It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom;…
"This Daniel" — what surprises and scorn, what bitter jealousy and mortification, rankles beneath this apparently simple allusion. That this Hebrew stranger and captive should have won any place at court; that when admitted he should be allowed to defy its customs; that he so gained the favour of his royal master as to be called into his most intimate counsel, and to be placed above those who had preceded him in office — these circumstances constituted a grievance of no common magnitude, and for which there was no forgiveness. What led to the rapid promotion of one who had neither rank or friends to recommend him? On this point a clear and satisfactory explanation is afforded. "Because an excellent spirit was in 'this Daniel', the king thought to set him over the whole realm." What have we here but a signal testimony to the intrinsic sovereignty of character, a testimony which ever succeeding age reveals with greater calmness and recognises with deeper veneration. It has been affirmed that the religion of the day is reverence for character. The archbishop of Canterbury, in addressing a mass meeting of working men in connection with the Church Congress, and pleading for the establishment of more satisfactory relations between employers and employed, warned his hearers against seeking, from the enactments of Parliaments or the rules of trades unions, for the solution of problems which could only be effectually met by a "conversion of character" alike in masters and servants. What, then, do we understand by this word so constantly upon, the lips of great leaders in Church and State? Strange to say, we search for it in vain in our translation of the Bible, and only find it once in the original text. But many of you are aware that it comes to us from a Greek word which signifies a graving tool. The first mention of such a thing occurs curiously enough in connection with the act of Aaron in making the golden calf. Though he would fain have us believe that the molten gold took that peculiar shape of its own accord, it appears in evidence that he "fashioned it with a graving tool" — a "cheret" as it was called in the Hebrew tongue — in which we distinctly trace the original derivation of our word "character." At first, then, this term stood for an instrument — a means to an end. But by a very natural transition it came to be applied to the result. From the tool attention is inevitably directed to the work of art, from the pencil to the painting, from the chisel to the finished sculpture. We preserve, however, the original use of the word when speaking of a man of parts. We say, "He is a character," thereby signifying that he impresses others, that he cannot be overlooked, that he is indeed a graving tool with the added element of life. It is, in fact, this power of impressing others by the force of our own personality that distinguishes man from the brute creation. Charles Dickens once remarked that "some very fine ladies and gentlemen might as well have been born caterpillars for any good they do, or any impression they make on the world." But, dear friends, God has not placed us here to be caterpillars lazily crawling over the smooth surface of things, and leaving no trace behind. He intends that we should be carving tools; that under His hand, and each in his own sphere, we should press heavily upon and cut deeply into this disordered world, seeking to shape it more after the mind and will of its Lord. This brings us at once to the practical question. We cannot stop at the tool. That is often a very rude and primitive affair. But the design or inscription written or graven therewith, what vast and varied possibilities are there? Even animals can make marks after a fashion — as some of us possibly know by experience — very ugly and painful ones. But they can usually be predicted. Every youth secretly hopes to make his mark and to pass for something in the world. What sort of a mark will be yours. No one can predict that. We can only hope and pray. Much might be said as to the elements of character, for, as Bishop Butler reminds us, it is, of a complex nature, there being greater variety of parts in it than there are features in a face. "Giving all diligence add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. These being the elements which make a manly and Christian life a word may be said as to their cultivation. Human nature is the raw material out of which character has to be manufactured, and very tough stuff it is. It has to pass through the mill a good many times before it is good for anything. Not forgetting the requirements mentioned by the apostle in the passage just quoted, we may add one or two others that go to the making of a man. One important factor is Labour. Dr. Arnold insisted that the difference between one man and another was not usually ability but energy; and Lord Lytton tells us that he made it a rule never to trust to genius for what could be won by toil. Another and most unwelcome agent in this process is trouble. "Great sufferings," says a powerful writer, "swell the soul to gigantic proportions." This had probably much to do with the strength of Daniel. Simplicity of aim, sincerity of aim, and modesty of manners are also essential to a healthy nature. And so is a perfectly trained will. The importance of arriving at and adhering to an intelligent decision cannot be too strongly emphasized. We are all acquainted with the description of the irresolute man who wastes the first half of the day in hesitating which of two courses to take, and the other in reproaching himself for not having taken the other. Only when all these qualities are present and active; only when those springs of action — our thoughts, desires, and affections — are cleansed by the Spirit of God and fed by communion with Him, do we attain our complete and destined development. We fall short of our own capabilities if we fall short of God. The result of this varied discipline and careful training is to exhibit what comes out so clearly in the life of Daniel. One of the most accomplished scoundrels of the last century declared that he would give ten thousand pounds for a character, because he could make above twenty thousand by it. Considered even from this sordid standpoint character represents capital, commands credit, and is a negotiable asset. The day has passed when is this land a man could rise to the highest place in the estimation of his fellows merely by the circumstance of noble birth. He must be and do something. Merchants and tradesmen often complain of the havoc and loss entailed by excessive competition. But there is a rising market for moral integrity and a brisk demand for it. To men of different callings I often put the question, "Is there s good prospect now for a young fellow in your business?" And the answer is almost invariably this, "Yes, he may do nicely if he is square, sober, and industrious; there are so many of the other sort, you know." So it is vice not virtue that is the drug on the market. Cleverness minus character — the world reeks with it. Most of the world's woes are in fact traceable to this pestilence, Satan himself being the chief example and promoter of it. In the hour when, after sufficient trial, it becomes known that you at least can be depended upon, you will become a person of importance. The world surely needs and is waiting for such as you. King Darius had that gift so essential to a ruler — the power to discern moral excellence. And finding it, he had a courage to utilise and reward it. He is worthy to be king who prizes virtue above rank. Hence "this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm." Only when men of sincere conviction, high principle, and indisputable integrity are at the helm of affairs is there any hope for the prosperity of any people. Not politics, not commerce, not creed, but character is the supreme test of prosperity and the harbinger of peace. When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice. Thus the welfare of nations comes at last to be simply a matter of the individual spirit and conduct.
(A. E. Hutchinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom;