"Look!" he exclaimed. "I see four men, unbound and unharmed, walking around in the fire--and the fourth looks like a son of the gods!"
I. PERSECUTION IS HARMLESS TO THE SAINTS. Their experience is not always uniform. God seldom follows precisely the same course twice. The bodily life of the oppressed is not always preserved. Yet, in every case, it is true that no real harm is done to them. Often -
"Persecution has dragged them into fame, II. PERSECUTION OF THE SAINTS GIVES OCCASION FOR THE MIRACULOUS INTERPOSITION OF GOD. All opposition raised against God only brings out the greater resources of his omnipotence. Satan's oppression of our race gave scope for the redemptive miracle. Creation is miracle, for the like was not before. Providence, which is but a continuous act of creation, is a miracle. Granting that there is a God, there is nothing unreasonable in miracle. Whenever God is pleased to work, if ordinary methods fail, extraordinary methods are forthwith introduced. No occasion is more fitting for the introduction of miracle than persecution. God has identified himself with his people, and injury done to them is resented as injury done to him. Nor are we to think only of the miracle wrought on the material flame or on the living bodies of these men. That is a narrow view of miracle. There was miraculous agency also displayed in the mind, the temper, and the conduct of these oppressed Hebrews. It was not natural that they should submit to human injustice without a word. It was not natural, but supernatural, that they showed no vindictive spirit nor indulged in any language of personal triumph. Their modesty and self-forgetfulness were as miraculous as their faith. With the ending of the persecution came the ending of the angel's visit. III. PERSECUTION PATIENTLY ENDURED PRODUCES CONVICTION IN THE UNGODLY. The king himself was overcome by astonishment. He could not believe the evidence of his eyes. He could scarcely trust his memory. Hence he summoned his princes and counsellors to his assistance. He appeals to their recollections. He requires them to see, to investigate, and to understand these strange facts for themselves. In their presence the king himself (not a deputy) entreats these injured Hebrews to come out of the mystic flame. He prays to them whom just now he cruelly condemned. The king styles them, not fanatics, miscreants, traitors - he styles them "servants of the most high God." Yes, of that God whom he had awhile despised. The proof of Divine succour and of supernatural protection is complete, undeniable, overwhelming. And, with candour of mind, Nebuchadnezzar yields himself to the evidence. - D.
II. PERSECUTION OF THE SAINTS GIVES OCCASION FOR THE MIRACULOUS INTERPOSITION OF GOD. All opposition raised against God only brings out the greater resources of his omnipotence. Satan's oppression of our race gave scope for the redemptive miracle. Creation is miracle, for the like was not before. Providence, which is but a continuous act of creation, is a miracle. Granting that there is a God, there is nothing unreasonable in miracle. Whenever God is pleased to work, if ordinary methods fail, extraordinary methods are forthwith introduced. No occasion is more fitting for the introduction of miracle than persecution. God has identified himself with his people, and injury done to them is resented as injury done to him. Nor are we to think only of the miracle wrought on the material flame or on the living bodies of these men. That is a narrow view of miracle. There was miraculous agency also displayed in the mind, the temper, and the conduct of these oppressed Hebrews. It was not natural that they should submit to human injustice without a word. It was not natural, but supernatural, that they showed no vindictive spirit nor indulged in any language of personal triumph. Their modesty and self-forgetfulness were as miraculous as their faith. With the ending of the persecution came the ending of the angel's visit.
III. PERSECUTION PATIENTLY ENDURED PRODUCES CONVICTION IN THE UNGODLY. The king himself was overcome by astonishment. He could not believe the evidence of his eyes. He could scarcely trust his memory. Hence he summoned his princes and counsellors to his assistance. He appeals to their recollections. He requires them to see, to investigate, and to understand these strange facts for themselves. In their presence the king himself (not a deputy) entreats these injured Hebrews to come out of the mystic flame. He prays to them whom just now he cruelly condemned. The king styles them, not fanatics, miscreants, traitors - he styles them "servants of the most high God." Yes, of that God whom he had awhile despised. The proof of Divine succour and of supernatural protection is complete, undeniable, overwhelming. And, with candour of mind, Nebuchadnezzar yields himself to the evidence. - D.
Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire.
