Sermon 2859. The Lions' Den
A SERMON PUBLISHED ON THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 1903.
DELIVERED BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"O Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?" Daniel 6:20.
THE empire of Babylonia and Chaldea passed into the hands of a new dynasty and king Belshazzar was slain in a night-assaultupon his capital. On that very night, he had clothed Daniel in scarlet and made him the third ruler in the Kingdom. This wasProvidential, for, had Daniel been in obscurity, he would have been little likely to attract the notice of Darius. But, observinghim in the palace, clothed in scarlet, Darius would naturally ask who he was and enquire into his antecedents. The fame ofhis wisdom would be quickly told and the fact of his having twice interpreted the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, in former times,and of his having just then, with startling precision, foretold the downfall of Belshazzar and the capture of the city bythe Medes and Persians, would be eagerly related. Hence it was not at all surprising that Darius took great notice of Daniel,weighed his character, observed his conduct and, after a while, exalted him to be prime minister of his realm.
Daniel's prosperity and honors excited the envy of the courtiers. Full of sullen spite and brimming over with jealousy, presidentsand princes conspired together to cast him down with calumnious accusations. We are known to say that "any stick will do tobeat a dog," so they looked about for any charge with which they might assail him. I have no doubt they watched him constantly,waited eagerly for his halting-all the while basely flattering the man they wanted to trip up. Can they discover a flaw inhis accounts? Can they question the impartiality of his judgment? Can they detect a lack of loyalty in the administrationof his government? Can they find fault with his private life? No, but is there nothing against him? Is Daniel such a four-squareman that he is more than a match for them? I can well believe that they hunted him here and there till their haughty facesgrew haggard in the sin effort to find a cause of complaint-and that they set spies to skulk about his house and mark hismovements. And, in fact, they stooped to the meanest stratagems, little heeding how much they compromised themselves if theymight but compass his downfall. But his integrity was proof against all their devices. The more closely they observed him,the more clearly they discerned that he was always diligent, discreet and devout. So conscientious and so uniformly consistentwas Daniel, both in his character and his conduct, that every effort to entangle him in the meshes of their conspiracy provedto be vain.
At length the devil, who does not often run short of devices, puts them up to a fresh plot. O Satan, you are full of all subtlety!"Let us contrive a new law," they say, "that shall bring his piety and his patriotism into conflict. He is a Hebrew by birthand he believes, with all his heart, in only one God. Our divinities he despises. Towards our temples he shows a silent scorn.He sets no value on the magnificent statues that we venerate. Three times in the day he has been accustomed to offer prayerto an invisible Protector whom he calls, 'the living God, Jehovah'-surely these peculiarities will supply us with a pretextand so we shall entrap him." So they laid their evil heads together and devised as cunning a snare as they could possiblyinvent. And yet, clever as they were, they perished in the trap they had prepared! They managed to involve the king, himself,in their iniquitous device and to entangle him in such a way that he must either sacrifice his favorite courtier, or compromisehis own truthfulness and violate the sacred traditions of the empire! A royal statute was framed and a decree published forbiddingany petition to be asked of God or man for 30 days. How preposterous!
But when was there ever a despot who was not, sooner or later, deserted of his wits? The passion for power, when indulgedwithout restraint, will lead a man to the utmost foolishness and urge him to a madness of vanity. In such a false positionstood the monarch who was easily persuaded to issue the infamous edict desired. In this strait, how will Daniel acquit himself?Will he count it prudent to desert his post and get out of the way? No. Daniel had a soul above such policy. Yet you mightimagine that if he must pray, he would go down into the cellar, or offer his supplications to God in some retired place wherehe need not challenge notice. His petitions will be heard in Heaven without respect to the place from which they are presented.Or it might have been expedient to suspend the vocal utterance of prayer and offer his supplications silently. Daniel, howeverwas a servant of the living God and, therefore, he scorned thus to compromise and play the coward. Well does one of the oldwriters call him, Coeur de Lion, for he had the heart of a lion! Into that den of lions he went, a lion-like man, not cruel,like the beasts of the forest, but far more courageous! His conscience towards God was clean and the course he pursued beforehis fellow creatures was clear. His sense of the Truth of God would not suffer him to be a trimmer. He does not change hishabit, but goes upstairs, though he might have known that it was like climbing the gallows. He drops upon his knees, putshis hands together, with his windows open toward Jerusalem in the presence of all his adversaries-and there he prays threetimes a day as he had done before. He prays openly, not ostentatiously. He prays in the spirit of a Protestant rather thanin the fashion of a Pharisee. He sought no honor, but he shunned no danger. To encounter shame, or to endure reproach, ifnecessary, for the cause of righteousness, had long been his fixed habit-and now that it threatens to bring on him swift death,he swerves not!
