"Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, 0 Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." - Daniel 3:16-18.
THE king of Babylon was a proud idolater. Not satisfied with the gods of the empire, he conceived the design of rearing a magnificent image of gold, sixty cubits - 108 feet - high and five cubits - nine feet - broad on the plain of Dura, and take measures to secure the recognition of his new god by all the subjects of his vast empire. Mark how this was done. He finishes his colossal deity according to his design, and prepares to dedicate it with great pomp and parade, and at the same time secure its recognition as a god. He dispatches heralds to gather all the chief men, the princes, the governors and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of this new god which the king
had set up. Being assembled, they were required, on penalty of being cast into a burning fiery furnace, to fall down and worship the towering image. Was not the king well aware the obedience of these men who enjoyed royal favour could be secured, by the penalty, the loss of his favour and of life, and that the influence of these men would secure the people in all the provinces they governed, for they had positions and favours to bestow?
The vast and gorgeous assemblage filled the plain. Among that multitude were three devout Jews, who occupied stations of high honour and authority in the kingdom. There towereth the new god, and there flamed the burning furnace. The requisition of the king and the fearful penalty of disobedience are proclaimed in the ears of all. At the given signal all but these three bowed themselves and acknowledged and worshipped the new god. They could conscientiously worship only the Most High. The king is informed of their refusal, is filled with wrath, and summons them to his presence, as though to awe them by his majesty and intimidate them by his anger. "Is it true?" said he to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. "Do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?" With this rebuke he offered them another opportunity of complying with the imperial edict and thus escape the punishment threatened. But they gave him at once to understand that they could neither comply with his demand,
nor were anxious about the consequences of refusal. There is an indescribable grandeur, sublimity, nobleness, high-souledness about their answer.
There was no shrinking, no trembling, no wavering of the high moral and religious principles that governed these men. They did not think of expediency, nor seek to frame an answer that might appease the king, but with heroic daring answered: "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter" - "We dare to speak out our minds fully about this, without a thought of the consequences."
Upon which the enraged king ordered them to be bound and cast into the furnace, raised to seven-fold intensity of heat. But God, whom they thus publicly honoured, interposed. The flaming element consumed only those who bore them to it, but their chains fell off, and they rose and "walked in the midst of the fire." The king rises, pale and ashamed, from his throne. His eyes are fixed upon the furnace. What does he see! "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Lo, I see four men loose, walking, and they have no hurt - and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God!" 1
Here was unyielding regard for the authority and honour of Jehovah, and heroic demonstration of the everlasting truth that they who trust in the Son and do right shall be as Mount Zion, - and an
1 See Daniel 3:24-25.
earnest of the truthfulness of that Saviour whom we profess to serve: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end."
Thou shalt be raised to a greater honour, and the God of heaven acknowledged throughout the Babylonian empire: "Him that honoureth me will I honour."
It will be proper for us to notice here the Nature and Importance of Christian Decision and Consistency.
I. Its Nature. Christian decision is an inflexible regard for the will and honour of God. It is a firm adherence to that course of conduct which God has manifestly shown to be the path of duty. It is opposed to a wavering, timid spirit and a partial discharge of religious obligations. In illustrating its nature, a few of its characteristics may be distinctly considered:
1. It is always exercised with special regard to the will of God. In this respect, it is distinguished from a native decision of character. The latter is an inflexible adherence to the course marked out by one's own mind. That course may be in accordance with the will of God, or it may be in direct opposition to it. The determination of the individual is formed, and it is not easily shaken, whether it be morally right or wrong. But the man of Christian decision resolves, and acts accordingly, in view of the manifest pleasure of God. His explicit precept, or plain providence, is looked
upon as the foundation of deity, and hence the course determined upon is right in itself and worthy to be pursued, "through evil as well as through good report." And thus, true Christian firmness, and indeed heroism, may exist even in connection with a constitutional timidity of character. The example of thousands of female martyrs, not only matrons, but young and timid maidens, who have braved prisons and the rack and embraced the stake with unshaken purpose.
Of this nature was the decision of the three Jews in Babylon. They refused to obey the imperious mandate of the king, not from obstinacy, but in the fear of God. The law clearly marked out their course of duty; and they pursued it, leaving the results with the God they served.
Whether they were naturally courageous or timid does not appear, but they had that regard for the honour, the character and government of God which inspired them with unconquerable resolution. Nor did it influence them that other Jews, their brethren and friends, bowed before the image, for doubtless there were many other Jews among the number of the officers of the king; it concerned them to be faithful.