I. The place WHERE GOD'S PEOPLE OFTEN ARE. In the text we find three of them in a burning fiery furnace, and singular as this may be literally, it is no extraordinary thing spiritually, for, to say the truth, it is the usual place where the saints' are found. The ancients fabled of the salamander that it lived in the fire; the same can be said of the Christian without any fable whatever. It is rather a wonder when a Christian is not in trial, for to wanderers in a wilderness discomfort and privation will naturally be the rule rather than the exception. It is through "much tribulation" that we inherit the kingdom.
1. First, there is the furnace which men kindle. As if there were not enough misery in the world, men are the greatest tormentors to their fellow men. The elements in all their fury, wild beasts in all their ferocity, and famine and pestilence in all their horrors, have scarcely proved such foes to man, as men themselves have been. Religious animosity is always the worst of all hatreds, and incites to the most fiendish deeds; persecution is as unsparing as death, and as cruel as the grave. At times the Christian feels the heat of the furnace of open persecution. Another furnace is that of oppression. In the iron furnace of Egypt the children of Israel were made to do hard bondage in brick and in mortar; and doubtless many of God's people are in positions where they are little better than slaves. There is also the furnace of slander.
2. Secondly, there is a furnace which Satan blows with three great bellows — some of you have been in it. It is hard to bear, for the prince of the power of the air hath great mastery over human spirits; he knows our weak places, and can strike so as to cut us to the very quick. He fans the fire with the blast of temptation. Then he works the second bellows of accusation. He hisses into the ear, "Thy sins have destroyed thee! The Lord hath forsaken thee quite! Thy God will be gracious no more!" Then he will beset us with suggestions of blasphemy; for while tormenting as with insinuations, he has a way of uttering foul things against God, and then casting them into our hearts as if they were our own.
3. And thirdly, there is a furnace which God himself prepares for His people. There is the furnace of physical pain. A furnace still worse, perhaps, is that of bereavement. Then, added to this, there will crowd in upon us temporal losses and sufferings. The business which we thought would enrich, impoverishes.
4. The context reminds us that sometimes the Christian is exposed to very peculiar trials. The furnace was heated seven times hotter; it was hot enough when heated once; but I suppose that Nebuchadnezzar had pitch and tar, and all kinds of combustibles thrown in to make it flame out with greater vehemence. Truly at times the Lord appears to deal thus with His people. It is a peculiarly fierce heat which surrounds them, and they cry out, "Surely I am the man that hath seen affliction — I may take precedence of all others in the realm of sorrow."
5. I do not like to leave this point without observing, too, that these holy champions were helpless when thrown into the furnace. They ware cast in bound; and many of us have been cast in bound, too, so that we could not lift hand or foot to help ourselves. Pretty plight to be in! Who does not shudder at it! Certainly none of us would choose it; but we have not the choice, and as we have said with David, "Thou shalt choose mine inheritance for me," if the Lord determines to choose it for us among the coals of fire, it is the Lord, lot Him do what seemeth Him good. Where Jehovah places His saints they are safe in reality, although exposed to destruction in appearance.
II. WHAT THEY LOSE THERE. Look at the text, and it will be clear to you that they lost something. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego lost something in the fire — not their turbans, nor their coats, nor their hosen, nor one hair of their heads or boards — no; what then?
1. Why, they lost their bonds there. Do observe: "Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire." The fire did not hurt them, but it snapped their bonds. Blessed loss this! A true Christian's losses are gains in another shape. Now, observe this carefully, that many of God's servants never know the fulness of spiritual liberty till they are cast into the midst of the furnace. Shall I show you some of the bonds which God looses for His people when they are in the fire of human hatred? Sometimes He bursts the cords of fear of man, and desire to please man. When persecution rages, it is wonderful what liberty it gives to the child of God. Never a freer tongue than Luther's! Never a braver mouth than that of John Knox! Never a bolder speech than that of John Calvin! Never a braver heart than that which throbbed beneath the ribs of Wickliffe!
