3 Three Faithful Ones

<< Daniel 3: The Three Faithful Ones in the Fiery Furnace >>

“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, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set Up,”-DANIEL iii. 16-18.

THERE is something so manly, clear, and admirable in the noble reply of the three faithful companions of Daniel to the persecuting demand of the king of Babylon, that it has been the lesson of true courage for martyrs in almost every subsequent age. It was an assertion of faith and bravery of soul really sublime. They were in the midst of hostile multitudes. They had previously been elevated to great dignities, with their honours, emoluments, and comforts, from which they would now be degraded.

The decree threatening the fiery furnace was no vain outburst of violent words, Being cast alive into fierce furnaces was a cruelty often practised in the terrible ages of ancient fury, and has indeed been continued in some places even to periods coming near to our own time. The three faithful ones were not only reported to the king, but brought into his presence, when he was in a towering rage. He had forgotten his own conviction, miraculously brought about, and therefore only transitory, that the God they worshiped was God of gods, and Lord of kings, and now he said, “If ye worship not” (the golden image which I have set up), “ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God who shall deliver you out of my hands?”

Neither the presence of the king, nor his rage, nor the multitude of his surrounding courtiers and chief officers, with fierce countenances, taking their cue from the enraged monarch, dismayed the three brave servants of the living God. They answered modestly and quietly, but firmly, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” They had no misgivings, nor any disposition to make second thoughts. They at once declined the king’s authority in the question of whom they should worship. They would render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar, and to God only the things that are God’s. With what noble simplicity they uttered their determination! How happy it is to be without double thoughts. In the path of duty! Do right, and have no further care: this is the path which leads to constant progress.

The grounds of their quiet, self-sustained confidence were twofold. They believed the Lord would deliver them from peril if he saw that best. They were familiar with the history of their nation. They knew well how often in the most terrible straits and afflictions God had delivered their fathers. They were men of prayer, who believed in a Living God watching over them, as He had watched over all past ages, and whose tender mercies are over all His works. They were doubtless in the habit daily, probably three times a clay, as was Daniel’s custom, of laying their whole affairs, their joys and their sorrows before the Lord, and entreating His counsel and benediction. They were confident of His love and of His power. If His wisdom saw it good that they should be delivered, not a hair of their heads would be injured. This is the quiet, reposing trust of true faith. It relies on the omnipresence and the omnipotence of the God it loves, at all times. It feels that our affairs are in His hand, with heaven and earth at His control, and all is sure to be well. His Providence enters into every moment and every particular of our lives. Providence is particular and therefore universal.

But they had a second ground for their trustful faith. They were assured that this life is only a temporary training-place for the life to come. There is another and a better world. The fiery furnace might be a sharp passage, but it would be a short one. The dross would be burned out, and they would speedily be at home. If the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, they had a building of God, the spiritual body, that no earthly flames could touch, and in which they would continue to live eternally in the heavens (2 Cor. v. 1). They had, therefore no fear of death. Death with them was the door, with a short step, to a higher life. To their feelings and conceptions there was no death. They acted on the truth afterwards uttered by the Lord Jesus, “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Hence they stood to their convictions. Whether they were to live here a little longer or not was a small matter. They would live on if the providence of their loving Heavenly Father deemed it best, but if not, they would abide by the truth. For with truth there was salvation and heaven, but without truth there was soul-darkness, depravity, decrepitude, and spiritual death. Hence, said these noble ones, and after them the spiritual heroes, the salt of the earth, of many succeeding generations, IF NOT, if our good Almighty Father sees it best for us to die, we will not worship thy image, O king; we will not forsake the truth.

The king was filled with fury at the patient and determined piety of these noble confessors. He commanded that the furnace should be heated seven times hotter than it was wont to be heated, and the servants of God were cast in. Bound in their clothe; the noble three fell into the midst of the burning fiery furnace now so fierce that the men who threw them in, perished by the ardency of the devouring flames. They were cast in, and it was thought all was over. Nothing could live there. The king, however, was disturbed and uneasy. In his mind, evidently impressed by one of those strange feelings of disquietude and uncontrollable power which strangely affect human minds and which they must follow. He went to look into the furnace and lo! the valiant victims of his fury were not dead, not even hurt, but walking in the midst of the fire. Instead of three, however, there were F0UR; an angel was there, a companion and guardian. He who gives HIS angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways, had not only defended the three from the flames, but opened the spiritual sight of the king, that he might know that the’ angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.

