The chapters which fill up the interval between Dan. 2 and 7 are devoted to the statement of historical facts, and therefore might not seem, at first sight, to have a prophetical character. But we must bear in mind that Scripture in general has an infinitely larger scope than the bare statement of circumstances, be it ever so instructive and important morally. Indeed, this is true of all the Bible. Take such a book, for instance, as Genesis. Though it is clearly historical, and one of the simplest narratives in the Bible, yet it would be wrong to strip it of an outlook into the most distant future. We have the Spirit of God in the New Testament referring over and over again to its most significant facts. Thus, in the incident of Melchizedek; we see the bearing that is given it by the Holy Ghost in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the allusion to it in other parts of Scripture. A priest and king, two characters that were often united in those days, meets Abraham on his return from the slaughter of the kings, brings forth suited refreshment for the victors, pronounces blessing in the name of Him whose priest he was, and receives tithes as well from Abraham. Yet we must remember that the word of God reasons on this, as indicative of a vast change which has already come in, and leaves open a good deal more, looking onward to the day of Christ, as I conceive. In the Hebrews, where the subject of Christ's priesthood, as now in heaven, is discussed, some important features of the type are barely alluded to, not applied. The primary drift there is to show, from the Jewish Scriptures, a higher character of priesthood than that of Aaron - a priesthood that was not derived from any predecessor, nor handed down to a successor. I only refer to this to show that Scripture gives a typical (and what is that, in other words, but a prophetical?) value to what might appear to be an authentic account of an historical event. Such a character I claim for these facts in the Book of Daniel. For it is plain that, if in the most unvarnished books of inspired history, such as Genesis or Exodus, where prophecy is not the ostensible object or peculiarly marked feature, you have incident on incident, clearly used in the New Testament, as foreshadowing good things to come, we may still more strongly infer that, in a prophecy such as this of Daniel, we are to read not only the visions as directly prophetic, but also the facts connected with them as instinct with a kindred spirit. It were easy to produce analogous examples from elsewhere. Let us look for a moment at the prophecy of Isaiah. There, after a long series of prophetic strains, you have a break. Certain well-known historical facts are related - the invasion and destruction of the Assyrian; and as to Hezekiah, his sickness and his recovery, the wonder done in the land, and the visit of the embassy from the king of Babylon. Then you have the prophecy recommencing, and following on its course. It could be readily proved that the facts related of Sennacherib and Hezekiah have a definite and most instructive bearing upon the prophecies in the midst of which they are imbedded. So that merely to regard them as facts introduced historically into such a connection, and, with no further or deeper reason, dividing one half of the book from the other, would be to deprive them of at least half their value. Am I too bold, therefore, in assuming it as a general truth, applicable to the word of God as a whole, that Scripture is not to be lowered down to the mere recital of the facts it records; but that those facts were chosen expressly in the wisdom of God, and were given in an orderly manner, for the purpose of representing the awful ways of man and Satan, and the glorious scenes before the mind of God Himself, that are to be re-enacted in the latter day? And if this be the case with the strictly historical portion of God's word, it is only reasonable that it should be emphatically true of a prophetic book such as this.
The evidence, however, of this will much more appear as we follow the facts as they are given here. We shall then see what is the connection, and what the special bearing, of the chapters themselves, better than by more laboured presumptions than one might gather from other parts of the word of God. For that is and must be the grandest testimony of all to the real meaning of Scripture. Revealed truth is like the light. It is not that which requires illumination from without in order to let us know what it means, but it displays itself. You do not need a taper or a torch from man to find out the light of day. The sun, as it wants none, entirely eclipses all such artificial helps; it shines for itself and rules the day. So it is that, wherever you find a man capable of seeing, the truth commends itself. He has, what the evangelist Luke calls, "an honest heart," and what other scriptures speak of as "a single eye." Wherever the truth is really brought to bear upon a man who is open to receive it as the precious light of God in Christ, they answer mutually to each other. The heart is prepared for it - desires it; and when the truth is heard, bows, receives, and enjoys it. When the heart, on the contrary, is occupied with itself, or with the world, there is no truth that can possibly bend it. The will of man is at work; and that is the constant, unvarying enemy of God. Therefore it is said (John 3) that no man can see or enter the kingdom of God without being born again - born of water and of the Spirit. That is, there must be a direct, positive work of the Holy Ghost, dealing with the soul, judging it and giving a new nature, which has as decided an affinity for the things of God as the old life has for the things of the world. The Spirit acts upon the new creature, and gives intelligence; and the truth is, we may say, its natural sustenance.
