Twelve months later, as he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon,
Careful and costly measures had been furnished by God to restrain Nebuchadnezzar from the brink of ruin, to which he was fast hastening. The dream, with its appalling omens; the human messenger; the king's conscience; - all these were voices from the supreme court of heaven. But conscience was silenced, the prophet was forgotten, the sense of danger diminished; Nebuchadnezzar persisted in his sin, until the patience of God was exhausted.
I. WE SEE PRIDE VAUNTING ITSELF IN BOASTFUL VAIN-GLORY. A year had elapsed since the faithful voice of Daniel had wakened the conscience of the king. At first the monarch intended to reform, but procrastination destroyed the sensitiveness of feeling, blinded him to the imminence of danger, and gave momentum to his downward course. The city grew in magnitude and in magnificence. The royal plans proceeded towards completion. Outward prosperity shone upon him in still clearer glory, Notwithstanding, the hour of reckoning was about to strike. Walking upon his elevated palace-roof, and surveying the grandeur of the city, Nebuchadnezzar gave the reins to natural pride - thought and spoke as if there were none greater than he. This is the end pride ever aims at, viz. to make man a god unto himself. Yet was there a solitary stone in that vast pile that had been created by Nebuchadnezzar? Was the mind that designed the whole self-originated? Were the ten thousand artisans who had daily wrought upon those buildings the workmanship of man or of God? Pride is idolatry. Pride becomes mad atheism. There is no sin that is so frequently and freely condemned in Scripture as pride. By it the angels lost their high estate. Into this pit Adam fell. "Ye shall be as gods," the tempter said. "God resisteth the proud." They are a smoke in his nostrils. "Pride goeth before destruction." One step only between haughtiness and hell. Insolent arrogance verges on madness.
II. WE SEE HUMAN PRIDE MOVING TO ACTIVITY THE COUNSELS OF HEAVEN. If the statesmen or the artisans in Babylon overheard the utterance of the king, they might have regarded it as a harmless outburst of vanity. Yet God doth not so regard it. It disturbs the tranquillity of heaven. It is regarded there as the language of hostile defiance. The limit of God's forbearance was leached. There is a time to be quiet and a time to act. The cup of Nebuchadnezzar's sin was full. He had despised the messages of kindly expostulation from Jehovah, and now no delay was permitted. The king had barely ceased to speak when Jehovah responded. But the words of Nebuchadnezzar were not intended for the ears of God. Ah! still he heard them. He regarded them as an indirect menace to him, and he at once replies. The verdict has passed the Judge's lips. The kingdom is alienated. In a moment empire is lost. Rank, honour, power, are lost. Manhood is lost. Intelligence, memory, reason, love, - all lust. Bare existence only remains. Like the prodigal boy, he descends step by step into a deeper degradation, and at length herds with the beasts of the field. Yet this is but an outward and visible portraiture of the inward degradation.
III. WE SEE HUMAN PRIDE MEETING WITH FITTING RETRIBUTION. We have here in concrete form - in the history of a living person - the abstract truth, "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." This is its natural and fitting outcome - its proper fruit. We cannot doubt that every form and degree of sin has, in the Divine code, a suitable and adequate punishment. There is not simply one rigid penalty for every mode and measure of transgression. The justice that presides on the eternal throne has eyes of subtlest discrimination and balances of exquisite nicety. Every step in the judicial procedure of God is accordant with natural principles. Even the forces of material nature will possibly be employed in vindicating the Divine Majesty. The indolence and sensual indulgence of the Babylonian palace served to emasculate Nebuchadnezzar. The rousing energy which war had demanded in earlier years had braced the monarch's mind. But now the years of public peace had been so misused that inertia bred softness and luxury produced effeminacy. Step by step character deteriorated, though, perhaps, not detected by mortal eye. At length, by the Divine fiat, Reason abdicated her seat; the animal got the better of the man. In his imbecile condition the king imagined himself an ox, and preferred to browse in the fields. He was held last by this hallucination. His relatives and attendants, very possibly, feared to resist him. They humoured his infatuation until, in the royal paddock, his hair grew ragged and coarse, his nails became long and bent like eagles' claws. This is the monarch who disdained to recognize God - the monarch who plumed himself on his self-sufficiency! Draw near, all proud doffers of God, and see this portrait of yourselves! - D.