2. Christian decision is exercised in regard to matters of real importance.
Among men, worldly men, a certain robustness of spirit is often exhibited as decisively in matters of indifference as of moment. Of two ways each
may be pursued without crime and without damage to any one; but there is a partiality for one course, that course must be pursued at all hazards. Nothing of importance is depending upon the man's decision; and yet he is immovably fixed. His firmness under such circumstances is a native obstinacy of character; not that exalted temper of mind which asks for the path of duty and, finding it, fearlessly pursues it.
In matters of trivial concern, Christian decision may be easy and yielding. It exhibits a due respect for the feelings, wishes, and prepossessions of others. But in matters of real importance, where principle, moral duty, is involved, it displays itself with unshrinking promptitude and perseverance. And such was the case in which these three men upon the plain of Dura were called to act.
An attack was made upon all true religion. A glaring indignity offered to Jehovah; and to join in the general homage before the idol god would be to sanction the gross impiety of the king, as well as to disgrace their own religion. It was a case imperiously demanding the decision they exhibited. Everything precious in religious principle, as well as tremendous in religious sanctions, required them to act as they did - and how morally sublime their act! I cannot think of it and not thank God for putting it on record for my sake, and for others'.
3. Christian decision is exercised with but little anxiety about consequences.
The three Jews before the haughty monarch of Babylon, in adopting the resolution they did, were governed by other considerations than such as too commonly exert a controlling influence. They occupied stations of rank and power. Expediency - a solicitude about consequences - would have whispered: These must be sacrificed unless the impious edict of the king is obeyed. The furnace with its blazing horrors was before them; the burning wrath of the monarch they knew to be relentless. So that the prospect immediately before them was, of course, inexpressibly appalling. They knew, indeed, that the God whom they worshipped could sustain and defend them, but He had given them no explicit pledge of protection. Still, obeying the clear injunctions, conscience, and God, they were willing to risk the consequences.
The moment the Christian man begins to inquire how a given course of duty will probably affect his reputation, his popularity, his gains, his advancement, or his safety, that moment he commits incipient treason against God - and swerves wide from every principle of entering into true Christian character, true Christian decision. Keeps its eye upon the eternal law of God. It asks, not what will satisfy the claims of earth, but what will meet the claims of heaven; not what will please men, but what will please God - not what will secure the acclamations of Protestant Christendom, but what will secure the plaudits of Jesus
Christ. It asks not what is popular or safe, but what is right; and, this ascertained, it is not careful to answer.
4. True Christian decision is uniform and unqualified.
It was but a single violation of the principles of their religion which the king demanded of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. To bow before the image would be but the act of a moment. It would exceedingly gratify the king. It might save them from temporal disgrace and their families from ruin. It would continue them hi stations of rank, influence, and extended usefulness. Might they not make a compromise with their consciences and bow? And salve themselves with such excuses as these:
That it was utterly inexpedient not to respect the orders of their king. That they could accomplish more good among those idolaters by yielding somewhat to their prejudices and thus preserve their lives - than an unyielding course. And to treat the religion of the monarch with open contempt would so exasperate the king as to cause him to regard with even less favour than he then did the God of Israel. And then, while they yielded outward respect to the king, by bowing could they not in spirit worship the God of heaven?
No such Jesuitical reasoning ever entered into their thoughts. They knew that by their acts they spoke to that people, and they knew that they were
responsible for the admitted and well-understood meaning of that solitary act, regardless of what may have been their own private construction of it. And what would they have done by that one act? They would have renounced their allegiance to the Most High - cast public insult upon His throne, given countenance to the whole system of guilty idolatry, and recognizing that idol as a deity, or equal to the deity; and they would have prostituted their own religious character for religious decision. If they could shrink from the claims of their religion in one case, why not in a thousand? And what is the difference of principle between a deviation from manifest duty in a case of apparently trivial importance, and one of obvious magnitude? The Judge of the Earth has decided that "he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much."
The man of real Christian firmness admits not the thought of a compromise with sin or error, or the advocates of error. Though their errors and their systems are acknowledged by the generality of the world, and to repudiate them would inevitably exasperate society and so inflame the prejudices of the community against him that his influence could be destroyed and himself be outcast. If he is threatened with disgrace, with poverty or violence, or flattered with smiles and favour, to induce him to violate his conscience and the claims of his God, though the demand be ever so trivial
in itself, he is still immovable as the everlasting hills. He will sooner break asunder every cord of earthly friendship - sooner encounter the frown of an infuriated world, than yield - bow - to the idol of golden opinion.