Hear those quick feet as they patter along the streets of Shushan! All the presidents and princes are coming together! Thereis mischief brewing, for they are going to seek an interview with the king. They are anxious to inform his majesty that theyhave caught Daniel committing the horrible crime of prayer! Was not this a new offense? Oh, no! The first man that ever diedfell a victim to his religion and so, I suppose, for many and many a century, this was one of the foulest offenses a man couldcommit against society! Those who serve the living and the true God are sure to challenge the sneers of the time-servers inany age. There are many, nowadays, who hate nothing as much as a religious man! All the epithets in the catalog of scandalare too good for the man who offers homage to God in everything. An infidel may be reputed honest, intelligent and worthyof respect-but a genuine Christian is at once denounced as a hypocrite! Away with such a fellow-his conscience is as offensiveas his creed! There is toleration for everybody who conforms to the fashion of the day, but no toleration for anyone who believesthat the laws of Heaven should regulate life on earth.
So they told the king that the laws of his empire must be kept inviolate. Good, loyal souls as they were, they would not havea statute broken for the world! There is an end to your monarchy if your royal proclamations are not to be respected! Theyare so jealous for the common law and so earnest for the king's honor that they must, at all hazards, even if it is at therisk of seeing their dear friend, Daniel, put into the lions' den, maintain the dignity of the king and assert the majestyof his imperial edict! The king perceives that he is caught, but thinks the matter over and, finding no alternative, givesDaniel up to the conspirators.
Alas! I see the godly man flung in among the lions, but what do I hear? Do I hear his bones cracking? Can I hear a shriekfrom the Prophet? Is there a noise of the howling of those savage beasts of prey? There is an awful hush while the king putshis seal upon the stone-shall we step down and peer into the den to see what is going on there? No sooner had Daniel arrivedat his destination than an angel of God encamped in that dungeon. Stretching his broad wings, he seems to have fixed his stationin front of those fierce beasts. The safety of Daniel was secured! The mouths of the lions were shut and they lay down likelambs. Perhaps Daniel found a comfortable pillow for his night's rest upon the shaggy body of one of those monsters that wouldhave devoured him had not the heavenly visitant hushed them into silence by his presence! Or perhaps the appearance of theangel was as a flame of fire and worked an illusion before the lions' eyes, so that Daniel seemed to them to be surroundedwith flame, or robed with fire. At any rate, that night the prophecy of the latter days-that the lamb shall lie down withthe lion, was fulfilled to the letter! God, in His Providence and Grace, preserved His servant!
We can easily imagine that, like Paul and Silas, when Daniel did not sleep, he made the lions' den vocal with his songs andthat the lions growled the bass while God's angel stood there listening to such music as he had never heard before! And whenthe morning dawned he then sped his way up to Heaven as the king came to fetch Daniel out of his
prison house. So Daniel was delivered and his foes were confounded. There is the story. Now, what lessons are we to learnfrom it?
I. First, I want to set before you DANIEL'S EARLY AND ENTIRE CONSECRATION TO THE SERVICE OF
The king said, "Your God, whom you serve continually." This was no empty compliment. His scrupulous uprightness had becomeso habitual that it was like an instinct of his nature. Daniel began to serve God in his youth. There are no saints to becompared with those whose childish minds were imbued with heavenly Truths as soon as their infant lips began to lisp them.Just as there are no sinners so inured to wickedness as those who are bred and trained in haunts of vice, tutored from theircradle to utter profane words and prone to act as they think, bravely, in defiance of every precept of the Decalogue tillthey become proficient in every kind of profligacy. They, who give their morning to God, shall find that, in beginning early,they can keep pace with their work all day. Happy Daniel, thus continually to serve his God from his youth up! Yet it wasnot the good fortune of his birth that gilded his name with glory. Far from that-it was his sad lot to be carried away captivefrom his native land while but a stripling! Alienated from the home of his ancestors, he was taken to the palace of Nebuchadnezzarand there, with three other youths, he was entered as a bursar in a heathen school to be instructed in the strange literatureof a strange nation and so to become one of the king's learned men!
