By 1Timothy115 in DevotionalsPsalms 119:1-8 Sep. 5 - Oct. 2, 2019
1 ALEPH. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.
2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.
3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.
4 Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.
5 O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!
6 Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.
7 I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.
8 I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly.
The following verse stood out to me...
5 O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!
At first glance it seemed to me this person’s soul is poured out with intense desire to have God’s direction in keeping His Word.
I made a small wood fire in our backyard for my granddaughter, Julia, since she would be staying overnight with us. My wife and Julia stayed outside at the fire for about half an hour. Then, I found myself alone to watch the fire die out on a particularly lovely evening. So I took my verse from above and began to repeat it for memorization. As I repeated the verse, I tried to contemplate the words and apply them to what I was seeing around me.
The moon and stars were out now peering through the scattered clouds above.
[Genesis 1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. Genesis 1:17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, Genesis 1:18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.]
The moon has stayed his course since the day God created him, also the stars, obeying the statutes directed by God from the first day they were created. Can you imagine God’s direction to the Moon and stars, “moon you will have a path through the sky above the earth, stars you will occupy the firmament above the moon and be clearly visible in the cloudless night sky.”
Then, the trees, grass, even the air we breathe obey the statues God gave them from the beginning. None of these creations have souls, none have hearts, none have intelligence, but they all observe God’s statutes, His instructions for their limited time on earth.
What if we were like the moon, stars, trees, grass, or the other creations which have no soul? We would be directed to keep God’s statutes without choosing to keep them. This is not the image of God, there would be no dominion over other creatures, or over the earth. We would not be capable of experiencing the joy and peace of learning the love of God
Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Thought 3 (October 2, 2019)
Is the psalmist pleading God to force God’s statutes to become the man’s ways? No, he is speaking of his own failure in keeping God’s statutes and his desire to keep them, very much like Paul in Romans 7:14-25.
God doesn’t work through force to turn men from their ways that they would desire His statutes or desire God Himself. Men must reject (repent) put aside his own ways and voluntarily seek God and His statutes.
By Jerry in Jerry BoueyThe Companion Of The Way
00 - Foreward & Introduction The Companion of the Way
~ Out of print and in the public domain ~
Chapter 1 - FRIEND WITH FRIEND - Genesis 18 - Abraham
Chapter 2 - THE PATIENT WRESTLER - Genesis 32 - Jacob
Chapter 3 - THE DWELLER IN THE THORNBUSH - Exodus 3 - Moses
Chapter 4 - THE SUPREME COMMANDER - Joshua 5 - Joshua
Chapter 5 - THE BREAD OF THE WEARY - 1 Kings 19 - Elijah
Chapter 6 - THE HOLY SOVEREIGN - Isaiah 6 - Isaiah
Chapter 7 - THE SANCTUARY OF THE EXILE - Ezekiel 1 - Ezekiel
Chapter 8 - THE COMPANION IN THE FIRE - Daniel 3 - Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah
Chapter 9 - THE LIGHT OF EVENING - Daniel 10 - Daniel
Chapter 10 - THE FACE THAT WELCOMED - Acts 7 - Stephen
Chapter 11 - THE STRENGTH OF THE TOILER - Acts 26 - Paul
Chapter 12 - THE STEWARD OF GOD'S HOUSE - Revelation 1 - John
"Companion of the Way!" Scarcely could a more apt title be found for this book. It is an enriching study of the constant companionship, all-sufficient grace and unfailing faithfulness of Him whose presence ennobled men of God in olden times as it does men of like spirit today.
Man is a social being: he cannot find fulfillment in isolation. He must have companionship. Deep and true friendship is one of life's richest experiences. And if this be so on the human level, what shall we say of the higher plane? The life that is life indeed is found only in the divine Companion. Without Him, life has no abiding significance.
Would we learn how Abraham became the friend of God? Or how Moses experienced the goodwill of Him who dwelt in the bush? Or how Joshua was led to victory by the with the drawn sword? This book points the way. The breath of the sanctuary is in every chapter. The thoughtful reader, drinking in its message, will be led inevitably into deeper fellowship with the Companion of the Way.
Editor, "The Fields"
THE PERPETUAL PRESENCE
The ultimate longing of the redeemed soul is for God Himself. Nothing less than the experience of the divine presence can ever satisfy the heart that has tasted of His grace. God did not create man to be independent of Him, but to need Him always. He did not endow him with that mysterious gift which we call personality, and with faculties spiritual, moral, and mental, that he should tread life's highway alone. It was His design that the personality should find its purpose in the fellowship of the giver, and the faculties their utmost meaning in the carrying out of His benign will.