Christian decision, then, is an inflexible regard for the will and honour of God - always exercised with special reference to the divine authority - and in regard to matters of real importance in distinction from matters of indifference. It is exercised with but little anxiety about consequences or a temporizing expediency - is uniform and unqualified hi its operations. Let us next consider:
II. Its Importance: 1. As a matter of religious consistency.
The Christian has publicly professed a supreme friendship for Jesus Christ, and a supreme reverence for the unchanging truths and precepts of the Gospel, and a vigorous opposition to and life conflict with every error or system, by whomsoever advocated, that conflicts with the authority and teachings of Jesus. In thus openly espousing the Christian cause, it is to be presumed that he counted the cost and prepared himself for the "loss of all things for Christ" - and if he shrink from duty when popularity tempts, custom demands, or violence threatens, he contradicts the profession of his lips and of his baptism. Brethren, we who " have been buried with Christ into death," have sworn allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth - and what
have we to do any more with idols? What have we to do but to obey our King? Regarding every voice and influence that would turn us aside from His will or detract from His glory, not only as unworthy of a thought, but as a lure to the blackest treason.
These were the feelings of these three worthies before Nebuchadnezzar's image. They had chosen the eternal law as their rule of life and the eternal God as their Sovereign, and there was a sublime consistency between their professed faith and their conduct. They would not by an act of theirs recognize an image of man's creating, as equal with God - or as deserving of their respect and worship. But suppose they had yielded to the edict and the voice of general custom - suppose they had shrunk from the appalling furnace - what could have saved their profession from insupportable ignominy, or themselves from the odium of instability?
2. Christian decision is important as a satisfactory evidence of real Christian character.
In a rigid adherence to the Gospel consists all the religious decision urged in this discourse, and this decision obviously marks the children of God and heirs of glory. This principle carries the man along in the undeviating discharge of duty. And the growing brightness of his character leaves no room to doubt that he is in union with God, and shall stand on Mount Zion above. The law of Christ is his statute book and he acknowledges
no other, he reverences no other. The honour of God is the object of his steady efforts to advance, and every principle and system that conflicts with it, to overthrow. Though he may live despised by the world - and die regarded as a bigot, yet the opening records of the judgment will display to assembled worlds the soundness and loftiness of his religious character, and the appropriateness of his final and glorious award. Oh, how brightly will shine the crown upon the head of such a disciple, though the poorest and humblest follower of Christ on earth!
This evidence of religious character was exhibited by the three Jews in Babylon. Their undeviating steadfastness in such trying circumstances evinced a piety of no ordinary ardour and brilliance.
A true Christian, in this imperfect state, may sometimes shrink from an exact discharge of duty. But the dereliction cannot be frequent, much less habitual. Is the Christian professor accustomed to yield to the claims of a corrupt appetite or passion? It is madness and mockery that he should pretend to the spirit of adoption. Does he hear without painful emotion the Saviour's name abused - profaned? Jesus of Nazareth is not his Master, nor can He be his Saviour.
Is he accustomed to shape his deportment according to the prevalent maxims and practices of a perverse world, trim his sails to the breeze, float
with the current? His allegiance to Christ is but a nominal allegiance. The mandate of the throne is, "Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing." Is he deterred from duty by a dread of human displeasure, by a regard for his standing in society, or by any personal considerations? It is manifest that the fear and love of God have never become fixed principles in his degenerate heart. His disposition to shrink from the open avowal and practice of his principles at all times - a disposition to yield to motives of conveniences and expediency - brands him as deceived or a hypocrite.
This trial of character is a fair one. Christians have ever been subjected to it, and ever will be till the end of this dispensation of trial, till Christ comes to be exalted and to remove and avenge the reproach of His saints. A failure in this trial demonstrates the entire absence of that commanding principle which has sustained patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and millions in glory of whom the world was not worthy. "Am I a soldier of the cross," a follower of my Saviour?
3. It is important even as a matter of safety.
The path of duty is commonly deserted from considerations of temporary interest. Some secular object is either to be gained or is in danger of being sacrificed. Perhaps by such a policy a temporary advantage may be gained. A pressing evil may for once be avoided, or a desirable object secured.