I do not doubt, therefore, that we shall find, in this third chapter of Daniel, as in the three which follow, that each has its distinctive features; and that these were not merely seen in what was passing in the days of Daniel, but that they were registered by the prophet to indicate the course now past, and the future destiny of the great Gentile powers. We are to view them in the light of the prophecies that surround them - to take them, not as facts put down, as any man might do it, at haphazard. In short, God has given them here, linked in the most intimate way with the prophecy where they are found.
In Dan. 2 we saw God's sovereign dealing with a man, raised up from among the Gentiles, to be the minister of His authority. This takes a new form, in consequence of the people of Israel and their kings having definitely proved themselves unworthy of God's purpose and calling. Thereon God introduces the imperial system of government in the world. It was not merely allowing a single nation to grow in power, and be the terror of its neighbours; or creating a blessed example of the ways of God. One ruler is allowed to be the master of the world - one great sovereign, not only himself mighty, but a ruler of kings, who were but subordinate or satellites. This began with Nebuchadnezzar, and it characterizes the Gentile empires. An objection might be raised, that we do not find any such power existing now. That is true. There exists no such imperial rule in the world, nor has there been since the fall of Rome; though there have been certain pretenders to it. But it has failed. The Book of the Revelation shows us this suspension. There was such a ruler once, while imperial Rome subsisted - one who had kings for his servants. But now there is an interval, when all that is over. Still it is to be revived. And this, I believe, is one great fact that awaits the world at the present time. It will take men by surprise; and when accomplished, it will be the means of concentrating the power of Satan, and of bringing about his plans on the earth.
All this has a very serious interest for us. We stand near the crisis in the world's history; and even those who look for signs own that we are drawing near the close of the age, and of the times of the Gentiles. The reorganization of the empire is not far off. And it is solemn to remember that, when revived, it will not be a mere repetition of what has been done before; but the power of Satan will be put forth in a way never yet witnessed. God shall send strong delusion that men should believe a lie, because they "believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Very many of my Christian brethren may cry out that I speak uncharitably. The word of God, however, is wiser than men. It is not a thought of mine, nor of any other man. None would have gathered such a prospect from their own minds. But God has most clearly revealed it. People may plead the wonderful works of God of late in one distant country and another; and the answer of blessing that is, as it were, echoing back from some quarters near us. But these things in no way contradict what has been stated. We may always see these two things going on together, when men approach the verge of some mighty change. On the one hand, the general power of evil increases, and the pride of man swells to an unprecedented height. On the other hand, the Spirit of God works energetically, winning souls to Christ, and separating those that are to be saved from the destruction which is the necessary end of sin and pride. Hence, I believe, when any crisis of evil is at hand, what we ought to expect is this increase of blessing from God, during the time of suspense which immediately precedes judgment.
But, turning to the immediate subject of the chapter, imperial power is in the hands of the Gentiles; and the first thing told of that power, is, that it was used to set up idolatry - abused, rather, to give a splendour to idolatry unexampled in the old world. And a most humbling consideration it is: the evident connection between the golden idol that Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura, and that image which he had seen in the visions of the night. It is true that the image he had made was not an exact copy. Still, is it not grave to find that the first thing that Nebuchadnezzar does, as far as Scripture gives it to us, is to command a golden image to be set up, that all the peoples, the nations, and the languages, might fall down and worship it? One thing, at least, is plain: that whether the golden head of the great image had suggested the thought or not, at any rate it did not hinder him. On the contrary, here we find that the authority which God had put into his hands, is turned to this frightful use. The reason, I believe, was this: Nebuchadnezzar was a man as wise according to the flesh as he was wilful. He stood most evidently in a place that no man had ever occupied before. Not only the sovereign of a vast kingdom, but the absolute master of many kingdoms, speaking different tongues, and having all sorts of contrary habits and policies. What then was to be done with them? How were all these various nations to be kept and governed under a single head? There is an influence that is mightier than any other thing, which, if common, binds men closely together; but which, if jarring, on the contrary, more than anything else, arrays people against people, house against house, children against parents, and parents against children, nay, husbands and wives against each other. There is no social dislocation to be compared with that which is produced by a difference of religion. Consequently, to avert so great a peril, union in religion was the measure that the devil insinuated into the mind of the politic Chaldean as the surest bond of his empire. He must have one common religious influence in order to weld together the hearts of his subjects. In all probability, to his mind it was a political necessity. Unite them in worship, unite all hearts in bowing down before one and the same object, and there would be something that would give the hope and opportunity of consolidating all these scattered fragments into a whole. Accordingly, he projects the idea of the gorgeous image of gold for the plain of Dura, near the capital of the empire: and there it is that he summons all the leading men, the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, all in power and authority, to come together to the dedication. He surrounds it, too, with everything that could attract nature and act upon the senses. All kinds of music must contribute to the scene. When the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, etc., was heard, this was the signal for the representatives of that vast realm to "fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up." Man can but make an idol; he cannot even find out the true God. If it is a question of having the world's homage, the only thing that will carry away men on a vast scale must be something of this creation, something adapted to the nature of man as he is. You cannot unite hearts that are true with such as are false. But if the true God is shut out, Satan is there to find something which, if introduced by the authority of man, may command all but universal acquiescence. So it was here. The authority, therefore, of the empire was put forth, and all were commanded to worship the golden image on pain of death. "Whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace."