The aspect of the angel was celestial. The king was deeply moved, and humbled, He exclaimed, “Lo, I see four men loose walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” He cried out further, “Ye servants of the Living God come forth, and come hither.” The spiritual sight of the king seems then to have been closed again, for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came forth from the furnace alone, but unhurt: their very clothes had suffered no harm. The king, subdued, once more convinced, and bowed down again for a short. time, uttered the memorable words “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent His angel and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies that they might not serve or worship any god except their own God, Therefore, I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language which speaketh anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill, because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

In this decree we see the vain-glorious idolator still. He .speaks of the Lord only as the God of Shadrach, Mcshach, and Abednego. He had evidently the notion of family gods, and national gods, and he was determined to patronize this powerful God, as he conceived he had found Him to be and he would now cut in pieces and destroy the homes of any who would gainsay this new God, whose worship he would set up. The love of rule, the lust of spiritual dominion comes forth again in a new form. His purpose was modified, but evidently he had still the fixed Idea that he had the prerogative or fixing the faith of his subjects, notwithstanding he was only just convinced he had been egregiously wrong, and whosoever would not conform to his new decree must be cut in pieces, and their houses be made a dunghill. How slow have monarchs and authorities been to learn that in matters of faith there should be no compulsion. Force may make hypocrites but never sincere believers. The limbs may be fettered, and the body be destroyed, but the soul, possessed of inner freedom, defies all entrance into its secret mansions, the understanding and the heart, of any sentiments which are not welcome there. Persecution, though always cruel, is always in vain, and always fails if met by Christian firmness. A persecuting spirit must be a proud spirit, and therefore be in the very worst condition for perceiving the truth, for pride and truth are opposites, and antagonistic to each other. They come from opposing sides, and cannot blend. A persecutor, therefore, must be wrong, and cannot himself come into the perception of truth until he abases his pride by repentance, and in the spirit of meekness seeks for wisdom. “The meek He will guide in judgment; to the meek He will teach His way.”

If rulers were generally good men, if they were always patterns of. all that is excellent, having the same liabilities to error that is the common lot, and having absorbing cares in their important duties as guardians of the state, they have less time even than others for the calm investigations which are required for the discovery of truth; and therefore they have certainly more than the usual amount of hindrances against its acquisition, and hence should especially abstain from prostituting the power of the state for the enforcement of their own opinions. To follow the religion of the ruler of the state simply because it is the religion of the ruler, is not to be religious, but to seek to attain selfish aims in the name of religion. It is self-seeking in a sanctimonious guise. But sovereigns are often exceedingly immoral. Persecuting sovereigns have probably all been so. Philip II. of Spain, and Henry VIII. of England, both. bitter persecutors, and notoriously bad men, are only specimens of the tribe. They, therefore, who in religion abase thelnselves before the rulers of. the state, are certainly in the greatest likelihood of enthroning error where Jesus alone the King of kings, has the right to rule. Fashion, however, has often a deep influence over superficial and weak minds, even in religion, To follow the multitude, and especially the respectable in the world’s estimation, as to the creed we adopt and the worship we attend, is to many an attraction they are unable to resist, yet this also is a serious detriment to our spiritual progress. What is the chaff to the wheat?

Evils in our hearts and in our habits can only be subdued by truth, received in the love of truth. This is the sword of the two edges corning out of the mouth of the Lord. Truth only can introduce order, and promote the diffusion of love to the Lord and charity to our neighbour, and impart spiritual beauty to the soul. Truth is the light, the glory, the defence of man’s eternal interests. Truth illuminates the path of life, is a Divine lighthouse when our passage is stormy, cheers the hours of sickness, and, when our journey of life is finished, takes us by the hand, ushers us to those circles of the blessed who are waiting for us, charged by their Adorable Master to welcome us to heaven. These invaluable benefits onlyattend truth when it is followed, received, and loved for its own sake. The goodly pearls are only found by the spiritual merchant who seeks them. The pearl of great price only rewards him who has sold all he had, his selfish fancies, his preference for fashion over principle, his truckling to power and gain; and sought by hungering and thirsting after righteousness to be filled with the virtue, the brightness, and the bliss of the kingdom of heaven.

Such evidently were the grounds of the decisions of the three faithful ones. They would not truckle to the crowd of courtiers, the demands of the king, or the fiery furnace. If the God they served would preserve them alive in the world, in the path of duty, they would live; but if not, they would still be true to Him who was everything to them. The king, enraged at their opposition to his will, commanded that the furnace should be made seven times hotter than before, and they cast in. Happily Divine Providence has already produced an immense change in the general condition of the world, and there are so many checks to the wild frenzy of the spiritual rage of Babylon in our days, that it cannot torture men’s bodies, to the extent to which in the olden time it was wont to go. But the glow of rage in the soul when the lust of dominion is thwarted, is in every age the same. From the fury that strove to exterminate the Albigenses, that devastated and almost destroyed the German nation, that wasted the valleys, and stained the snow-clad mountains of Savoy, and slaughtered the followers of Garibaldi on the field of Mentana, the grim savagery of the lust of spiritual power is ever the same. Make the furnace seven times hotter, it incessantly says, so that neither Jew, nor Moor, nor Protestant, nor anything that will not bow down to the golden image that we have set up, may breathe. Such is the spirit of Babylon. It was the spirit of Babylon of old. It is the spirit of the modern Babylon, but happily the system is withering at its root, and is already in such decay before the new heights of religion and science, that the sincere and peaceful of these days may pass it unheeded by. It is an old grant, toothless, fangless, and forlorn.