Though sin has challenged this relationship of Creator and creature and has spread its pollution throughout the centuries of man's history, yet whenever the heart has known the divine forgiveness, the basic need of God's presence has reasserted itself. The longing of the soul has found its expression in many a cry recorded in the Scriptures. We listen to some of these, as psalmist, lawgiver, and disciples speak with words whose intensity betokens the stirring of the depths of need and of desire.
"My soul thirsteth for thee" (Psalms 63:1).
"My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God" (Psalms 84:2).
"If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence" (Exodus 33:15).
"Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent" (Luke 24:29).
In these we recognize far more than the urgency of the immediate circumstances which brought them to utterance. Those whose lips framed the petitions spoke -- though unknown to themselves -- for all God's people at all times. In their words we have our share, even as in their emotion we feel the throbbing of our own heart. But they were more than spokesmen; they are our kinsman in the family of God. Their language is ours, though it is the speech of heart rather than of lip.
In spite of the different scenes attendant upon different eras of history, the answer to all such longing, as far as our mortal condition can receive answer, is in the sublime fact of the perpetual presence of God with His people. As we read and reread the books of Scripture, we become deeply conscious that through sunshine and through shadow, through storm and through calm, there has stood with His own, and walked with them, One whose faithfulness has never faltered and whose love has never waned. "Behold, I am with thee . . . I will not leave thee" was his word to Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:15), and the promise was repeated to Joshua: "Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (Deuteronomy 31:6) and "Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them" (Joshua 1:6), and to Solomon: "And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD" (1 Chronicles 28:20). It has been given to us also who have been drawn by the surpassing attraction of our adorable Saviour to press on to the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
At times the divine presence has been made visible to the eyes of men. In varying circumstances of place, of age, and of need, men subject to like passions as we are have had the all-transcending experience of seeing God. They have seen Him not in the full blaze of the light of Deity -- that vision of His face which no mortal can bear -- but in guise suited alike their frailty and to His ways of grace and government with them, and with us too, for whom these things are recorded in the Word. While these appearances differ in their setting, they are one in their purpose to life the gaze of the soul from the temporal to the eternal, and from the vanities of earth to that ultimate reality which is God Himself.
Looking back on the Old Testament in the light of the New, we find that the theophanies of the ancient Scriptures were all Christophanies, i.e., it was always in the Son that God revealed Himself to men. In certain cases, the New Testament gives express confirmation of this, as, e.g., in the appearing of the "I AM" to Moses in the burning bush and in that to Isaiah when the prophet listened to the homage of the seraphim. Beyond this, the general truth may be learned from the teaching of the New Testament concerning the uniqueness of the place of the Son in the Trinity of God. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the One in whom that which is otherwise invisible in God becomes visible to the creature, not indeed as a result of the Incarnation, but because of the essential relationships in the Godhead. Again, that which is made known of God in the theophanies is ever consonant with that which is taught directly concerning the Son. The One who appeared in Old Testament days spoke and acted as being personally God, even to the acceptance of worship; nevertheless He appeared in relation to another who was called God. This is illustrated in the use of the title "Angel of the LORD." These things find their harmony in Christ, the only begotten Son, Himself the Word of God, the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of His person.
The appearance of the Lord described in the Scriptures are not to be considered merely as things isolated and as events entirely apart from the normal course of the path of faith, but as illustrative to us of the wealth of that sacred companionship which every believer is called to know. The appearances are recorded to show who it is that abides with us, and what His power is to sustain, to encourage, to deliver, and to transform.
Though today we see not our Lord save as He is known to the eye of faith, His presence is none the less real. He has not forgotten His beloved people, nor failed to be with them. He has companied with them, not generally, but even individually, so that each one has had reason to count the promises made good to him. Throughout the centuries he has stood with His redeemed ones, ever loving, ever patient, ever true. They have all proved it -- the martyr in the fiery flame; the ill person with fevered brow, restless and weary; the widow bereft in one hour of husband and of stay; and the tired servant, witnessing in some foreign land. They, too, have proved His presence who on the dizzy heights of prosperity and success have been preserved from false steps, and they also who have found the happiest relationships of earth enriched and ennobled by the unseen presence. And have they not proved it also, who have known the horrors of modern warfare and the long, long hours of the nerve-racking blitz?
Christ reveals Himself supremely to hearts that count Him precious. He yearns to show them His face and to light up their lives with His constant smile. He is not reluctant to bless, but desires His people to be blessed. When the soul with set purpose puts Christ before all else, the sense of His presence deepens through life. Memories of His grace and faithfulness recur with their encouragement and with their rich incentive to lean more fully upon Him and to count upon His nearness in every trying hour. Thus the perpetual presence, known and enjoyed, will manifest itself as an abiding Christ-consciousness.