"Therefore, at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up." (Verse 7)
But there were some apart from that idolatrous throng; very few, alas! though, no doubt, there were others hidden. We may be bold enough to say there was one not mentioned here - Daniel himself. However that be, his three companions were not there; and this made them obnoxious to others; especially as their position, exalted as it was in the province of Babylon, exposed them to more public notice. Of course they were singled out for the king's displeasure. "Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near and accused the Jews." Then they remind the king of the decree that he had made, and add, "There are certain Jews, whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have not regarded thee; they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Then Nebuchadnezzar, in his rage and fury, commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego," etc.
Now this appears to me a fact of very great importance. The use which the Gentile makes of his power is to set up a religion connected with the polities of the kingdom, a religion for present earthly purposes. Where this is the case, religion cannot be left between God and the conscience. It is no longer a question of having a real conviction as to God and His truth, nor is there liberty to judge the imposture. The worship devised by the Gentile king is bound down upon the subject under penalty of death.
There may be certain things which hinder, for a season, the natural results of the world's will in having its religion condemned. And this has been the case for some time. For the last fifty years and more, every one knows there has been a certain system of opinion, commonly called "liberalism." This has got hold of men's minds. In no way does it respect God and His word as such. Its great stock-in-trade is the rights of man. Its cardinal virtue is, that all should be left free to think, act, and worship as they please. As long as the idea of man's rights is allowed to have play, the mercy of God turns it into an occasion for Christians, having a conscience towards Himself, to pass quietly through, and worship God according to His will. And as it was always unquestionable that God claimed the right over His own people; as His revealed will alone can rightly govern them; so, as the Father, He now seeks His children, that they may worship Him in spirit and in truth. The renewed heart and conscience delight in His will and find the chief blessedness here in exalting Him. To the believer, that will is more peremptory than the absolutism of the heathen king. Liberalism really dislikes this exclusive claim over the conscience. Still, it has led to a sort of calm in the world; and the full exercise of its authority, as to religion, is in abeyance for the time. For, apart from temporary circumstances, none can deny that, wherever there is a religion introduced by the monarch, for the guidance of his realm, necessarily it does not admit of difference, contradiction, or compromise. This would defeat the purpose for which it is imposed. But it is to fight against God. The monarch himself may have a conscience, and he is, of course, bound to worship God according to His will. But the using the authority of the realm to coerce others is the denial, practically, of God's direct control over the individual conscience.
The lesson, then, that we have here, is that, at the very outset, this was what the Gentile made of the power God gave: to set up his own religion, and bind it upon the whole of his subjects. That is, all his authority from God was turned to deny the true God, and to compel universal obedience to his own idol, with a frightful death held up as the immediate forfeit in case of disobedience. This was the great characteristic of the first of the Gentile empires.
But the evil of man and the craft of Satan only serve to bring the faithful into view. The king commands them to be cast into the burning fiery furnace. He first, no doubt, remonstrates, and gives them the opportunity of yielding. "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now, if ye be ready, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, etc., . . . ye fall down and worship the image that I have made, well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace: and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" It is solemn to see how evanescent was the impression made upon the king's mind. The last act recorded before this image was set up, was his falling down on his face before Daniel, paying him all but divine honours. He had even said, "Of a truth it is that your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldst reveal this secret." But it was another thing, when he finds his power disputed, and his image despised, spite of the burning fiery furnace.
It was all very well to acknowledge God for a moment when He was revealing a secret to him. That was plainly decided in Dan. 2. And Daniel there represents those who have the mind of God and who are found in the place of fearing God. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him."
But God had delegated power to the head of the Gentiles, Nebuchadnezzar. And now that these men had dared to brave the consequences rather than worship the image, he is filled with fury, which vents itself in scorn of God Himself. "Who is that God," he says, "that shall deliver you out of my hands?" The consequence was that it became now a question between him whom God had set up and God Himself.
But a most beautiful and blessed feature comes out here. It is not God's way, at the present, to meet power by power. It is not His way to deal with the Gentiles in destruction, even where they may be abusing power against the God who has set them in authority. And I call your attention to this, believing it to be an important thing practically. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego do not in any way take the ground of resisting Nebuchadnezzar in his wickedness. We know afterwards that his conduct was so evil that God stripped him of all glory, and even intelligence as a man, for a long time. But still these godly men do not pretend that he is a false king because he sets up and enforces idolatry. For the Christian, the question is not about the king, but how he ought to behave himself. It is not his business to meddle with others. He is called to walk, relying on God, in obedience and patience. In the great mass of everyday obligations we can obey God in obeying the laws of the land in which we live. This might be the case in any country. If one were even in a popish kingdom I believe that, in the main, one might obey God without transgressing the laws of the land. It might be necessary, sometimes, to hide oneself. If they were coming, for instance, with their processions, and required a mark of respect to the host, one ought to avoid the appearance of insulting their feelings, while, on the other hand, one could not acquiesce in their false worship.
But it is extremely important to remember that government is set up and acknowledged of God, and it has, therefore, claims upon the obedience of the Christian man wherever he may be. One of the New Testament epistles takes up this question, the very one that, more than any other, brings out the foundations, characteristics, and effects of Christianity, as far as regards the individual. I allude to the Epistle to the Romans, the most comprehensive of all the Pauline epistles. There we have, first of all, man's condition fully developed; then the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The first three chapters are devoted to the subject of man's ruin; the next five to the redemption that God has wrought as the answer to the ruin of man. Then, in the three chapters which follow, you have the course of the dispensations of God - that is, His dealings, on a large scale, with Israel and the Gentiles. After that, we have the practical, or, at least, the preceptive part of the epistle: first, in Romans 12, the relations of Christians, one to another; and then, after a gradual transition, to enemies at the close; and, next, their relation to the powers that be. (Rom. 13) The very expression - "the powers that be" - seems intended to embrace every form of government under which Christians might be placed. They were to be subject, not merely under a king, but where there was another character of sovereign; not only where the government was ancient, but let it be ever so newly established. The business of the Christian is to show respect to all who are in authority, to pay honour to whom honour is due, owing no man anything save love. What makes this so particularly strong, is, that the emperor then reigning was one of the worst and most cruel men that ever filled the throne of the Caesars. And yet there is no reserve or qualification, nay, the very reverse of an insinuation that, if the emperor ordered what was good, the Christians were to obey, but, that if not, they were free from their allegiance. The Christian is always to obey - not always Nero or Nebuchadnezzar, but always to obey God. The consequence is, that this at once delivers from the very smallest real ground for charging a godly person with being a rebel. I am aware that nothing will of necessity bar a Christian from an evil reputation. It is natural for the world to speak evil of one that belongs to Christ - to Him whom they crucified. But from all real ground for such an accusation this principle delivers the soul. Obedience to God remains untouched; but I am to obey "the powers that be" in whatever is consistent with obeying God, no matter how trying.