His loyalty to the faith of his forefathers was at once put to the test. Certain food that was repugnant to his conscience,was served up every day. Probably it had been offered in sacrifice to a false god. Daniel feels that he would be pollutedby partaking of it. He, therefore, with his companions, refuses either to eat the king's meat or to drink the king's wine.As a total abstainer, he drank nothing but water and, as a vegetarian, he ate nothing but simple plants. With no desire toplease his palate, it was his delight to serve his God continually. Another man might have thought it mattered little whathe ate and drank, but, for Daniel, the jots and tittles of Divine Revelation had a meaning. He dared not go contrary to theLaw of his God, even with regard to meats and drinks. Though far from the land that Jehovah cared for, he longed to live inthe Light of God's Countenance. Strict obedience to God has a swift reward. His face soon became fairer than the faces ofthose who fed on the royal diet!
At length, the time arrives when Daniel is to be brought from private tuition into public notice. Nebuchadnezzar has beendistressed by a dream which his astrologers cannot comprehend and his soothsayers try in vain to search out. To Daniel, alone,who served his God continually, the secret is revealed. Of that vision I do not now attempt to speak-but with what nobilityof heart does Daniel stand before the king! He does not tremble before the earthly potentate, nor does he conceal the nameof the God in Heaven who inspires him with wisdom. He recalls the forgotten dream and forthwith he is made a great man inthe realm-yet he still goes on to serve his God continually! Obscurity could not hinder him, publicity could not mislead him.Again the king dreams. again Daniel boldly explains, though that explanation is to the effect that the haughty monarch shallbe driven as a lunatic from the abodes of men!
For a while, Daniel retires into the shade. You hear nothing of him till Belshazzar ascends the throne, but he is still servinghis God. I doubt not, sometimes ministering to his poorer brethren and visiting the sick, but often in his chamber, by prayer,and by study of the Scriptures, seeking and finding communion with the Most High. All of a sudden Belshazzar summons him tohis presence. There is a mysterious writing on the wall which can be read by no eyes and interpreted by no lips but his. Heis not disconcerted, but, at the call of royalty, to court he goes. Oh, with what simple dignity, with what sublime composure,with what heroic courage does the man of God tell the proud monarch, who might cut him in pieces if he willed, of his immediatedoom-"You are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting"! If you want to find a counterpart of John Knox in the Bible,I do not know, leaving out Elijah, where you will find a rival to Daniel. How confidently he speaks, "This is the writing"!And again, "This is the interpretation." His word commends itself to the conscience-no man dares to gainsay it.
He is promoted to the highest honor in the realm-now what will he do? There has been a change of monarchs, but there is nochange in Daniel. No time-server, he stands to his principles at all times. "Servant of the living God," is still his title!He had taken for his motto, when he began life, "I serve God," and he retains the motto to his life's close. The glory ofhis God was his one objective throughout all his days-and he never swerved. He is now lifted to a higher post of dignity thanhe had ever been raised to before. He is prime minister of the greatest monarch of the age, yet he abhors the idolatry ofthe heathen and maintains his allegiance to him who rules in the heavens. They can find no flaw in him,
though the eyes of envy watch him from early morn to dewy eve! O my Brothers and Sisters, it is a hard thing to serve Godin high places! Many a man seems to adorn the Doctrine of God our Savior when humbly earning his livelihood by the toil ofhis hands, and eating his bread in the sweat of his face, but, afterwards, when advanced to ease and opulence, he has turnedhis back upon his friends and forsook the Lord. Be very jealous of yourselves if you are rising in the world. Riches are deceitful.It is not easy to walk on a high rope-what lamentable Providences have befallen those who have thus risked their lives! Letus be the more circumspect when we are called to walk in high places. Popularity and fame, riches and honor are among thesharpest trials of integrity that mortal man can pass through. But Daniel could endure them all without his head growing giddy,for he served his God continually.
Now note the effect of what Daniel did. It is comparatively easy to follow the Lord in bright days, but the sun of prosperitysuddenly darkens and the man of God is encompassed with perils. If he continues in his holy course, he will forfeit the king'sfavor and lose his life in the most dreadful manner. What will Daniel's determination be? Oh, the true grit is in him! Heis a blade of the true Jerusalem manufacture and is not to be broken. He will do just as he did before! He opens his windowand in the same posture, down on his knees, he prays as he did before! Glory be unto the God of Daniel, who made and who keptsuch a man with his head clear in the crisis, with his heart pure in the midst of persecution and his feet steadfast to theend!
