So I turned my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.
Whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel... touched me (ver. 21). Our subject is the prayer of Daniel, and the following points will demand full and careful consideration.
I. THE MOMENT IN TIME. This was most critical; for:
1. The moment had been anticipated in prophecy. (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; Jeremiah 29:10-14.) How Daniel reckoned the seventy years, and how others did so, must be carefully observed. The deportation to Babylon extended over twenty years; hence different men took a different starting-date whence to reckon the seventy. Daniel reckons from the first siege, the date of his own going into captivity ( B.C. 606). Zechariah from the third siege,
(1) from the beginning of it, B.C. 590 (Zechariah 1:12);
(2) from its close, B.C. 588 (Zechariah 7:1, 5). The prophets wrote each from his own standpoint, and there are no discrepancies, though the critical school tries to create them.
2. It was immediately after the fall of Babylon. (Ver. 1.)
3. The Cyrus of prophecy was on the throne of Persia. Darius was only vicegerent in Babylon (Isaiah 44:24-45:7). In the very next year Cyrus issued his decree (Ezra 2:1, 2).
4. It was offered at the exact moment of evening sacrifice. (Ver. 21.)
II. THE FOUNDATION OF THE PRAYER. The Word of God, as contained in "the Scriptures." We should read ver. 2 thus: "I Daniel understood by the Scriptures the number of the years." The expression is, indeed, most remarkable, and has been laid hold of to impugn Daniel's authorship. This is said in substance: The expression shows that the Old Testament was, when the Book of Daniel was written, complete. It must then have been written after the close of the Old Testament canon; not then by Daniel, but by some one very much later. The author, whoever he was, has inadvertently betrayed himself. The answer would be best given by showing historically the gradual formation of the canon all the way down from Moses, and particularly that from his time even "the Scriptures" had an acknowledged existence. (See Westcott, on 'The Canon,' specially p. 251, in Dr. Smith's 'Dict. of the Bible.' See also Pusey on Jonah 1:1.) Enough for us here to note that Daniel's prayer was founded on the prophecy and promise of Daniel's God. Enough for practical purposes.
III. ITS SOLEMN AND DELIBERATE CHARACTER. Imagine vividly the crisis. The first great world-power had already gone down. How long the second and third might last, who could tell? Then would appear the fourth, during whose existence "one like a Son of man" would come "with the clouds of heaven." The deliverer from captivity (Cyrus) had already appeared - was on the throne of power.
1. Such a prayer could not be breathed amidst life's business. Retirement, leisure, deliberateness, solemnity, were all essential.
2. There had been preparation for it. "Fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes," i.e. the withdrawal of the spirit from the realm of the sensuous, the assumption of the mourner's garb, the sign of abasement and grief, viz. casting ashes on the head.
3. Daniel's mode of speaking implies deliberation and solemnity. "I set my face," etc. "Unto the Lord God," with perhaps the lattice open "toward Jerusalem."
IV. ITS CONTENTS. In a sense we would analyze it; but not so as to dissipate the aroma of its sweetly plaintive devotional spirit.
1. The invocation. (Ver. 4.) In these words we trove:
(1) Some of the glorious attributes of God referred to. And:
(a) His majesty. All great in him.
(b) Fidelity to covenant. Whether the terms be written in the ordinances of heaven, the social constitution of man, the development of providence, the book of the Law, or the gospel of his Son. But "the covenant" specially.
(2) An answering feeling. Dread. Not the abjectness of fear, but the prostration of reverent love.
2. The confession. In it there are the following specialities: The iniquity of the nation is set forth:
(1) In its greatness. Terms that to us are almost synonymous in Daniel's Hebrew set forth the nation's sin as failure, perversity, disturbance, rebellion, departure from all that is holiest and best, disobedience to the one supreme voice.
(2) In its aggravations. The Law disregarded. Prophets unheeded. See the history (2 Chronicles 36:14-16). Divine judgments in vain.
(3) In its universality. The ten tribes "afar off," and the two "near."
(4) In its effects. The fulfilment of oath and curse-in the desolations of temple and city, Church and nation.
3. The vindication of God. (Vers. 7, 8, 11-14.)
4. Complaint. The reproach of the people and the ruin of the sanctuary were the prophet's mighty griefs (vers. 16, 17, 18). "Our desolations."