The light of these faithful Jews was far short of what the Christian ought to have now: they had only that revelation of God which was the portion of Israel. But faith always understands God: whether there is little light or much, it seeks and finds the guidance of God. And these men were in the exercise of a very simple faith. The emperor had put forth a decree that was inconsistent with the foundation of all truth - the one true God. Israel was called expressly to maintain that Jehovah was such, and not idols. Here was a king who had commanded them to fall down and worship an image. They dare not sin; they must obey God rather than man. It is nowhere said, that we must ever disobey man. God must be obeyed - whatever the channel, God always. If I do a thing, ever so right in itself, on the mere ground that I have a right to disobey man under certain circumstances, I am doing the lesser of two evils. 'The principle for a Christian man is never to do evil at all. He may fail, as I do not deny; but I do not understand a man quietly settling down that he must accept any evil whatever. It is a heathenish idea. An idolater that had not revealed light of God could know no better. Yet you will find Christian persons using the present confession of the condition of the Church as an excuse for persevering in known evil, and saying, Of two evils we must choose the lesser! But I maintain that, whatever the difficulty may be, there is always the path of God for the godly to walk in. Why then do I find practical difficulty? Because I wish to spare myself. If I compound for even a little evil, the broad way of ease and honour lies open, but I sacrifice God and come under the power of Satan. It was just the advice that Peter gave our Lord when He spoke of being put to death. "Far be it from thee - pity thyself, - Lord." So with the Christian. By doing a little evil, by compromising the conscience, by avoiding the trial that obeying God always entails, no doubt a person may thus often avoid a good deal of the world's enmity, and gain its praise, because he does well to himself. But if the eye is single in this, God always must have His rights, always be owned in the soul as having the first place. If God is compromised by anything required of me, then I must obey God rather than man. Where this is held fast, the path is perfectly plain. There may be danger, possibly even death staring us in the face, as it was on this occasion. The king was incensed that these men should dare to say, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter." Not careful to answer him! And what were they careful for? It was a question that concerned God. Their care was to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." They were in the very spirit of that word of Christ before it was given. They had walked dutifully in the place the king had assigned them: there was no charge against them. But now there arose a question that deeply affected their faith, and they felt it. It was God's glory that had been interfered with, and they trusted in Him.
Accordingly they say, "If it be so, our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace." How beautiful this is! In the presence of the king, who never thought of serving any but himself, and who saw none but himself to serve, they say, "Our God, whom we serve." They had served the king faithfully before, because they had ever served God: and they must serve God still, even if it had the appearance of not serving the king. But they have confidence in God. "He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king." This was not the mere abstract truth: it was faith. "He will deliver us." But mark something better still. "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." Even if God will not put forth His power to deliver us, we serve Himself; we will not serve the gods of this world. Oh! beloved reader, in what a place of dignity faith in the living God puts the man who walks in it. These men were at that moment the object of all the attention of the Babylonish empire. What was the image then? It was forgotten. Nebuchadnezzar himself was powerless in presence of his captives of Israel. There they were, calm and undaunted, when the king himself showed his weakness. For what can be more evident weakness than to yield to a fury that changes the form of his visage, and that utters menaces which utterly failed of their purpose? The furnace was ordered to be heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated. The mighty men, the king's agents to cast them in, were themselves devoured by the flames.
And now, when the deed is done, a new marvel passes before the eyes of the king. It was no vision now, but the manifest power of God. When the sword of the king was drawn out against God, how miserably futile it was! In the midst of this burning fiery furnace was a sight which arrested him. Astonished, the king "rose up in his haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt." What was to be said of the power of Nebuchadnezzar now? What did it avail to be the mightiest monarch of the world, surrounded, too, with all that constituted the sinews of his force and the grandeur of his empire? There were these men, who had been bound and cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace, apparently the most pitiable case in his realm. But now he is obliged to behold their bonds burnt, and themselves only set free by what he meant for their destruction. But not this merely. There was another to be seen, and that other he can but say is like the Son of God. "Lo, I see four men loose . . . and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."
Just as God might use a Balaam or a Caiaphas to speak the truth when they little thought of it and had no communion with Himself in it, so, in this expression of the king's, "the Son of God," there seems to be amazing propriety. We cannot suppose that he entered into its meaning with intelligence. Still there was striking propriety in this respect. There are other titles he might have used. He might have said, "Son of man," or "the God of Israel," or many more. But "Son of God" seems exactly suited to describe the scene: and therefore, I think, the overruling power of the Spirit of God was manifest in leading the king to use this expression. In the New Testament, where all truth comes out with distinctness we find our Lord Himself referring to these two titles, both of which occur in Daniel - Son of man and Son of God. Son of man is the title of Christ in His judicial glory. He is Son of man "because all judgment is committed to Him." As Son of God He gives life: He quickens in the midst of death. As Son of God, He frees those that were bound: and "if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." That verse seems to me a doctrinal commentary upon this very scene. There was the Son, and He was making the prisoners free. Man had bound them, had attempted to execute his threat of vengeance against any who should acknowledge the true God. These three men had jeoparded everything upon the truth of God Himself against all rivals and images; and God had come in for them with delivering power. The proud king not only owns his word changed, but associates their names with the most high God, who was not ashamed to be called their God.