Ah, dear Friends, some of us little know what these pinches mean. There are a few of you who do-you have endured torture withoutaccepting deliverance. I have felt a holy pride in some of you when I have seen how you have borne trial. Witness the manwho has a shop which brings him in more profit on a Sunday than it does all the rest of the days of the week, and who says,"It must be one thing or the other. I cannot go to the Tabernacle and keep my shop open, too- which shall it be?" His faithproves stronger than his fear! The shutters are closed on the first day of the week. His business goes-he loses everythingand yet he does not regret it. He parts with ill-gotten gain without a grudge and goes back to hard manual labor with a moralsatisfaction and a manifest ease of conscience that he never knew before! Dear souls, your pastor is proud of you! I feelthat I can thank God and take courage since the Gospel of Christ educates and brings up such simple, honest servants of theliving God! And when I have heard of young men serving in a shop, who, when asked to do something positively dishonest, haveat first mildly answered that they could not-but when told that they must either comply or retire-have boldly said, "Thenwe will leave," I have felt how highly honored I am of God to have such men in our ranks.
My eminent predecessor, Dr. Gill, was told by a certain member of his congregation, who ought to have known better, that ifhe published his book, " The Cause of God and Truth," he would lose some of his best friends and that his income would falloff. And the Doctor said, "I can afford to be poor, but I cannot afford to injure my conscience." The devil and the deceitof your own heart will readily suggest that you must look after your family-and some good Christian people mistake prudencefor piety. I daresay, had Daniel gone to consult Mr. Prudent Thrifty and asked his advice, he would have said. "Well, yousee, it is a very important thing for us to have you at the head of affairs. I do not think you ought to throw away such anopportunity as you have of doing good. It is not absolutely necessary for you to pray for thirty days! Would it not be betterfor you to trim a little and yield a point or two? You do distinguished service to our cause and, by keeping your position,you will be putting your foes to a non-plus. By compromise you will obtain concessions. Worldly wisdom is worth your study."This is the way that fools are beguiled and in this way many Christians, alas, drift from their moorings. To plead the presentdistress is, for the most part, a mere pretence. "Let us do evil that good may come," never was in the code of Old Testamentor New Testament Truth!
I remember a notable instance, some years ago, of this fallacious reasoning. A reflection was cast on the career of a distinguishedclergyman who resigned his connection with the Established Church and, after much consideration, allied himself with the Baptists."Did he gain credit," it was asked, "or increase his congregation by the change?" What of that? The answer is easy. Let conscienceassert its supremacy, for circumstances do not weigh a feather in the scale. Long departed from among us, we may still speakof him as the Hon. and Rev. Baptist Noel-and he was right and righteous in his decision, as one who feared the Lord in theface of any loss. If, by stopping where he thought he ought not to stop, or by conforming to what he believed to be a corruptcorporation, he could have saved multitudes of souls, the good done to others would not have extenuated the guilt incurredby himself! You and I have nothing at all to do with consequences! Be it ours to hearken to the voice of the Lord and obeyHis high behests. When God prompts our conscience to a
course of action, the slightest demur will recoil with a sense of intolerable guilt. Though the heavens should fall throughour doing right, we are not to sin in order to keep them up! At the call of duty, never parley with danger. Should everythingseem to go amiss with us after we have done the right thing, there is no cause for regret. Remember that our conduct is themaker of our character. You men of faith, hoist your colors! Leave to your God the providing! Stick to the obeying. Learnyour duty and do it bravely. "Through floods and flames," if Jesus leads, follow on, never dubious that your welfare is assured.
Here, dear Friends, I would remark that the only service to God which is real, genuine, remunerative, is this continual servicethat sticks at nothing. Any hungry dog will follow you in the streets if you do but entice him with a piece of meat, or abit of biscuit. How closely he keeps to your heels! But, after a while, the bait is gone and the dog retreats. That is likemany a professor. There is some little pleasure in religion, or some advantage, and so he follows Christ, but, after a while,there is an attraction elsewhere and, impelled by greed rather than gratitude, he pursues it. Thus do false professors forsakeChrist, whom they never did really follow. But I have seen a man on horseback, splashing the mud about and I have seen hisdog keeping close at the horse's heels, up and down hills, whether the roads were smooth or rough-what did it matter to thefaithful hound? His master was before him, so on he went! That is the only kind of dog I would care to own and I believe thisis the only sort of follower that our Lord Jesus Christ is willing to acknowledge. Oh, those time servers who look one wayand pull the other, like the ferry-men upon the stream! As for Lord Fair-Speech, Lord Time-Server, Mr. Smooth-Man, Mr. Anything,Mr. Facing-Both-Ways, Mr. Two-Tongues and all the members of their club, Mr. By-Ends included, the entire company of themwill be swept away when the Judge comes with the besom of destruction!