5. The petition.
(1) The plea. It is for:
(a) The cherishing of anger. (Ver. 16.)
(b) The recognition of the desolation. (Ver. 18.)
(c) The favouring smile of God. (Ver. 17.)
(d) Pardon. (Ver. 19.)
(e) Divine action. (Ver. 19.)
(f) Instant and speedy relief. (Ver. 19.)
(2) Its ground. Observe:
(a) Daniel has never forgotten for a moment the covenant relation of God. Note: "The Lord my God;" "The Lord our God;"
(b) Toward the close all the argument is fetched, not from what man is, but from what God is. "According to all thy righteousness;" "For the Lord's sake;" "The city which is called by thy name;" "For thy great mercies;" "For thine own sake;" "Thy city and thy people are called by thy name."
V. THE ANSWER.
2. Most marked.
3. By angelic envoy.
In conclusion, observe:
1. The noble unselfishness of the prayer. All intercessory.
2. Its consequent prevalence. Every word was answered. Next year out came the edict of Cyrus for the restoration. - R.
Acquainted as Daniel was with the word of God as delivered by the prophets who had foretold the captivity and restoration of Judah, and confiding in the unchangeable faithfulness of that word, as his whole life testified that he did, the return of his countrymen to Jerusalem was an event on which he must have assuredly reckoned, not only as certain, but as very near. Nor were there wanting other and very unequivocal intimations to give Daniel the assurance that this event was at hand. He saw, in the conqueror of Babylon, the very person who had been referred to by name in the prophecies of Isaiah, a hundred and seventy years before. If ever there was a future event which might have been reckoned on with absolute certainty, it was this restoration of the Jewish captives to the land and city of their fathers. And yet, so far from supposing that there was no place for prayer to occupy, among the various means that were employed to bring about that event, it was just his firm belief in the certainty and nearness of it that set Daniel upon fervent and persevering supplications for its accomplishment. Because he contemplated the near approach of this deliverance, he gave himself to special prayer for the fulfilment of the promise.
And I met my face unto the Lord God.
Daniel, when he would seek God, "set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer." He was an eminently holy man, and far advanced in piety. His example cannot be an unfitting one to follow.
1. There must be great difficulties to the proper and effectual seeking after God. Some things we do without difficulty; our mind goes naturally and easily to their performance. Before man's fall, his mind would as naturally turn to God rejoice in Him, and be lifted up towards Him, as he now delights in a bright and glorious day. It is not so now. It is a very difficult matter set ourselves rightly to seek God. Man cannot seek God aright unless the power of God works in him to bring him to do it. How can any bring a broken and a contrite heart, which is the proper offering before God, unless God the Spirit break it? Do we naturally give up sin, or naturally wish to do it? Is it easy to confess our sins, to find them out, to ascertain them, whether sins of the heart or life? Try earnestly and honestly to seek God, and you will soon find the difficulty. Various hindrances indeed there are, in coming to the Mercy Seat.
2. Multitudes are ever seeking God who do not set their faces to seek. Scripture is clear respecting wavers. There are many persons of this kind, earnest to-day, dead again to-morrow; by fits at prayer, and then prayerless again. Such obtain nothing of the Lord. Others, though seeking, will not give up every wilful sin. Who can he a Christian without a sacrifice? Who can enter the strait gate without a struggle? You seek in vain if you allow a worldly spirit; unless you come to God, and honestly and earnestly wish to have the love of the world destroyed in your heart. There is one way of approach to God, and but one; one name and one only to plead — the name of Jesus Christ.
3. Some hints on the setting of our face unto the Lord our God. You must give time for this. There must be going to work in right earnest; diligent inquiry for the sins of the life, and for the sins of the heart, and a confessing them with real sorrow before God. There must be, from the beginning of our seeking, a looking for, and a reliance upon, God's help. And we may look for His help. The first honest and sincere cry or sigh of a returning sinner is noticed by a gracious God. That cry never goes up for help in vain.
4. The importance of thus "setting our face unto the Lord God to seek." Remember that we cannot succeed without this. Think of the blessings which God bestows upon those who thus seek, what wonderful promises He has made to them. They deserve all such seeking and sacrifices as we have shown to be needful. You are commanded thus to seek God. God's commands are the most gracious and beneficent things to us that there are.
