The Power of Purpose
Daniel 1:8
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank…

It may help us to appreciate Daniel's purpose and the power it exercised over him if we remember first that he was living in bad times. He and his fellow countrymen were in captivity; they were the slaves of a heathen king. Their country had been laid waste, their holy city and the sacred temple in it reduced to a heap of blackened ruins. I mention this because such experiences often have the effect of breaking down a man's purpose and spirit. When blow after blow comes, when disappointment follows disappointment, when defeat succeeds defeat, hope is apt to be lost and purpose to give way. And, as a matter of fact, we know that captivity had this effect on many of the Jews; they lost their faith in Jehovah; they gave themselves up to sheer worldliness. But that was not the way with them all. Daniel was a brilliant exception. No longer able to worship Jehovah through the medium of the temple ordinances, nevertheless he did not abandon all worship as many of his countrymen did, but he rose instead to truer conceptions of what real worship meant. Though in Babylon he remained a good Jew, a diligent worshipper of the Lord God of his fathers, and observed all the forms he was able to observe in the circumstances. The bad times in which he lived only brought out more clearly the purpose in his heart not to forget his God. Evil days did not break his purpose; they only strengthened it. Another thing that may help us to appreciate his purpose is that he was living not only in bad times but in a bad place, Babylon was a city and centre of wickedness. It was the home of luxury and profligacy; it was the capital of one of those ancient empires that ate their hearts out by the wanton dissoluteness of their people. This, too, shows the power of Daniel's purpose — that in the midst of evil he would not defile himself. It is easier for some than for others not to go astray. Some are better looked after than others; their lives are surrounded by good influences; they have every advantage on the side of good. But often bad surroundings ruin good men. What is the explanation? It is this: some are animated by a purpose in their hearts that they will not defile themselves, and some are not. It is not that these last are evilly inclined more than the others; it is not that they are worse or more tempted; but it is this — they have never put before themselves a solemn purpose; they have never thought out the question of what their aim and object in life should be; they have never made up their minds what thing it is in life which is worth living for and worth dying for; they have never said with Paul, "One thing I do." There is another explanation which is sometimes given of how men go wrong, as we say, an explanation with which, I confess, I have little sympathy and which is, to my mind, as false as it is dangerous. It is said weakly that we are "the creatures of circumstance," and that if a man's surroundings bring him daily, hourly, into contact with evil, the man himself is not so much to blame as his circumstances. The strength of his passions overcomes his will and so frees him from moral responsibility, it is urged. That is an excuse which Robert Burns gave, you remember, when he wrote the lines addressed to God: —

Thou knowest that Thou hast formed me

With passions wild and strong;

And list'ning to their witching voice

Has often led me wrong.That still expresses the mind of many, and one hears it frequently just now, all sorts of excuses being pleaded for sin. The scientist has no doubt truth on his side, but he has not all the truth. Heredity is not fate. What we have received from our parents does not weave around us a web from which we can never escape, through which we can never break. If it be true that we belong to God as well as to them, the sins of our fathers are only ours when we make them our own by our own will. The mistake of Burns and all who, like him, listen to the "witching voice" is in listening. He should have put his fingers in his ears. Some of you young men here to-night are, perhaps, in places of employment or in circumstances otherwise far from favourable to your leading godly lives. You are brought into contact with roughness, with profanity, with those who make light of God's name and Christ's religion. And I grant you at once that it is not easy to keep straight and do the right thing and bear the right testimony always in the right way. It needs Daniel's purpose in your heart; it needs a heart set on the doing of God's will; it needs the new heart and the right spirit; it needs the power of the grace of God that cometh down from above. We have seen, then, that Daniel's purpose asserted itself over the crushing effects of misfortune and calamity, and over the subtle ensnaring power of evil surroundings. Let us now see, thirdly, how — and this was the greatest test of it — how it made itself felt in the very smallest details of his life. Now most men would have yielded, as most men in similar circumstances do yield, to the influences thus brought to bear on these four youths; they would have been so enamoured of the king's favour and the luxury of their new position that they would have been only too glad to have accepted it and thought themselves exceedingly well off. But now and again there would be found one of sterner stuff who would not be as mere wax in the conqueror's hands. And such were found in Daniel and his three companions. "Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank." Daniel had religious scruples about his eating and drinking. And the meaning for us of the stand he made is this — that religious principle should regulate the smallest details of our life. It is not narrowness; it is not faddism; it is not over scrupulousness; but it is fidelity to the highest duty, it is fidelity to God, when you set down your foot about a small matter, as it may seem to others, and say, No, I dare not do it, little as it is and pleasant as it might be, because thereby I should be mixed up in a practical denial of God. "So did not I because of the fear of God," is a motto which will require from many of you here abstinence from many things which it might be much easier to accept. It is the worst kind of weakness to sink below the level of what we know we ought to be. It invariably brings that loss which is the worst of all losses, the loss of respect for self. President Garfield once said, "I do not think of what others may say or think about me; but there is one man's opinion about me which I very much value, and that is the opinion of James Garfield. Others I need not think about; I can get away from them; but I have to be with him all the time. Ha is with me when I rise up and when I lie down, when 1 go out and when I come in. It makes a great difference to me whether he thinks well of me or not." Some would have said Daniel should have been thankful for his mercies. But Daniel saw it in another light. He had to preserve his good opinion of himself, his self-respect, his fidelity to God, which he saw he would have destroyed had he used the food and wine. You see, then, what religious principle can do for a man. You see how it can preserve him, how it can make him bold as a lion, how it can steady his life and make it consistent all through, one great harmony. My brother, you are not right till you can reduce the whole of your life to this one principle of the fear of God, till you are able to bring every action to this great touchstone. Then your path becomes straight as an arrow, no longer wavering, crooked, trembling, zigzag, now this way now that, but straight. It is the man without purpose that goes on a different tack according as the wind blows from one quarter or another. He is a boat without a rudder, tossed about by the storm, buffeted, driven helplessly on to the rocks. He is a horseman without a bridle, carried by the animal in him whither it will. He is a wanderer over a tangled moorland, without a guide, where path crosses path and roads diverge in endless confusion, and yawning deep black ditches come at every step. One of the greatest discoveries of modern times is the reign of law. It has been found that in the world of Nature nothing happens by chance; everything obeys fixed laws, moves on under definite calculable arrangement. That is a great discovery. It enables us to reckon with Nature when we can place this thing and the next in their right places, and attribute each to its uniform cause. When everything is thus fixed by law it cannot be moved, nothing can go wrong, everything moves on towards its accomplishment, doing its work, filling its place, never losing its way. It is like a river bound for the ocean. That is a great discovery, and it is a parable of what every life should be. But what a contrast is presented when you think of the world of outside Nature and the world of human nature! On the one hand you have everything moving on, working in perfect harmony and in eloquent silence — never a jarring note heard, never a momentary pause in the ceaseless movement: one great vast harmony in praise of the Creator. On the other hand, when you turn to human nature, what a contrast! What a jumbled, jarring, discordant, disjointed world God looks down upon in His human creatures! And yet we were made to be a harmony too, only giving back sweeter music to the Creator. My brother, if your life is to be a true harmony and no longer false, if it is to be conformed not to the law of sin and death but to the law of God, you must have such purpose in your heart as Daniel's, and let it rule you. That is the greatest thing in the world — a heart that purposes always to serve God. That is the one thing needful. There is no other principle that takes account of all the facts. Some of them may be good enough for this world, but they are no use for that which is to come. The grand thing about Daniel's principle is that it is profitable for the present and it is life eternal for the future. That it is profitable in the present is strikingly seen in the course of this history. Do not any of you be afraid of the consequences of being faithful to God. The last thing I shall ask you to notice in connection with this incident is the great influence which Daniel exerted. That is seen, first of all, in the influence which he exerted upon his superior officers. In accordance with the Old Testament way of putting things, that good influence is said to have been brought about in this way, that God gave Daniel great favour in the sight of the officers. That is only the Old Testament way of saying that Daniel's consistent, godly, upright life proved a great power on those who were over him. But more than his influence on his officers was the influence on his companions. That is seen in the spell which his strong character cast over them so that they were ready to stand by him and to strengthen him.

(D. Fairweather, M.A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

WEB: But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's dainties, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.

The Power of a Temperate Life
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