The first moments of thought that begin each new morning will be: "When I awake, I am still with thee" (Psalms 139:18). Though the burden of the day challenge the soul with temptation and with care, it will do so only to find the soul ensheathed with an invisible mantle, even Him who has become the soul's retreat and hiding place. The joys of life will be doubled because shared with Another who will add His own portion to the feast spread for Him. Prayer will be no wearisome routine, but such free and intermittent conversation -- though reverent and holy -- as only true friends know. The hour of retiring to rest will be serene with the knowledge that even though the thoughts be hushed in sleep, the Presence will not be withdrawn. Then, should it please God that the gates of death should open, the soul will prove that when companions of the pilgrimage can journey with it no longer, He will still be near, and dearer than ever, till the veil be passed, and the soul catch its first wondering sight of His blessed face.
In the following pages there are selected for meditation nine glimpses of the sacred presence given in the Old Testament, together with the three instances in the New Testament where the Lord Jesus Christ was seen by men on earth in His post-ascension glory. Taken together, they show something of what He has been to His saints throughout their history, but all that He has been He remains today, and shall remain forever. Moreover, because it is the same Person whom they display, and the same deep interest in the welfare of man's soul, they add their clear witness to the unity of Scripture and the continuity of its narrative. One face looks out upon us from its pages; one heart yearns over us with indescribable longing.
When at last we are at home with Him, we shall see Him to be the One who, unseen, often communed with us, as He did with Abraham His friend, who wrestled with us as with Jacob -- and with like ennobling touch, and who sought not to consume but to irradiate with His beauty, as in the bush which Moses saw.
We shall see Him as the One who gave victory over the foe, as He gave it to Joshua, and who succored us in depths of discouragement, as He succored Elijah under the juniper tree.
We shall see Him as the One who prepared us for service, revealing and purging our iniquity, as He did with Isaiah, and who strengthened us in that service in the loneliest day, as He did Ezekiel.
We shall know Him as the One who walked with us in our fiercest trial, as He did with the three Hebrews, and whose revelation was the consummation of life, as it was with Daniel.
Then we will find that it was no mirage of earth that comforted us but the sight of "Jesus standing at the right hand of God," as Stephen saw Him; that it was "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" which was the treasure we carried in earthen vessels, as in Paul's experience. Then we will find that behind all the mystery of life, sufficient for every care and for every toil, there stood the First and the Last, the Chief Steward, as He stood with John in Patmos.
With such realization and such company we shall be wonderfully at home in heaven. Events of earth that once seemed so strange will be understood then as truly preparatory to that bliss. No longer through a glass darkly, but face to face, we shall behold Him in whose presence we have ever been in our pilgrimage, God's glorious Son, in whom God will be fully known.
There no stranger - God shall meet thee --
Stranger thou in courts above --
He who to His rest shall greet thee,
Greets thee with a well-known love.
It is our purpose to consider each of these records (save that of Paul's experience, which was fivefold) from three aspects. We must notice
(1) The setting in which the appearance was vouchsafed,
(2) The revelation of the Person and ways of the heavenly Companion, and
(3) The blessing that followed in the life.
Thus may we perceive for our comfort and our cheer precious lessons of His grace to us, with whom He still walks unseen. Shall not our hearts fill with richer praise as we remember His faithfulness and lovingkindness, yesterday, today and forever?
I am twice grateful to my dear friend, Mr. Hewlett, first, for allowing me to read his book and next for giving me the privilege of writing a few words of appreciation and introduction.
The author is like a skillful musician, sitting at his keyboard and pouring out his melodies; he has only one subject - Christ - and one desire - to know Him for himself and then to spread His fame to others. Through this travail his book is born.
A Greek sage wrote, "The proper study of mankind is man." But, in fact, not one of us knows himself until he knows God. If we had focused our attention on the closing line of the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and kept it, we should never have needed the other nine in the Decalogue nor the other 612 in the Pentateuch.
So, since Christ is the Way to God, my friend has done well to describe twelve of the highways of light along which the feet of the saints have traveled in distant ages. The saints have never walked alone; it has always been true that "Jesus himself drew near, and went with them."
I think that I have especially enjoyed "The Face that Welcomed"; its analysis of Stephen's experience is choice.
I must congratulate my friend on his chapter titles; they read like a wedding march or an Attic chorus.