2. Again, when Satan puts us in the furnace, he is often the means of breaking bonds. How many Christians are bound by the bonds of frames and feelings; the bonds of depend-once upon something within, instead of resting upon Christ the great Sacrifice. Fierce temptations may be like waves that wash the mariner on a rock — they may drive us nearer to Christ. It is an ill wind which blows no one any good; but the worst wind that Satan can send blows the Christian good, because it hurries him nearer to his Lord. Temptation is a great blessing when it looses our bonds of self-confidence and reliance upon frames and feelings.
3. As for the afflictions which God sends, do they not loose our bonds? Doubts and fears are more common to us in the midst of work and business than when laid aside by sickness.
III. WHAT SAINTS DO THERE. "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire." Walking! They are walking — it is a symbol of joy, of ease, of peace, of rest — not flitting like unquiet ghosts, as if they were disembodied spirits traversing the flame; but walking with real footsteps, treading on hot coals as though they were roses, and smelling the sulphureons flames as though they yielded nothing but aromatic perfume. Enoch "walked with God." It is the Christian's pace, it is his general pace; he does sometimes run, but his general pace is walking with God, walking in the Spirit; and you see that these good men did not quicken their pace, and they did not slacken it — they continued to walk as they usually did; they had the same holy calm and peace of mind which they enjoyed elsewhere. Their walking shows not only their liberty, and their ease, and their pleasure, and their calm, but it shows their strength. Their sinews ware not snapped, they were walking. These men had no limping gait, they were walking, walking in the midst of the fire.
IV. WHAT THEY DID NOT LOSE THERE. The text says, "And they have no hurt." They did not lose anything there.
1. But we may say of them first, their persons were not hurt. The child of God loses in the furnace nothing of himself that is worth keeping. He does not lose his spiritual life — that is immortal; he does not lose his graces — he gets them refined and multiplied, and the glitter of them is best seen by furnace-light.
2. The Christian does not lose his garments there. You see their hats, and their hosen, and their coats were not singed, nor was there the smell of fire upon them; and so with the Christian: his garment is the beauteous dress which Christ himself wrought out in His life, and which He dyed in the purple of His own blood. As it is not hurt by age, nor moth, nor worm, nor mildew, so neither can it be touched by fire. I know you dread that furnace — who would not? — but courage, courage, the Lord who permits that furnace to be heated will preserve you in it, therefore be not dismayed!
V. WHO WAS WITH THEM IN THE FURNACE. There was a fourth, and he was so bright and glorious that even the heathen eyes of Nebuchadnezzar could discern a supernatural lustre about him. "The fourth," he said, "is like the Son of God," What appearance Christ had put on I cannot tell, which was recognisable by that heathen monarch; but I suppose that He appeared in a degree of that glory in which He showed Himself to His servant John in the Apocalypse. You must go into the furnace if you would have the nearest and dearest dealings with Christ Jesus. Whenever the Lord appears, it is to His people when they are in a militant posture. The richest thought that a Christian perhaps can live upon is this, that Christ is in the furnace with him. I know that to the worldling this seems a very poor comfort, but then if you have never drank this wine you cannot judge its flavour. What must it be to dwell with everlasting burnings! One's heart beats high at the thought of the three poor men being thrown into that furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, with its flaming pitch and bitumen reaching upwards its streamers of flame, as though it would set the heavens on a blaze; yet that fire could not touch the three children, it was not consuming fire. But, be ye warned, there is One who is "a consuming fire," and once let Him flame forth in anger, and none can deliver you. He calls to you to leave your sins and look to Him, and then you shall never die, neither upon you shall the flame of wrath kindle because its power was spent on Him, and He felt the furnace of Divine wrath, and trod the glowing coals for every soul that believeth in Him.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. —
(Dean Payne-Smith, D.D.)
I. A REVELATION IN A FIERY FURNACE. Whether the startling appearance were an angel, or Christ before His incarnation, or any other mode of Divine manifestation, it was in any case a revelation of God.
I. God only needs to be revealed to be seen. He exists always; He is seen at rare intervals. He is not more existent when seen than when unseen. The veil hides His light, but does not extinguish it. All we need is that the veil should be lifted. Then the ever-present God will be recognised.
2. God is revealed in the fiery furnace of trouble. Invisible writing starts into appearance when held to the fire. Characters suddenly flash out in their true light at seasons of storm, terror, and pain. God reveals Himself in critical moments of agony and need.