5. Special reasons which may be given to different individuals why they should at once resolvedly, looking up to God for help, do this:(1) Those who have never yet thus "set their face unto the Lord God" Your eternal happiness depends upon your seeking, or your everlasting perdition.(2) Turn to some Christians. Some of you are hindered by something in your course. If you would follow Daniel's example you might be freed from this hindrance. Again, someone is in a particular strait and difficulty. Does no door open? Is the way dark? Have recourse to thus seeking to God. Go to this duty at once. It must be done now. Let there be no delay. Begin now, earnestly, resolvedly, in prayer and dependence of God's merciful help, and the result shall not be an early failure or disappointment. God will help the soul at its first really sincere and honest cry to Him for help.
That is a good word about the young Hebrew, Daniel — it says so much. "I set my face to the Lord God." And that is the real question about life: which way are you facing; in which direction are you really looking and living? Righteousness, not a position, but a direction. Let me first make this distinction plain, and then you will see the importance of it. The common idea, then, of the difference between right and wrong is that right and wrong are two, separate territories as it were, and that there is a boundary line dividing them, like the frontier line between two countries, and that anywhere on the right side of that boundary line is right. Or, people figure particular sins as if they were separate provinces in the general territory of wrong, each sin with its own boundary line, on one side of which you are in sin — but that so long as you have not actually crossed that line into sin, you are all right. And a great deal of the moral discussion of the world has been spent on trying to map out these exact lines where the right ends and the wrong begins, the line up to which you may go without sinning. Well, that seems very plausible — and yet a glance into real life, and at some of the very commonest matters of right and wrong, is sufficient to show that at any rate there is a great deal of life in which it is quite impossible to draw any such distinct lines between right and wrong! Try to draw the line between industry and idleness, and to say exactly how industrious a man ought to be in order not to be counted an idler. But you cannot do it! Or, take selfishness. Who can lay down exactly how far I ought to consider myself, and mark the point at which selfishness begins; or how far I ought to do what I like, or how far give up to others? Why it cannot be done, if you were to argue about it for a year! Or, take such constantly present questions as that of right and wrong in eating and drinking, or any kind of indulgence. Is there any clear line to be drawn between what is temperate and what is intemperate? Certainly covetousness is a sin. But where exactly does it begin to be so? So it is, palpably, with regard to a great deal of right and wrong. But really, it is so even in things which at first sight look so clear and distinct in their moral outline that you are apt to say — that there can be no haziness or uncertainty in them. Take truth, for instance, or honesty. Truth is apt to look just as exact and precise as a mathematical figure — whether a thing is true or not true, whether you are telling the truth or not — it seems as if it ought to be possible to define that anyhow. And honesty! Is anyone going to say that honesty and dishonesty shade off into one another — why it seems like sapping the very clearest distinction of morality. And yet it is so. No exact line can be drawn in either matter. If you had been sheltering a fugitive slave in the old days of slavery, would truth make it your duty to answer the question if he was with you? Or, if you are bargaining about some goods you want to sell, does honesty require you to tell everything you know to their disadvantage, or is it enough if you answer truly every actual question that is asked you? Must truth be told to criminals when it will help them in a crime? And so I might go through every part of human conduct, and the more closely you look into it, the more you will find that there is no such thing as drawing any absolute line between right and wrong anywhere. But what does that mean? That, therefore, there is not any real difference between them, or that the distinction between them is imperceptible? Not for a moment. The difference between right and wrong is the most tremendous distinction in the world. No distinction of painful or pleasant can compare with it — only it is not of that sort There comes in the thought — and I think it is a helpful thought, that it is not a difference of place or position, but of direction. A single illustration gives it to you at once. It is simply like the difference between east and west. Is there any dividing line between east and west? No! Who can tell where the east stops and the west begins? No one; and yet does that mean that there is no difference between east and west, or that it is a hazy, obscure difference? Not at all. Simply it is this same difference not of two places, but of two directions. You cannot possibly draw a dividing line between east and west, but you can tell in a moment whether you are going east or west, or whether your face is set towards the east or towards the west. And so, though there never was a line drawn which could divide exactly right from wrong, you can tell in a moment whether you are living in the direction of right or in the direction of wrong. There, then, is thee true distinction — and now let us follow it out a little and see the importance of it. For it begins at the very beginning of life, and it