I know you feel the force of this Truth. How you loathe a friend who will not stick to you in dark times! Do you rememberthat companion of yours who used to call in the evening and sit and chat with you? What a dear fellow he seemed! You alwaysthought he was a sincere friend. You liked him much and you confided in his judgment as you often took counsel together. Andall went well till, one day when the dark clouds began to gather over your head. It made a serious change in your circumstances.What was it? A severe loss in business, or perhaps a bankruptcy-now you cannot keep such a well-spread table, or wear as gooda hat as you used to-there is not so much nap on your Sunday coat. You look rather less thriving than in days of yore. Whathas become of your friend? Ah, never mind, let him stay where he is for you have not suffered much loss by getting rid ofhim. He was never worth knowing, before, but you have found out his worthlessness, now, and I advise you to have nothing moreto do with him. Do you not despise the character of such a man? Do you not feel in your heart, "Well, I can forgive him, butI will have nothing more to do with such a fellow"?
This is but a picture of yourselves if you try to follow Jesus Christ only when you are in the society of His people and aseasily lend yourselves to sing a frivolous or lewd song when you are with the ungodly. What is that man's profession worthwho lets his tongue run loose with flippant speech and vain conversation when he gets into the company of such friends asare known to be sons of Belial? Oh, that we had more Daniels who would serve the Lord continually! The only way to build upa character which will be proof against the temptations of the age and of your own immediate surroundings is to commit yourcause to God, as Daniel did. Be much in prayer! Prayer keeps the Christian steadfast. You may make a loud profession, butit will not last without prayer. Amidst work and worry, heavy responsibilities and incessant anxiety, you had need often renewthe confession of sin and weakness on your bended knees. Then, again, you must have a lively faith in the living and trueGod, as the Prophet had, for only this can sustain you in such a warfare. Is your faith genuine, of the right metal? Spuriousfaith soon loses its edge.
The Christian is in hard straits if he finds that when he needs courage and comfort most, all his strength and joy have departed!Prove your faith in the petty skirmishes of the passing hour, if you would have it endure the perilous conflicts of an evilday. Have you a religion that did not begin with rigorous self-denial. Then, get rid of it! If you have a religion that suitsyour constitutional fondness for ceremonies, your aesthetic taste for culture, your habitual passion for music, beware ofit! The root of all real religion is simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Away with every counterfeit. That faith whichlives only on Jesus, rests solely on Jesus, builds wholly on Jesus and shows itself in earnest prayer will give you a consistencyand decision of character that will make you like Daniel all your days!
II. Now, secondly who WAS THIS GOD WHOM DANIEL SERVED CONTINUALLY?
Let me ask-Is Daniel's God worthy of our worship?I ask the question in all earnestness because I feel positive that multitudesof men have a religion that, in their own judgment, is hardly worth debating about, far less worth dying for. It must havebeen a sorry spectacle to watch a Papist going to the stake or the scaffold as many Protestants have gone, for the maintenanceof a fiction or a lie! I should be surprised to see an Agnostic lay down his life for the defense of nothing. But what shallwe say of the living and true God whom Daniel delighted to honor? Is He worth living for, worth serving, worth dying for?Doubtless the Prophet's devotion grew stronger with the proof he made of the Lord's goodness and greatness. With childlikefaith he clung, at first, to simple precepts that he would not transgress. The Revelations he afterwards received seem likerewards for his unfaltering integrity. In his direst emergencies, God manifestly delivered him. He had no other longing forlife than communion with the Lord of All the Earth! From the Christian point of view, he was a "man greatly beloved." To theoutside heathen, he was "a servant of the living God." But let us repeat the question, that we may have the pleasure of answeringit for ourselves. Is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ worthy of our love and our life? Words are lacking to tellthe gratitude and joy that we cherish towards God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us even whenwe were dead in sins!