3. The revelation in the fiery furnace is seen by the outside world. The three youths are not alone favoured with the cheering vision of the Heavenly presence. Nebuchadnezzar also sees the wonderful appearance. Indeed, it is he only who is expressly stated to have observed this additional figure in the furnace. God was revealed by means of the faithful Jews, but so that the heathen world might behold Him. The vision of God in the passion of Christ is open to the gaze of the world, and may arrest the attention of those who are blind to the daily revelation of the Divine in nature. May not this fact be an explanation of the mystery of suffering? We take too narrow and personal a view of the mission of pain. It has larger and wider ends than the sufferer's own private advantage. May not others be called to endure pain that through the flames that kindle about their own souls the light of Goal may flash out upon their fellow-men?
II. DIVINE FELLOWSHIP IN HUMAN TROUBLE.
1. God is with His people in their troubles. He does not only look down from Heaven. Pity from the serene altitude of perfect bliss may only aggravate the torture of those who are writhing in the torture-chamber of affliction. But we are told of God that in all His people's afflictions He is afflicted. Christ came into the world to suffer with men. He was with St. Stephen in the council chamber, with St. Paul in the gaol at Philippi.
2. The comforting Divine presence is dependent on the fidelity of God's people. There are troubles in the midst of which we dare not expect to see the cheering radiance of our Saviour's countenance. If He appears in them at all, our consciences tell us that it must be with a look of grief or anger, and a voice saying, "What doest thou here?" The trouble which we bring upon ourselves by heedless indifference or culpable disobedience to the will of God invites no comforting Divine fellowship.
3. The Divine presence in trouble is a security against all real harm. The cruel flames play about their would-be victims as harmlessly as forest leaves. Sects the presence of Christ and all will be well.
(W. F. Adeney, M.A.)
(Joseph A. Seiss, D.D.)
Homilist.I. IMMENSELY TRIED. "Walking in the midst of the fire."
II. MORALLY UNCONQUERABLE. Not all the influence of the monarch and his ministers could break their purpose, or make them unfaithful to God. You can't conquer a true soul.
III. ESSENTIALLY UNINJURABLE. "And they have no hurt." "Who is that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good!" "Fear not him that can kill the body."
IV. DIVINELY ACCOMPANIED. "The form of the fourth is like the Son of God." What a sight for the monarch! Did it not rouse his conscience, think you? God always accompanies His people. "Lo, I am with you alway."
The Thinker.I. THEIR TEMPTATION.
II. THEIR FAITHFULNESS.
1. They stood alone (v. 7). Might they not fall in with the current and perform the outward act with inward reserve?
2. Then the terrible alternative: "Ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (Daniel 3:15). Nothing more calculated to inspire terror. But, like St. , they "preferred the fire which lasts an hour and then cools, to the perpetual torment of eternal fire." In the same way, the Christian martyrs, St. Lawrence and others, were prepared to undergo terrible tortures of gridiron and flame rather than lose the favour of God by denying Christ. But these "three children" were faithful in the days of the old covenant, when God's love to man had not been made known by Christ, nor did the Spirit of God as yet personally dwell among men; this accentuates their courage.
3. Then note their readiness to endure the torture.
III. THEIR RESCUE.
1. It was miraculous. An old writer enumerates eight miracles in this lesson; but, without going into minutiae, that they were not consumed by the flames could certainly only be owing to Divine intervention.
2. It was the fulfilment of prophecy, "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee" (Isaiah 43:2). "The flame," says St. , "set free the captive, and itself was bound by the captive." The reality of the fire was shown by the molten chains; and the deaths of those who cast the three children into the flames; but the Divine promise was evidenced by their preservation.
3. The mode of the rescue was through the instrumentality of an angel: "The form of the fourth is like the Son of God"; "a son of the gods" (R.V.), that is, an angel. Some ancient interpreters thought Christ Himself was here meant (, St. ), of whom Nebuchadnezzar had heard from Daniel, and thus it would be classed with the "theophanies"; but St. says, "It was in truth an angel." The visible presence of the angel was proof to the king that the deliverance of the three youths was the result of God's protection, and from no deception. Similarly, God delivered Jerusalem from the power of the Assyrians by the ministry of an angel (2 Kings 19:35); the Apostles from prison (Acts 5:19; Acts 12:7); and St. John from the cauldron of flaming oil.