lies at the root of all clear, strong righteousness. And, on the other hand, that idea that righteousness consists in not crossing some dividing line into wrong, is just the most treacherous and fertile source of wrong. As long as one fancies that sin only begins at some distinct line, one is tempted to go just as near that line as one can — while really the sin is begun, and going on all the time that one is facing that way! You can see how this works, from the cradle up. You mothers — you tell your little child, playing about you as you work, not to go out of the room. And it goes to the door — and it looks out — and if you speak it says, "I didn't go out." And then it puts one foot just on the threshold — very likely looking at you all the while — and then ventures it a little further, — and still, when you shake your head, it says, "I haven't gone out!" Do you know why it is so hard to teach children the true lesson — not merely to keep from crossing some actual line of wrong, but to keep from looking that way, or going that way at all? Because so many of those who want children to be taught that lesson have not learned it themselves! Men and women are constantly just like that little child. They do not intend to sin, or at least they feel they must not, and. they think they will not. But they will look towards it, and they will go to the very edge of it, and look over, and perhaps put one foot on the very threshold — and yet if conscience brings them up with a round turn, they try to justify themselves by saying that they have not actually crossed the line! That is how nine-tenths of the world's sinning comes! Young men, don't you know how this often works in a young man's life — this trying how near one can go to the edge of sin without actually going over the edge? A young fellow comes up from school, or from some country home, to take his place in the great world, and the false glamour of it by and by begins to get hold of him. But he does not mean to sin; he has grace enough to shrink from that. No — he won't sin, be says; but he begins to go with those who do; he hears them talk and brag of the pleasures they have; he half envies them the daring with which they sin — and he will go to places where it is all about — and still when conscience comes in, in quiet hours, he tries to take some poor comfort by making believe with himself that he has not actually sinned. Sinned? Why, his whole attitude is sin. His face and his heart are set towards sin all the time. And it is the same all through life. Just look up the record of any ten men who have got into jail, and. you will find that nine out of the ten were led the first stops of the way which brought them there by that mischievous idea that there was some dead-line of sin, which if they did not cross, they would be right. And not only is this the source of actual crime — and of what the world definitely labels sin — but also it is the source of all the poor, unworthy life that there is in the world. The people who are not exactly thieves — but who will take an advantage of you if they can; the people who oven while they are working have not their hearts really set to work, but are facing towards idleness and amusement; that character which in business is always "sailing rather close to the wind," and, still more common in the world, that kind of life which perhaps plumes itself on never breaking a commandment or doing anything wrong, and yet that has no real love of goodness, no genuine desire for goodness — that is the kind of life which keeps the world back, and keeps the church back, and keeps the tone of society low and mean. Friends, this is God's call to us. Not just to keep from certain forbidden things, or from crossing some actual line of sin — but to set our faces clear the other way — towards right, towards all the just, pure, kind, godly life. It is Christ and all His setting forth of life that have brought this out fully for us — no longer law, but love, no longer the mere keeping from a certain list of forbidden things, but, active, forward-looking service. That is the secret of effective life and of happy life to keep righteousness before us as the whole direction of our living. There is not a day, hardly an hour, but this principle — of righteousness being not a position, but a direction — comes in. It cuts right through the moral casuistry by which the steps of duty so easily get entangled, in discussing just how far this or that way may be pursued without some actual sin! Then does righteousness, in this thought of it, become not a drag, but a motive power, not a restraint, but an inspiration, not condemnation, but glory! I do not say that it is easy; there is no way of looking at it that can make righteousness easy. One may set one's face ever so earnestly in the right direction, and still the tempting passions will allure and the weak resolution will flag and stumble. The Roman moralist confessed that while he loved the better, he sometimes followed the worse — and even Paul himself says that though he delights in the law of God after the inward man, yet he finds another law in his members bringing him into captivity to sin and death. No! There is no grand moral victory even that way, even by facing the right way — and still, it is the only really onward way at all — and with the heart and face set really towards right and God, strength must keep growing — and the sense of a Divine help that will not give us up, and the upward way becomes not quite so hard; and even through clinging weakness and sin, to keep the heart still set towards the right is itself — no! not victory, but the promise of some final victory, the prophecy of how at last we may be lifted out of the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God!