By faith I understand that the blessed Son of God redeemed my soul with His own heart's blood and, by sweet experience, Iknow that He raised me up from the pit of dark despair and set my feet on the rock. He died for me-this is the root of everysatisfaction I have! He put all my transgressions away. He cleansed me with His precious blood. He covered me with His perfectrighteousness. He wrapped me up in His own virtues. He has promised to keep me, while I abide in this world, from its temptationsand snares! And when I depart this life, He has already prepared for me a mansion in the Heaven of unfading bliss and a crownof everlasting joy that shall never fade away! To me, then, the days or years of my mortal sojourn on this earth are of littleconcern, nor is the manner of my decease of much consequence. What more can I wish than that while my brief term on earthshall last, I should be the servant of Him who became the Servant of servants for me?
You, dear Friends, must be the best judges of your own religion, whether or not it is worth suffering for. If it is not fullof immortality, I would not advise you to risk your reputation on retaining it. If it is only a fair profession, you may wellblush for it as a foul delusion. The fleeting fashion of the time has its market value, but the sterling Truth of God is acommodity that never fluctuates. Have you found Him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth?Your religion is genuine if Christ Himself is the All-in-All of it. Is He your own dear Savior? Then you have pardon and peace,happiness in this present time and Heaven in prospect-happier lot no heart can wish for!
Then there comes another question-Is Daniel's God able to deliver us from the lions?My dear Friends, you who are sufferingjust now for the Cross of Christ, you who know what it is to be losers for Jesus, to stand out and to endure pains and penaltiesas Daniel did-you are well aware that the lions are fierce and furious creatures. They are not stuffed animals, having thename without the nature of those beasts of prey! So, the sufferings of a Christian are not sentimental-they are real! Thoselions had not their teeth knocked out, they were not transformed into lambs. They could have devoured Daniel if they had beenpermitted to do so. It would be foolish to talk of your troubles as trifles, but for the Grace of God they might have beenenough to drive you back into the world and to reduce you to despair! Full often, your steps have well-nigh slipped. The lionshave sharp teeth and they would have devoured you-only Divine Grace has found a means of delivering you out of their mouths.
I ask the man who has given up a profitable appointment because he would not be false to his convictions, whether, on shortercommons he has not found the sweeter luxury of contentment? I ask him whether he has not enjoyed, on a harder pillow, morerefreshing sleep? I appeal to you, one and all, if a sense of rectitude has not invariably a soothing effect and a gentlestimulus? I know, Brothers and Sisters, that those of you who have passed through such trials will bear me witness that thereis a sustaining influence vouchsafed to you while you are cast, as it were, into the lions' den. Some of you are enduringthe ordeal, now, but others, who have got farther on, have been rescued from dire peril. In most cases that have come undermy notice, when anyone has ventured loss for Christ, he has presently reaped some substantial advantage-and his loss has,in the end, proved to be his gain.
Many a man has, in this manner, proved God's Providence. For an honest scruple, he has been put out of a position that suppliedhim with a scant livelihood. Contentment, with a bare pittance, was his only outlook. Loosed from his moorings, he fearedlest he should be lost-yet he afterwards traced his enlarged prosperity to that very date! God, who
is rich in mercy, has soon found for that man a far better position than he could have held had it not been for his forfeitingthe other. And even if your deliverance is not thus speedy and sudden-if, like David, you should say, "My soul is among lions:I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharpsword," yet shall you sing, like David-"My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise."
But should we even dwell among lions till we die, what joy shall it be to leave the lions and be linked with saints and holyangels in the beatific hereafter! The higher reward is bestowed on the higher service and brighter crowns encircle their browswho have suffered most bitterly and most bravely. You and I have but few and slender opportunities, in this soft and silkenage, of showing our love to our Lord by the surrender of liberty and life for His sake. There are no stocks or racks, no stakesor gallows for martyrs now. These are smooth and slippery time, yet, if we are so inclined, we can work with the will, withthe self-denial and self-sacrifice of missionaries! For the love of Jesus, we can dare to die under a cloud with no hope ofbeing canonized. Faith and patience are martial virtues which it may be quite within our province to illustrate in humblerather than heroic fashion.
You may wonder why I keep on in this strain. I am aiming at instances which are much more common than some of you may imagine.There are many worshippers gathered within these walls whose constant attendance at what is snee-ringly called "a conventicle,"exposes them to no reproach and, in some instances, would rather win them a measure of esteem. There are others, to my knowledge,who can never enjoy the privileges of the Lord's people without encountering grievous provocations and bitter malice.