Wherefore, O King, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee.
Daniel gives counsel to the king like a man of God, directing him to break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities or oppressions by showing mercy to the poor, if it might be a lengthening of his tranquility, and thus in some degree mitigating the punishment that was coming upon him. We see here brought out some of the excellencies of Daniel.
1. The kindness of his heart. In the yearnings of compassion which he felt when he heard the king's dream, and discerned its import. He was troubled with tender concern for the king, though he was an oppressive and haughty monarch. This is the true spirit of benevolence and piety, for it should ever appear in the exercise of some compassion and kindness, even towards those who have brought upon themselves tokens of the Divine pleasure.
2. The wisdom with which he was endowed. He was enabled at once to discern what God designed to communicate by this dream of the king. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." "The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way."
3. The faithful spirit of this servant of God. Daniel stands before this mighty monarch of Babylon; he knows that his passions are strong, and that his pride is as great as his power; yet, guided by his God, and looking up, no doubt, for support from above, he ventures to give counsel to the king, exhorting him to the duties of penitence and reformation. He gave him clearly to understand that it was a rebuke from the great Supreme Ruler for his sins of pride, impurity, and oppression. As Daniel had been faithful to his God and his king, he could leave the matter in the highest hands, however he might be treated by an earthly monarch.
In all cases, when God visits an individual with chastisement, sin is the procuring cause, and reformation is the end in view. When warned of coming calamity, repentance is the only means by which it can be averted, and the best frame in which to endure it, if inflicted. Having interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream, which was prophetical of evil to that monarch, Daniel exhorted him "to break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities by showing kindness to the poor." Very awful was the threatening denounced against Nebuchadnezzar, to be not only degraded from his throne, but deprived of his reason, and have his dwelling among the beasts. A denunciation, infinitely more awful than this, has gone forth against every son and daughter of humanity. Let us then break off our sins by righteousness, and our iniquities by showing kindness to the poor. In exhorting Nebuchadnezzar to this, Daniel could only hold out a peradventure of his tranquillity being lengthened. But we are warranted, in the name of God, to assure every sinner, that in the way of returning to God, the punishment denounced against sin shall not only be suspended for a time, but cancelled for ever. This is genuine repentance. This is genuine religion. Holiness of life, springing from holiness of heart. We may suppose that Nebuchadnezzar would be greatly troubled by the interpretation of his dream. Whether his soul was benefited by it does not appear. Probably the impression, though strong at first, became gradually more faint. Day after day passed, and brought him nearer to the period when the calamity must occur. Instead of becoming alarmed by their approach to death and eternity, we every day see sinners becoming more hardened and callous. At the end of twelve months, Nebuchadnezzar walked in the palace of his kingdom. The place, in which he was walking, is generally supposed to have been the famous hanging gardens of Babylon. These were one of the most stupendous erections ever devised by genius for the gratification of pride. A stranger, gazing on this astonishing spectacle, must have felt his heart swell within him. No wonder, then, that the mind of its proprietor was moved. All that he beheld was his own. Much of it had been made by him, and it was all made for him. "Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" In these expressions, we discern ambition with her lofty eyes, and her presumptuous tongue, and her selfish heart. He looks upon himself as the author and the end of all. No reference to Divine providence in bestowing this — no reference to the Divine glory in using it — no indication that he felt the awful responsibility of one to whom so much had been entrusted. It is all viewed in reference to himself. But oh! even Babylon was little, when considered as the only portion of an immortal soul. The poorest of God's children, the least of all saints, is infinitely better provided for than Nebuchadnezzar. All things show the vanity of the world, considered as the portion of man. At the moment when Nebuchadnezzar cried aloud, "Is not this great Babylon which I have built," there were, probably, few men in his empire who would not have panted to be in his place. But the next moment, the lowest, the vilest, the most wretched slave in the monarchy of Babylon would not, on any account, not for a crown — not for a kingdom — not for a world — have