The prophet Daniel became a great proficient both in penitential and in intercessory prayer as the years went on. And he came to that great proficiency just as a great proficiency is come to in any other science or art; that is to say, by constant, and unremitting, and enterprising practice. Lord teach us to pray, said a disciple on one occasion to our Lord. But not even our Lord, with all His willingness, and all His ability, can teach any of us to pray. Every man must teach himself this most personal, and most secret, and most experimental; this greatest and best of all the arts. Every man must find out the best ways of prayer for himself. There is no royal road; there is no short or easy road to proficiency in prayer. You must also have special and extraordinary seasons of prayer, as Daniel had, over and above his daily habit of prayer. Special and extraordinary; original and unparalleled seasons of prayer, when you literally do nothing else day nor night but pray. Now, it is plain that you cannot teach a lifetime of experiment and attainment like that to any chance man; and, especially, you cannot teach it to a man who still detests the very thought of such prayer. It was his yoke in his youth that first taught Daniel to pray. And Babylon taught Daniel and his three friends all to pray, and to pray together in their chambers as we read. To be arrested in their father's houses by Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers; to have Babylonian chains put on their hands and their feet; to see the towers of Zion for the last time: to be asked to sing some of the songs of Zion to amuse their masters as they toiled over the Assyrian sands — you would have been experts yourselves in a school of prayer like that Jeremiah, a great authority on why some men pray, and why other men never pray, has this about you in his book: "Moab hath been at his ease from his youth up; he hath settled on his lees; he hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel: neither hath he gone into captivity; and, therefore, his taste remaineth in him, and his scent is not changed." The ninth chapter of Daniel is dear to every old devotional hand. It is delightful with a delight that is not known to neophytes. It is positively delightful to see the old prophet allying in his chamber and spelling out the book of the prophet Jeremiah, the first copy of which has just been smuggled across the wilderness from Jerusalem to Babylon. We sit over and spell out old authors in literature and religion, if they are sufficiently old; but it would not pay to make a contraband trade of the authors and the preachers of to-day to the authors of to-day or to the preachers either. We exploit and plagiarise the great preachers of the great past, but we do not find much to repay us in the pulpit of our day. Only Daniel studied Jeremiah as much as if Jeremiah had been Moses himself, and more. And he not only studied a prophet whom we would call his contemporary, and his colleague, but, old prophet and old priest as he himself was, he took a new start in fasting, and in sackcloth, and in ashes, and in prayer of all kinds as he sat over Jeremiah's now book, and felt on the floor of his chamber holding the book to his heart. Had we been in Daniel's place, I will wager what we would have said as we read that seventy years' passage on the new parchment: "The Lord's ways — if this is indeed the Lord — His ways are not equal," we would have said. "Here am I getting on to old age in Babylon, and no intimation has come to me like this. Surely I was the man that needed it, and had earned it. Why Jeremiah? What has he done? And besides, has he not fallen sway to our oppressors?" I have a feeling that I would not have been in such a meek temper as Daniel was over that book the ink of which was still wet. O Daniel, a man greatly beloved! and who deserved to be! "Why," asks Pascal, "why has God established prayer?" And the first answer out of the three that Pascal gives to himself is this — "To communicate to His creatures the dignity of causality." And Daniel was of Pascal's deep, believing and original mind. For Daniel, just because he read and believed that deliverance was at the door, all the more see himself to pray as if his prayer was to be the alone and predestinated cause of the coming deliverance. Daniel put on sackcloth, and fasted, and prayed, and went back upon all his own and all his people's sins in a way that confounds us to our face. We cannot understand Daniel. We are not deep enough. He prayed, and fasted, and returned to an agony of prayer, as if he had never heard of the near deliverance; he prayed in its very presence as if he despaired of ever seeing it. He fasted and prayed as he had not done all these seventy fasting and praying years. Read, all you experts in prayer, read with all your mind, and with all your heart, and with all your experience, and with all your imagination this great causality chapter. It is written by a proficient for proficients. It is written by a great saint of God for all such. Read it and think. Read it with your Pascal open before you. Read it and sink down into the deep things of God and the soul. Read it and practise it till you know by experiment and experience that decree, and covenant, and prophecy, and promise, and all, however sure, and however near, are all only fulfilled in immediate and dependent answer to penitential and importunate prayer. Read it and pray as never before after the answer has actually begun. See the answer out to the last syllable before you begin to restrain penitence and prayer. And after the answer is all fulfilled, still read it and the still deeper chapters that follow it, till you learn new fasting, and new sackcloth, and new ashes, and new repentance, away out to your saintliest old age. Read Daniel's greatest prayer, and "Know thy dread power — a creature yet a cause."
