the Chaldean autocrat. This, however, is not enough. His imperial mandate shall control their religion, shall fetter their souls. The ends of government are temporal, not spiritual. The Saviour possessed omnipotence, but He did not use it to enforce His religion by measures having no relation to the truth of His doctrine. He said, "All power in heaven and in earth is given unto me, go teach all nations."
II. THE CONDUCT OF THESE HEBREWS, and the example which God here proposes of that constancy and decision of character, without which we can neither be true to truth, to Jesus, nor to ourselves. Decision of character must never be confounded with obstinacy. Firmness tempered with gentleness, this is what we need, if we are to be real Christians. The more you study the conduct of the Redeemer the more will you admire the peerless combination of these virtues in Him. It is not at all uncommon to meet people who pique themselves on firmness and decision; when in fact it is mere, sheer, downright stubbornness they betray — a perverse, selfwilled pertinacity — in which there is no more moral force than there is in the dead weight which fixes a heavy, inert mass of rock to the earth. The other quality, gentleness, is more amiable, but it is scarcely ever united with the highest energy. There is softness, tenderness, sweetness of disposition; but the character is effeminate. Firmness tempered with gentleness — this is true decision of character; not the rigid, inexorable, iron hardness of the dead tree, which cannot bend without breaking; nor the weakness of the osier which bends and remains bent; but the innate, elastic vigour of the young oak, which only becomes more erect, and strikes its roots more deeply into the earth, by yielding to every breeze and complying with every pressure. What is the first element in true decision of character? It is an inflexible and controlling adherence to the will of God in all things and at all times. What is the next element in true decision of character? It is a spirit armed and intrepid in facing danger, in meeting the responsibilities of our station. How prone are we to shrink from duty. These Jews were men of a different spirit. At first, indeed, we are tempted to ask, Why did they come on the ground at all? But — not to remark that cowardice could have availed them nothing — it never can avail anything in the cause of God — was it for men like them to be afraid? Was this a time for the servants of the Most High to be craven? Here is no small matter; a great soul will never concern itself about small matter. God and His glory are about to be outraged. The third element in decision of character grows out of those just indicated. It is a brave disregard of consequences. The moment we begin to think of expediency — to inquire tremulously, What, if we are faithful, will be the effect on our interest or position or reputation? that moment we are gone, we have fallen. And all this strenuousness of purpose is perfectly calm, as real strength always is calm. Men and brethren, a simple trust in God is the most essential ingredient in moral sublimity of character. It elevates a man high above all the earth, and equips him to bear anything, and to brave everything. If God be for him, who can be against him? How indispensable energy and courage are to the Christian, you need not be told. Would you be useful? you must be decided; piety is not enough; you must have a reputation for piety. Would you not dishonour your profession? you must be decided. But, now, how can this firmness and fortitude be inwrought and sustained in beings so feeble and inconstant? I answer, By faith, and faith only; hence the exhortation, "Add to your faith virtue," that is, courage. Faith is the source from which this commanding grace must spring, and by which it must be fed; and with what invincible courage, what undaunted contempt of danger and death, does not a simple trust in God inspire these young heroes? Observe the noble singularity of the Hebrews. Nor was this any transient enthusiasm, one of those sudden impulses which may hurry a generous spirit to make heroic sacrifices, of which it may afterwards repent. For space is given them to reconsider their determination, the king expostulates with them; but they are immovable.
III. THE RESULT OF THIS FIERY ORDEAL; and impress upon you the great lesson it teaches. The expression, "than it was wont to be," shows that this furnace was the place of punishment for criminals; and it is probable that its floor was now a bed of the horrible ashes left by former executions. It is God's method' ever to cause the malice of those who persecute his people to recoil upon themselves. "The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands." And what is all this but the type of a Christian, when called to pass through the fire — trembling, perhaps, in view of the furnace — but afterwards, with adoring wonder and gratitude, exclaiming, "My God how good it is for me that I was afflicted?" This is not all. Not only is this furnace a sort of heaven to these noble youths, but see how they glorify God in this day of their visitation. Witnesses who testify from eternity. For the place in which they stand belongs not to this earth. Witnesses who look with sublime contempt upon the king and all the pomp and equipage of his power. Witnesses who take no praise to themselves. A Christian never does arrogate any strength or merit; he ascribes all his salvation, from first to last, to sovereign grace. Lastly, witnesses whose testimony is at once and forever decisive. It is not by words, not by preaching, nor forms, that we are to honour God and His truth; it is by our fidelity that men may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven." Lessons:
1. And, first, let this narrative reinforce our faith and constancy. The secret of Christian strength is an open secret; it is a gracious habit of trusting in God at all times. The song of the Three Holy Children is one of the Apocryphal Books. The man who wrote that beautiful composition, if not inspired himself, had power to inspire others. Nothing can be more touching than the whole story, which I commend to you.
2. How amiable is the religion of Jesus Christ. To the faithful soul it is really true, that "all the way to heaven is heaven." Even when all is bright, how necessary is this religion for man. But are you bearing crosses and making sacrifices for Jesus and His cause? If not, you are preferring some idol to Him, and what must the end be?
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