4. The deliverance was complete. Completeness marks all the works of God. There are no half-measures or imperfect contrivances — only the chains are destroyed, not their garments, nor their hair singed, nor the smell of fire had passed upon them (v. 27).
1. Temptation may be strong, but faithfulness to conscience should be stronger. Temptation, though strong, is never overwhelming or an excuse for sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). The three children were faithful unto death; they were, like St. John, martyrs in will (Revelation 2:10).
2. What Nebuchadnezzar designed is unconsciously carried out by multitudes amongst ourselves. They fall down before the golden image; they worship wealth, and make a god Of "the mammon of unrighteousness"; and this covetousness "is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5).
3. Let us admire and imitate the courage of the three children in disobeying the royal mandate, and take the side of Christ and His Church, if ever obedience to the powers of the world should involve a violation of the Laws of God.
4. Let us rejoice in the Divine deliverance. "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them" (Psalm 34:7). The furnace of Nebuchadnezzar is an image of the "fiery trial" of persecution, of sensual passion, and of affliction; but to those who are faithful, like the three children, temptation and tribulation are times of Divine manifestation, of refinement and election, and of more entire self-surrender. "Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction" (Isaiah 48:10, R.V.).
1. In every trial the victory is promised to faith; the same faith which on the plain of Dura "quenched the violence of fire."
2. The fire of temptation is illustrated by the security of the three children in the furnace. The man is safe, because the Lord is with him.
3. We are here taught to behold the safety of God's elect children in that tremendous day when "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire." God Almighty so preserve us in adversity; so be with us amid temptation; so absolve us in that tremendous day — even for His own mercy's sake!
(W. Boyd-Carpenter, D.D.)I. THEIR PREPARATION FOR THE DAY OF TRIAL. It came not unawares. Duty is easy when no lion is in the way. In the narrative we only see the valiant three in the day of trial. Their heart was fixed before it came. With no wavering mind went they out to the plain of Dura. They stood in the evil day because they were well prepared, well-equipped for it. Great men are not known by the world till they are great. So trials are to come on us; sharp temptations. They will reveal our character, of what sort it is. Let us every day be pure, unselfish, Christ-trusting, Christ-copying men. Then every day will be a preparation for the terrible time when temptation will assail us like fire; and we shall stand in the evil day.
II. THE CONDUCT OF THE THREE IN THE DAY OF TRIAL. They stood in apparent isolation. To do good is easier when we go with the multitude. But when we stand alone, then is the agony. Alone, yet not alone. Christ is the maker of great men, great hearts. Many a young man He is making brave, daring to stand alone amid terrible temptations to impurity.
III. THEIR DELIVERANCE IN THE DAY OF TRIAL. The king's eye is on the furnace, and he sees a fourth, one looking like a son of the gods. We identify with the angel Jehovah the messenger of the covenant. Christ's presence can make even a furnace into paradise. Their deliverer was strong. He will be ours, and save us, if we seek it, from sin, all evil, all that will harm us. Then trust in Him.
(G. T. Coster.)
1. We are inclined to praise the indomitable resolution of these young men; but we must go behind them, and realise their trust in the unseen Jehovah, and in the promises of His word. It was that made them manly. The three young men found their way into a spiritual position, which enabled them to endure the wrath of the king, because they could see a greater, although an invisible King behind him.
2. In this chapter we have a duel between the world-power and the Lord God himself. We have in it the Church of God almost at its lowest ebb. We have the world in all the plenitude of its power, and in all the insolence of its authority. Can we over-estimate the value of such a testimony as this to the faithfulness of God? Take away this story of the three children from the Bible, and how infinitely great would have been the church's loss!
3. A thought for ourselves. In some shape we may all of us have to pass through the fire. Any one of us may be tried by the seductions of his senses; the snares of business life, bitter loss and dissappiontment, or the keen edge of long-protracted bodily agony. Let us see to it that we have with us, as we may have, the presence of the personal Christ, of Jesus the great High Priest, the Angel of the Covenant. Then we shall pass through the flame, and it will not gather upon nor burn us. So shall we, in our small way, bring glory to God and strength be ether people.
(Gordon Calthrop, M.A.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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