1. The prayer itself was just expressing or embodying in language the state of Daniel's mind as directed towards an object, in the accomplishment of which he felt a most intense interest. The believer never can, without belying his principles, deliberately desire anything that he knows to be contrary to the will, and inconsistent with the glory of God. He supplicates conditionally — so qualifying his petition as that it may be given him, if agreeable to his Maker's will, or conducive to the manifestation of his Maker's glory. But, if true to his principles, he never can cease vehemently to desire what he does know to be accordant with the will, and subservient to the glory of God.
2. With regard to the rank which Daniel's prayer occupied among the various agencies or means that were to be employed in bringing about the object of it, he had good reason to believe that it was neither without a definite place nor in itself devoid of efficacy. Daniel knew that the event for which he longed and prayed necessarily involved in it the spiritual amendment of Judah. He saw that the return of their heart to God was essential to their triumphant return to the land of their fathers; and he felt, therefore, that humiliation and confession of sin was not only a becoming exercise in him at such a moment, but, in reality, a fulfilment in part of the very promise in which he confided. The agency of prayer is indeed a less obvious and palpable thing than that outward co-operation, whereby mankind are rendered subservient to the accomplishment of the Divine purposes. But is it not an agency of an unspeakably loftier character? Is it not the co-operation of an immortal spirit, hearing the impress of the Divine image, and at the moment acting in unison with the Divine will? By some such views of prayer I would endeavour to remove the difficulties of those who may have been perplexed by subtle speculations on the place which it occupies, and the efficacy which belongs to it in the economy of grace; difficulties which, in reality, have nothing more to do with prayer than with anything else connected with human agency.
()As the prophet made the sins, the perils, and the needs of his nation his own, and confessed and supplicated as for his life, so should we. Our sins and transgressions are as great and as many as our mercies; our perils are as real and imminent and fearful as our exaltation and opportunity and overflowing outward prosperity.
I. Lot us name SOME OF OUR MERCIES, PRIVILEGES AND OPPORTUNITIES.
1. Take into view our national heritage — its locality, extent, richness, and abounding resources — unparalleled in the history of nations.
2. Our Providential history. Our ancestral stock, Puritan, Huguenot, etc. Our wondrous growth and development. God's special interpositions, as in war.
3. The character of our institutions. A free ballot, a free Bible.
II. Let US NOT OVERLOOK OUR PERILS, for they are many and imminent.
1. The decadence of personal integrity and public morality.
2. The rapid influx of a foreign and alien element.
3. The enormous growth and corrupting influence of our great cities.
4. The increasing prevalence of vice, pauperism, and crime throughout the land.
5. The grasping policy and overshadowing influence of combinations and monopolies.
6. The growing alienation of the great labouring class from the Church and from Christianity.
7. The audacity and strength of the Rum Power, allied with corruption in politics, to legalise the traffic in making drunkards, and in gambling on race-courses, and to keep in office disreputable and wicked men in many of our leading cities.
()Prayer is often miconceived in all churches and by all parties.
1. The end of prayer, offered in private, is not to inform God. Many persons pray as if they wish to tell God what God does not know.
2. Prayer is not loud speaking, or much speaking, or any one special form whatever.
3. Prayer is not prescribed in the Scripture, or offered by a true believer, in order to work any change in God.
4. We must not associate prayer with any idea of atonement or expiation.
5. Some persons give up all hope, because God does not hear them. They say, "Our prayers are so mixed with wandering and simple thoughts, and are so imperfect that we cannot pray aright." This implies a lingering notion that our prayers are expiatory, or a title to Heaven.