In a congregation of this magnitude, the confidential words spoken to the pastor by the solitary ones would often startlethose who sit in their family pews. Confession of Christ frequently causes division in a household. Husband and wife are,for His sake, in hostility. Mother and daughter cannot agree. Taunt and jibe are difficult to bear with equanimity. Perhapsit touches men in their trade and it goes hard with the bread-winner when faithfulness takes away his bread and cheese. Mysympathy, however sincere, is of small account-would to God I could inspire you with more fortitude! Let me challenge youto quit yourselves like men! Let me exhort you to play the Daniel! Is your God the living God able to deliver you out of theden of lions? I hope you will be able to cheerfully respond, "I believe He can! I believe He will! But if not, though I abidein the den till I die, I will rest quietly there with the Angel of His Presence as my guardian for I know He will bring me,when I have suffered a while, to everlasting Glory!"
"Is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?" Let me put this question in one or two lightsand thus draw our reflections to a close. Leaning over, like that Persian king, I look down into a greater den of lions thanhe ever descried. It is dark. The stench is foul and 'midst the dim shadows I discern struggling forms and figures. Tormentors,whose faces are hidden, stretching women upon racks and torturing men with switch and leather flogs. And, yonder, a spot where,on hundreds of stakes, martyrs have been burned to the death. In the far distance, a wild horse and a human victim tied tohis heels to be dragged to death. Strange and horrible spectacle that, out yonder!-a long procession of men who were scourged,who were stoned, who were beheaded, who were sawn asunder- saintly men were they, of whom the world was not worthy! Leaningover the mouth of this great lion's den, I ask the persecuted saints of all ages-Has your God been able to deliver you? Andwith a cheerful shout, loud as the voice of thunder, they cry, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Himwho loved us!"
I look down upon another lions' den. It is still dark, but not so dreary. Night reigns in sacred shade and solitude. The starsare hid, but tapers burn in chambers dimly lit. There, sons and daughters of sorrow are tossed on beds of sickness. Thus theyhave lain for months, perhaps for years-all hope of health extinguished, all prospect of pleasure passed. Their limbs paralyzed,their sight failing, their hearing dull-calamities of every kind have befallen them. God has permitted the great lions ofaffliction to come howling round and to tear away all their comforts and their joys till they are left without any of thatcheerful fellowship with nature which seasons mortal life with sweet relish.
Some of you are robust in health-your head never throbs, your heart never aches, you are hardly conscious that you have anynerves. Small account do you take of the secret, silent, saintly heroism of sufferers whose pilgrimage on earth is blightedwith pain. Oft have I been their companion in tribulation. I appeal to these tried and afflicted children of God. Tell me,you Daniels, has your God been able to deliver you out of the mouths of the lions? And I hear each one
say, "Bless the Lord, O my Soul!" And all join in chorus, saying, "Not one good thing has failed of all that the Lord ourGod has promised! Our shoes have been iron and brass, and as our days, so has our strength been."
Will I strain my parable too far if I turn my eye upon another lions' den? It lies in a deep valley. The night hangs heavy.The beasts of prey are diseases that skill and shrewdness, time and talent have striven in vain to tame. Like lions, strangelydissimilar in outward fashion, but strongly resembling them in instinct, they pounce on their victims and seal their doom.We call this place "the Valley of the Shadow of Death." I think I am gazing, now, on the forms of shivering men and womenas they are dragged down by the lions. One after another, my familiar friends descend into the grave and I ask them, in thehour of their departure, "Is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?" Calm is their countenanceand clear their voice, as each one chants his solo, "O Death, where is your sting? O Grave, where is your victory? Thanksbe to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" So, at length, this lions' den, too, loses all its terror.
Then I look into another den. It is almost empty. There is a lion in it, a grim old lion, but I do not see so much as a boneto tell the tale of its victims. No trace of its ravages is left behind. On this soil there once were countless thousandsof the slain, but it is empty, now. All of a sudden I look up and, lo, I see myriads of immortal souls and they all tell me,"Our God delivered us from the grave, and rifled the tomb of its prey. By a glorious Resurrection, He has brought all Hisransomed people forth to meet their Lord at the Great Day of His appearing. There shall they stand before the Throne of God,for He has broken the teeth of the lion and rescued all His children from the power of the adversary!"