The three faithful ones were cast into the furnace with their garments, their coats, their hosen, and their hats. The soul has its garments as well as the body, The turban or hat corresponds to the highest doctrines, those which clothe the head of the soul. On the tiara of the high priest was written on a golden plate, holiness to the Lord. The coat which protects the chest and middle of the body, corresponds to the doctrines of charity to the neighbour, while the hose and shoes correspond to the precepts of daily duty and common ife; so that casting the men into the furnace with their garments spiritually signifies the rejection with spiritual hatred of true believers, not only as to their great leadng principles of love, faith, and virtue, signified by the faithful three, but all the doctrines of genuine religion, the garments of salvation, the robes of righteousness, the wedding garment, in fact all that makes them beautiful. Instead of glorious truth there is mummery, formality, and mental slavery.

When, however, mental despotism is firmly met, its power is broken. Let the righteous possess their souls in patience, and they will take no harm. The slaves of despotism hurt themselves, they do not hurt the good. Those who threw the men into the fire were destroyed by the fire of their own furnace. The witnesses for truth were unhurt. “The Lord had given his angels charge concerning them, to keep them in all their ways.” a rich immunity to brave souls.! O, glorious safeguard! Let men be true to their principles, and they can come to no real harm. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and everyone that shall rise against thee thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servant of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.

Why should anyone seek to compel others to adopt his particular views, when they cannot see them to be true? It is truth seen and understood which is of value to a man, and it is of value because it purifies the heart, and betters the life of its receiver. To explain the truth in a spirit of love, at becoming seasons, is doubtless commendable, but to worry others, in season and out of season, with our special dogmas, which they do not see and cannot admit, is rather the eagerness of proselytism than earnestness for truth. The Lord’s precious gift is truth to be as seed, from which, if understood and loved, will come harvests of virtue and blessing. If our views be true, and we see and understand them to be true, we can explain them to others, and if they are in the love of truth, they will receive them for the same reasons which have commended them to us; and when they are thus received in light, and for their own sakes, they will impart spiritual freedom, they will give strength in the hour of temptation, and consolation In sorrow. But if we have intruded the truth violently and unseasonably, we shall have roused opposition where we needed good will, and we shall have defeated our own aims. We shall be like a physician who has offered good medicine, but introduced it scalding hot. Truth should be introduced like dew, or the gentle shower on thirsty land. It should come as a courteous and delicate friend, sincere and gentle, not as our property, but as the Lord’s own treasure, the blessed gift of Infinite Love, to introduce happiness upon earth, the happiness which comes from enlightened, pure, and loving souls, ministering in all the ways of integrity and virtue, useful to increase the real kingdom of the Lord on earth, and for heaven.

The over-eager zealot should remember also that his views may possibly be erroneous, as Nebuchadnezzar’s were, and that therefore to attempt to enforce them violently upon others, may only be diffusing the blight of error over the fair field of human knowledge, which will certainly vanish in due time, but which can only in the meantime do mischief in the world. Whether, therefore, our views be true or false, the attempt to force them upon others against their convictions, is harmful and blameworthy—it is the spirit of Babylon. Truth will commend itself by the fruit it bears, the light it yields, and the blessings it diffuses. It disclaims all other aid. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, Who is in heaven.” The nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of the holy city, and they shall bring their glory and honour into it. They will there see wisdom as the eye sees objects, and do good as the joy of their life, and they will have a blessed anticipation of an eternal horne.

The seed of all divine blessings is the Word of God. Let us boldly be faithful to it always, like the faithful three at Babylon. If any would challenge our right in this respect, let us reply: “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 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, we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Let us ever diligently guard the Word, and our freedom fearlessly to study and to follow it.

O may we diligently preserve this seed of all that is noble in humanity and in progress, the seed of angelic virtues, of victory over every evil, the seed of the kingdom of heaven.

On, spirit of liberty, on,
O bless every valley and hill;
Thy brightness each heart shall enthrone;
And glow with thy loveliness still.
On, on, till each nation, all over the world,
Shall see thy blest banner, for ever unfurled.

Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)