6. We must not pray, "to be seen of men."
7. Prayer is not to be an excuse or apology for the neglect of duties.
8. It is not an exercise suited merely to a great crisis.
9. Prayer should be addressed unto God, as our Father; and in the name and through the mediation of Christ; and in the strength and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
()This chapter, more than any other in the Book of Daniel, lays open to us the inner life of the prophet. It shows that he who was so illustrious in his wisdom and public relations was no less noted for his wisdom and public relations, was no less noted for his deep spirituality and earnest private devotions, whilst it suggests that the former were largely the result of the latter. True faith and living piety help to make wise and great. It appears that Daniel was a student of prophecy, of unfulfilled prophecy, and especially of the numbers and dates contained in the sacred predictions. Many consider such studies and anxieties the most barren and dangerous to which we can give ourselves. There is much reason to suspect that one of the real causes of the superficiality and leanness of modern piety is that the professed people of God no longer understand or believe what the prophets have written, and refuse to study or hear about things to come as God has revealed them for our learning. There is abundant material in this prayer of Daniel on which to dwell with interest and pride. The manner of it was deliberate, reverent, humble, and self-chastening. The character and attributes which this piece of devotion ascribes to Deity are also very impressive and sublime. The grandeur and awfulness of Eternal Majesty are blended with unsearchable goodness and faithfulness, presenting to our contemplation "the great and dreadful God, keeping covenant and mercy to them that love Him and keep His command-merits," whose almighty hand is in all the administrations on earth and in Heaven, and all whose ways are righteousness and truth. The prayer is also occupied with confession of sin as the cause of Israel's miseries. The expressions on this point are the most explicit, unreserved, and contrite. The great subject of the prayer was not simply that affliction might be removed, but that the house and ordinances of God might be restored, and a true, spiritual recovery wrought; for it avails but little to be released from particular punishments of sin if the inner cause of them be not healed. So the plea upon which this prayer rests is the truest and only availing one — not and merit of man, not any right or claim on the sinner's part, but alone and entirely the mercy of God and the honour of His great name.
With fasting, and sackcloth and ashesThis is the first bright star which shines in the midst of the darkness of our sins. God is merciful. He is just — as just as if He were not merciful. He is merciful — as merciful as if He were not just, and in very deed more merciful than if He were too lenient, instead of blending a wise severity of justice with a gracious clemency of long suffering. We should rejoice that we have not this day to address the gods of the heathens. You have not to-day to bow down before the thundering Jove; you need not come before implacable deities, who delight in the blood of their creatures, or rather, of the creatures whom it is pretended that they have made. Our God delights in mercy, and in the deliverance of Britain from its ills. God will be as much pleased as Britain; yea, when Britain shall have forgotten it, and only the page of history shall record His mercies, God will still remember what He did for us in this day of our straits and difficulties. As to the hope that He will help us, that is a certainty. There is no fear that when we unite in prayer God will refuse to hear. It is as sure as that there is a God, that God will hear us; and if we ask Him aright, the day shall come when the world shall see what Britain's God has done, and how He has heard her cry, and answered the voice of her supplications.
() Calvin remarks that Daniel, though naturally alert in prayer to God, was yet conscious of the want of sufficiency in himself; and hence be adds the use of sackcloth and ashes and fasting. He observes that everyone conscious of his infirmity ought to collect all the aids he can command for the correction of his sluggishness, and thus to stimulate himself to ardour in supplicating God.The necessity and practice of fasting and repentance is set forth both in the Old and New Testaments. From the text we learn that Daniel was wont to fast, and to supplicate the Majesty of Heaven for the pardon of those national sins which he knew would justly draw down the indignation of the Almighty. Notice the special duties of fasting, such as a serious inspection into our hearts, and close self-examination of ourselves. Closely connected with this is the confession of sin. How strikingly was this manifested in the prayer of the text. Again, holy resolutions of amendment should be found in the strength of Christ, and with a due regard to His glory. Intercession is also peculiarly a duty at this season of humiliation, not only in public prayer, but also in private. Mercy to others is a peculiarly suitable accompaniment to fasting and supplication. On these days of public humiliation, when we are called upon to prostrate our guilty souls before Almighty God, sure it must become us to take such a view of the ravages of sin, and its awful consequences upon the guilty sons of Adam, as shall direct our faith to that one great sacrifice which can alone be efficacious for the healing of the nations, and for the introduction of that dispensation wherein we learn something of the achievements of the Prince of Peace; which peace shall be brought about by the subjugation of sin, and the conquest of those passions which war against the soul, and prove so fatal to man's best interests, and so bedim his prospects of future happiness. Learn that the judgments of the Lord are calculated to teach the world righteousness. It ought never to be forgotten that, in the view of Omniscience, God sees the beginning and ending of all human events, from the hour of Nature's nativity to the last moment of all earthly dissolution. We may refer the darkest dealings of the Almighty to the Eternal Wisdom.
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