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SERMON XXIV.

SHADRACH, MESHACH, AND ABEDNEGO.

DANIEL iii. 16—18.

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the

king, O 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, () king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden

image which thou hast set up.” When God separated Israel from the rest of mankind, He intended, by their means, to preserve true religion in the world; and to make known to all nations who should come in contact with them, the difference between him that serveth the Lord, and him that serveth Him not. Should they be obedient to the Divine law, their prosperity would afford an example of the blessing attendant upon obedience; should they rebel, their afflictions would show the evil consequences of transgression. And thus they actually continued for several ages, sometimes the willing, and sometimes the unwilling instruments of spreading the knowledge of God and his ways on earth. When, at length, they were become so exceedingly corrupt, that it was not for God's glory that they should subsist longer as an independent nation, He so ordered the mode of their punishment as to make them still subservient to his benevolent purpose of enlightening mankind. He would not destroy them, as He had destroyed the Canaanites, but He suffered them to be carried away captive into distant lands, where, being scattered up and down, they could hardly fail to teach the inhabitants something of their own religion; and their heavenly Father would take care, upon fit occasions, to testify, by some remarkable providence or other, that theirs was the true religion.

Of this we have a very remarkable instance in the chapter from which the text is taken. By interfering so miraculously to rescue his faithful servants from the fiery furnace, God showed great mercy, not to them only, but to the whole of that vast multitude who were assembled at the dedication of Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. For He gave them all an opportunity (which some, we may hope, improved) of learning that Jehovah was the true God, and, consequently, that they must come to Him for life, and renounce the service of their idols.

But the mercy of God did not stop at this. He ordained that the whole transaction should be recorded for our instruction. In the firm refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to worship the golden image, we have a most affecting and useful pattern of what our conduct ought to be when in any way we are called upon to suffer for the cross of Christ. And in their marvellous deliverance we bave an exemplification of God's power to save, and of his faithfulness to all those who will be true to Him.

I shall employ my present discourse; I. in making some observations upon the history.

II. And in endeavouring to apply it for your edification.

I. 1. King Nebuchadnezzar having, with great pomp and magnificence, set up and dedicated a golden image in the plains of Dura, commanded all the people of his extensive empire, at a certain signal given, to fall down and worship it; which command whosoever should disobey was to be cast alive into a burning fiery furnace.

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It was not likely that the idolatrous people, over whom Nebuchadnezzar reigned, would have any hesitation in complying with this edict. And many of the Jews, who were then captives in Babylon, would very probably not dare to disobey. But certain persons of that nation, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, whom the king, at the request of Daniel, had lately advanced to posts of honour in the state, positively refused to acquiesce. And when, in consequence of that refusal, they were brought before the king and threatened with instant death if they should persist, they nevertheless did persist, with the greatest courage and constancy, assuring him to his face that they wanted no time for deliberation; that they were decided in their own minds not to worship his idol god; and were under no apprehensions about the consequences.

“O Nebuchadnezzar,” they reply, “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.

Let us reflect a little upon this noble resolution of theirs before we proceed further.

The question was fairly put to them, whether they would retract their first determination or not, and the consequences were plainly laid before them. If they would obey the king's decree they might escape, but if they should hesitate any longer they should surely die. In his rage and fury, we are told, Nebuchadnezzar had commanded them to be brought before him; therefore they might see, even in his countenance, that there was no hope of appeasing him, otherwise than by compliance. But, as he had not intended to lay a snare particularly for them, he was willing they should be allowed another trial. “Now if

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be ready,” he says, " that at what time ye hear the sound

“ of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and

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worship the image which 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 then, as though he had recollected himself, that possibly they relied upon Jehovah for protection, he concludes with a blasphemous defiance of Him, “And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands ?”

Observe both the calmness and the firmness of their reply. “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God':” therefore we do not hear them bursting out into passionate exclamations, or making use of intemperate language. They offer no affront or insult to those who had worshipped the golden image, they do not call the king a tyrant or an idolater; but, with an exemplary sedateness they give in their answer, by which they resolve steadily to abide. It was proposed to them to sin or die. Upon such a proposal as that there was no need to deliberate at all. Neither was there any need to use many words in making known their minds to the king. They were resolved that they would not comply with his demands; and he was resolved that they should die if they did not. The matter, therefore, was determined already, and why should it be discussed further? “ We are not careful, 0 Nebuchadnezzar, to answer thee in this matter.” That is, there was no need that they should consider either the matter, or the manner of their reply. Their duty was still their duty, whether they were to die for it or not, and sin would still be sin, though it should save their lives. It was evident, therefore, at once, that they had nothing to say but what they did say; and as they were not contriving an evasive answer when a direct answer was expected from them, they wanted no time to study how they should word it. As there is in their answer nothing petulant or exasperating, so neither is there any attempt to court or pacify the king. They do not begin in the usual strain, “O king, live for ever;" there is nothing like compliment or artful insinuation to put him into a good humour; but all is direct and plain, explicit and decisive. “ We are not careful to answer thee in this matter;" let the event be what it may, “be it known unto thee, O king, we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." So they feared sin more than death.

* James i. 20.

Let us inquire next how it came to pass that they did so; for if this history be written for our learning, and it be incumbent upon us to imitate their example, it is necessary that we should be animated with the same principle which animated them, and enabled them to act with such pious firmness. What, then, might that principle be? This question may be answered in one word, It was faith. Like Moses, they feared not “the wrath of the king;” they trembled not at the fiery furnace, but endured and kept their integrity, because by faith they had an eye to Him that is invisible. This we are expressly told by St. Paul in his eleventh chapter to the Hebrews, where, among other memorable instances of the achievements wrought by faith, he speaks of some who, “through faith, quenched the violence of fire ;” and we may collect the same from their own words to Nebuchadnezzar upon this trying occasion. They believed that the Lord Jehovah was the one true God in whom they lived and moved and had their being, who had given them all things richly to enjoy, from whom they and their nation had all their peculiar privileges; who had promised unto Abraham a seed, in whom all nations of the earth should be blessed. This view of God worked upon their hearts by love. Knowing the Lord so well they loved Him supremely, and therefore, whatever might be the consequences, they could not for a moment listen to the proposal deliberately to sin against Him. Again, they believed in God as the Lord of all power and might, who could say to the proudest tyrant, “ Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;" who could execute judgment for all such as were oppressed; could cause all things to work together for his people's good.

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