Yet of even this there is no certainty. Indeed, there is danger even in this life in pursuing any other course than that marked out by infinite authority. And there is the utmost safety to every important temporal interest, in committing our way unto the Lord.
The policy of the three Jews was of a grander kind. It affirmed as a fixed fact that the will of the God was to be always regarded, whatever might be the will of others. And, acting upon this principle, they had their reward, even in this life. God was their "refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." He who has said to us, "Lo, I am always with you," walked with them in the furnace, and suffered not a hair of their head to perish, nor a single honour to fade from their brow as rulers of the king's provinces.
But man is not simply a creation of time, but of eternity, and his policy must embrace considerations drawn from eternity. Let all his plans, then, be formed and prosecuted in prospect of an approaching day of reckoning with his Maker, when judgment will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet. Then shall he who has been faithful in a few things be made ruler over many things; while he who has consulted his convenience and temporal interest, ease or popularity, who has been influenced at one time by the will of God and at another by the favour of men, will learn too late that he has acted upon a policy not to be
admitted in transactions with the Eternal. He has attempted a hard task indeed: that of uniting the service of God and Mammon - of pleasing Christ and men - and the result of his evil will be shame and everlasting contempt.
4. Christian decision is important as a means of securing the respect and confidence of mankind.
Mankind has no respect for or confidence in an inconsistent man. He may be considered in error, but if he is virtuous and consistent he will command respect. The Christian, to be respected, must manifestly be governed in all circumstances by the religion he professes. His habitual deportment must illustrate the commanding power of God's Word. Who does not reverence, and respect, the man who can check his strong inclinations when they run counter to the will of heaven? That can submit to public odium rather than yield to practices at variance with Gospel claims? Who can promptly sacrifice his ease, his honours, possessions, and even life itself, sooner than step an inch on forbidden ground, and thus dishonour his Heavenly King? Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego exchanged a dominion in Babylon next to that of the king, for bonds and flames, because they could not offend their God. And in doing it they exhibited a grandeur and loftiness of character which even bad men, as well as good men, must admire to the end of time.
They came forth from the furnace unhurt, to
bring on themselves the augmented respect of their contemporaries, and even of the infuriated king himself; while those who sought their ruin, by accusing them, were overwhelmed with confusion and disgrace.
This decision is likewise needful to secure confidence. The obligations of the Christian are imperious and peculiarly solemn. And with all their dread solemnity they have not power to bind him to the service of his God - if he can be governed still by considerations of convenience, reputation, interest, fear, or favour. It is manifest to all that he is unworthy of confidence, and he must utterly fail to gain it. His very profession will be in the way of his securing it. But let him be found in all cases true to his God in heaven, and no man on earth can withhold from him admiration and confidence. Who in Babylon was more worthy to be trusted, or actually commanded a more unhesitating and extensive confidence, than those whose integrity had been so severely tried and proved by the King?
5. But Christian decision is important as a qualification for eminent usefulness.
It secures the confidence not only of men, but the approbation and blessing of the High and Holy God. And He will deign to entrust you with the mightiest and most responsible instrumentalities used in promoting his cause. "Them that honour me will I honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed," is the language alike of His word
and His providence. Does He select, for the execution of His grandest plans, the timid, the hesitating and the wavering? Oh, no; His servants must be able to say, "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind."
The whole history of both dispensations prove this. When one was wanted to be a deliverer of his people from Egyptian bondage; to receive and publish from his mouth the eternal law of Sinai, and to write the only authentic history of the creation and first ages of the world - geologists to the contrary - whom did God select? It was Moses; a man meek indeed, but of unbending religious principles - a man who could show his allegiance to God by declining the proffered heirship to the proudest, richest, mightiest throne of earth - who could cheerfully forsake Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king.
When God would spread the Gospel of His Son far and wide among the Gentiles, to confront the philosophers of Greece and scoffing infidels at Rome, to preach Christ and the cross before kings and emperors with an unquailing heart, it was Paul - a man who, from the moment that light broke upon his soul, had no other question to ask than, " Lord what wilt thou have me to do? "Being satisfied of God's will, he "conferred not with flesh and blood." He relinquished at once his bright prospect of earthly distinction. He proclaimed
forthwith to a prejudiced world, and before kings and judges, Christ and Him crucified - fearless of consequences.
Whom hath God chosen and placed in the vanguard of His people during the eighteen centuries of persecution, to witness against the iniquity of pagan and papal Rome, and to encourage the hearts of His people with their living examples of decision and sublime courage?
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