been Nebuchadnezzar. The next moment Nebuchadnezzar is a madman. O the uncertainty of all beneath the sun! But power is nothing, and wisdom is nothing, and courage is nothing, when God is the adversary. When it is said that a beast's heart was given to Nebuchadnezzar, we are not to suppose that his rational soul was extinguished, and that a beast's heart was instead thereof transfused into his body. His reason was not annihilated, the use of it was merely suspended. By a Divine infliction on the sensitive part of his nature, he ceased to have the sensations proper to a man, and began to feel as if he were an ox. It is well known that, in certain diseases of the nervous system, persons often lose the feelings common to mankind, and look upon themselves as if they were formed of other materials than dust, and placed in other circumstances than those which they actually occupy. Swayed by hope, some have fancied that they were kings, though occupying the humblest stations. Others, under the predominating influence of fear, have fancied that they were formed of such fragile materials that they would be destroyed by moving. Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been exposed to a similar derangement. His sentient nature obtained a predominance over his rational. He fancied he was an ox. He felt and acted as if he had been one, imitating its actions, submitting to its treatment, shunning the society of men, dwelling in the open field, and eating grass for his food. At the end of seven years his understanding returned to him. What a change would this be! It would be more than health after sickness, more than liberty after a long captivity. It would be like awaking from the dead, as if he had undergone the fabled metempsychosis, and after existing, for his allotted period, as an inferior animal, he had entered upon the higher destiny of a rational being. He now ceased to look down to the earth as an ox. He looked up to the heavens as a man. He did more. He looked, above the moon and stars, above the thrones of angels, unto God. From this passage we may learn the value of sanctified affliction. "No affliction for the present is joyous, but rather grievous." Sorely was Nebuchadnezzar tried. He was brought lower than ever we read of another in sacred or profane history. This seemed very bad for him, but in reality it was very good. It; was the best thing that ever befell him on earth. Had he not been smitten down by this humbling stroke, he would have remained proud and presumptuous to the end of his days. But God brought him low, that he might raise him to a higher elevation than the throne of Babylon. He was evidently a very changed man, and there is every reason to hope that he was a new creature. One of the best tests of saintship is to meet God with exercise suited to His dispensations. And did not Nebuchadnezzar act suitably to the case of one who has been sorely chastised, and then delivered from affliction? Does not this proclamation bear upon it the stamp of genuine religious feeling? Does he not praise God for correcting him? And could an unrenewed man do so? Is not his conduct changed? Formerly he was a man of war; now, he says to all nations, peace be multiplied unto you. Formerly, self was his end; now, he makes use of his royal station for promoting the glory of God and the good of men. But this decree was issued after mature deliberation. In it, we see the peaceable fruits of righteousness, which affliction afterwards produces. We may also learn, from this passage, that God adapts his corrections to the sins of those to whom they are sent. It is said that God does not afflict willingly, and it may be said, with equal truth, that He doth not afflict at random, nor arbitrarily. Every individual, and especially everyone who, like Nebuchadnezzar, has a strongly marked character, has what may be called his master passion, his imperial sin, to which all the rest are subordinate. This is the stronghold of sin, the citadel of the city. And as s city can only be permanently recovered from the hands of an enemy by forcing the citadel to surrender, so the soul of man can only be recovered to the love of God by the subduing of this besetting sin Or ruling passion. Nebuchadnezzar's punishment was continued until he learned that the Most High ruleth among the kingdoms of men. So soon as this lesson was taught the discipline was removed. From this we may learn that God will continue his corrections as long, but no longer than is needful Affliction is a Divine ordinance, for the improvement of which we are responsible. In many instances, besides that of Nebuchadnezzar, it has been the means, in the hands of God's Spirit, of awaking sinners to a sense of their condition. But there are few vows worse kept than those which have been made in the day of trouble. With the return of health solemn impressions wear away, the world fills the heart, and leaves no room for God. The king of Babylon will rise up in judgment against all who have been afflicted, and whose afflictions have not brought forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
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