The Gentile dominion is not over yet. And I believe that the close of it will bring in the same thing with as great force as ever. The Book of the Revelation shows us that the last great Gentile king will employ all the authority of his government to enforce what might be called the "religion" of that day. And then God will put forth His power miraculously to preserve His witnesses for their appointed work. There may be some that will suffer unto death, there may be differences in the ways in which God will act. But the Revelation shows us that there will be persons preserved in the midst of the power that enforces idolatry in the last days.
When this takes place, we shall not be upon the scene. Hence the mention of the Jews is emphatic at the time of the last great tribulation. For while men in general will be forced at the end to acknowledge the true God, before that there will be a fiery persecution put forth. There will be such a thing as "glorifying God in the fires"; an expression decidedly used about the remnant of Israel in the last days. The wonderful hand of God will be at work, but it will be with the Jews, not with Christians. As far as we are concerned, tribulation is our constant and proper portion in the world. The New Testament shows this from beginning to end. Nothing is plainer than that the Holy Ghost never acknowledges the Christian in any way except as separate from the world, the object of its animosity and persecution, cast out, despised, unknown by the world. That is our place as recognized by the word of God. It is for Christians to account for the fact, that they have lost it; for clearly, what I have been describing, somehow or another, does not apply at the present time. Is it that the world is getting better, or that they themselves have become worse? Conscience ought to answer, and God will use it, if upright, as the means of bringing one back to the place that ought never to have been left. All through the time of the Gentile supremacy, the Christian's place is obedience. For the most part what the power insists upon is that which the Christian can render with a ready mind; but when there comes a collision between the world's authority and God's, we must obey God rather than men, let the consequences be what they may. This is the only thing that God owns in His people.
The chapters that follow have each of them an increasingly marked connection with the course of the Gentile empire. But this is sufficient to bring out the fact, that idolatry - worldly religion - a religion that is intended for every one, and bound down upon all, under pain of death - is the first great feature recorded of the Gentile empire, and will be found, more or less, to run through the whole of it. As this was the first exercise of authority, so it will be at the end of the age. The Book of the Revelation shows us the last stage of the last Gentile empire; and there we find that what it began with, it will end with: that the same compulsion used here, to make all its subjects bow down and worship in a way of its own setting up, will reappear at the close.
But we find another analogy. God at that time had His witnesses. And as the Jews were the persons that then withstood Gentile idolatry, they will come again upon the stage of God's dealings, and will be especially the witnesses that God will put honour upon. This godly remnant of Israel is represented by the disciples in the days of our Lord's earthly ministry. They will be a godly seed, cleaving to Him and loving His name; and this, because they will have got hold, with more or less light, of the Messiah. These persons will be found waiting for Jesus to come and take His kingdom, after the Church, properly so called, has passed out of the scene of God's dealings on the earth.
Thus, then, as Gentile authority began with this idolatry forced upon all, and the only witnesses for God were among the Jews; so, at the close, idolatry will reappear, and God will have a faithful remnant again among that poor people - a testimony for Himself in the midst of apostasy.
But I hope, in looking at future chapters, to enter a little more into details. May we remember, that what we have been now seeing is not merely for that day, nor does it concern the witnesses of that time only! If God will have a faithful people among the Jews then, may we who are Christians not be found disobedient unto the heavenly vision! We have a brighter prospect than any which Daniel saw. He was not privileged to see Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour. He could testify, on the one hand, of the rejection of Messiah, and, on the other, of His universal and everlasting dominion. Between the one past and the other future, we know other and higher glories in Him now, and Himself, in whom these blessings are treasured up. We know that "He is the true God and eternal life," and ourselves blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Him. We are called out from this world to follow Him and be the sharers of His heavenly glory. It is but "a little while, and He that shall come, will come, and will not tarry." And if this is so, how ought we to be apart from this present evil world! How ought we to keep clear of its attempt to put on the appearance of reverence for the name of Jesus! Alas! how often people get perplexed, and ask, Where and what is the world? The truth is, that all this is a lamentable proof that they are so mixed up with the world that they do not know it. The Lord grant that we may have no difficulty in knowing where the world is, and where we are. The Jew was obliged to enter it with the sword in his hand, executing judgment. But that is not the place of the Christian. We began with the sword against Christ, and Himself bowing to it. We began and should go on with the cross, looking for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. All our blessedness is founded on the cross, and all our hopes centre in His glory, and His coming again for us.
The Lord grant that we may live thus, in the increasing knowledge of the Blessed One, with whom we have to do, and to whom we belong. Whatever, then, may be the danger and trial, we shall have the Son of God with us in it.
May we know more and more what it is to walk with Christ in liberty and joy! So shall we have Christ with us in every time of need.