May the Head of the Church carry this volume far and wide in blessing and give the author something for himself.
Harold St. John
By Jerry in Jerry BoueyThe Companion Of The Way
10 - The Face That Welcomed - Stephen (Acts 7)
I. THE SETTING -- THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERING
The triumph of Stephen was the first great crisis in the history of the Church. For Israel, too, it was a crisis, for in the death of the first Christian martyr the nation's probation ceased. Even after the cry of apostasy, "We have no king but Caesar," and that bitter taunt, "He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him," the Divine patience waited long. The Messiah had been scorned in the days of His flesh. When he was by the witness of the Spirit presented to the nation as the ascended One, who had been made both Lord and Christ, whom God had exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins, the witness of the Spirit was likewise scorned. The man who spoke to the Jewish council with "face as it had been the face of an angel" was hurried to death by men convicted but unrepentant. Then God began to display His secret purpose to bring Gentiles along with Jews into the Church. The Gospel was carried far and wide -- to Samaria, to Antioch, and to the ends of the earth, and the guilty nation was given over to the judgment that resulted in the destruction of the city and the temple in A.D. 70.
But the martyrdom of Stephen was a crisis for the Church, for the heavenly outcalling acquired a deeper fellowship with Christ. In the stoning of Stephen, the Church tasted of the cup of its Lord's suffering unto death, and was despised and rejected of men as He had been. The Lord Jesus suffered "without the gate," in the place of reproach and dishonor; Stephen was "cast... out of the city," and stoned. Thus began the long procession of witnesses that has continued unto this day. Some of its faces are in a measure familiar to us. We know of Stephen and Paul, of Polycarp, or Perpetua and Felicitas, of Tyndale, of Ridley and Latimer, of Huss, of John and Betty Stam, and of others whose sufferings and death have been inscribed in the annals of men. But for the most part the witnesses are unknown to us. Yet every life laid down for Christ's sake was precious in the eyes of the Lord, and every name is written with honor in the Book of Life. By and by we shall meet these dear brethren and sisters in the family of God, and with them we shall extol the grace that was sufficient for all. The Lord who succored Stephen was their Lord, too. Not one of them was forsaken of Him, but His presence was with them all, where the stones fell, or the sword descended, or the fire burned, or in the Colosseum, or amid Alpine snows, or in Siberian wastes.
We can scarcely read the account of Stephen's experience before the council without seeing afresh the Lord Jesus Himself standing before that same tribunal. The martyr was accused by false witnesses of violent words against the holy place. "We have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us" (Acts 6:14). The Lord was charged by lying lips, "This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days" (Matthew 26:61). To this charge the Lord answered nothing, even as the prophet had predicted: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). But to the words of the high priest, "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God," He gave answer, "Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
In Stephen's case there was reply at considerable length to the question of the high priest, "Are these things so?" (Acts 7:1), for it was his task finally to arraign Israel's leaders with their crime in the murder of the Messiah. When their rage exceeded all restraint, he likewise bore testimony to the glory of the Son of man. To the Lord's answer the high priest gave the terrible response, "He hath spoken blasphemy," and the council said, "He is guilty of death." The fatal decision was made; they would listen to no further word from His lips. At Stephen's proclamation concerning the Son of man, "they... stopped their ears." Cut to the heart by his defense, they could not bear to hear that which reminded them of the solemn declaration by the Lord Jesus.
Strange it was that the council should be concerned about the reports that Stephen had said that "this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place," if He were, as they claimed, still in death. The very words of the charge betrayed the uneasiness of the Jews touching the preaching by the followers of Jesus that He was alive from the dead. The chief priests knew full well the report of the guards who had fled from the tomb. They knew also that the explanation that the guards had slept was a lie. Unable to account for the empty tomb and the courage of the disciples, they silenced their doubts by renewed action against the preachers of the Gospel.
II. THE REVELATION -- THE HEAVENLY VISION
"When they heard these things, they were cut to their heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:54-56). Then, as always when He dwells ungrieved in the believer, the Holy Spirit so ministered the compensations of God to Stephen that he, too, was more than conqueror. The fury of earth was met by the opening of Heaven, and the loneliness of his position by vision of his Lord. To Stephen, as to Paul and to John, it was given to see the glorified Lord with mortal eyes. To all others it has been given to see Him only by faith, but such is the Spirit's delight to reveal Christ to His people that though they are at times in heaviness through manifold temptations, yet they love the One whom they have not seen and, believing in Him, they rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
In that hour Stephen's gaze was turned upward to Heaven and home, and was not disappointed. Since the ascension of the Lord Jesus, Heaven had been more than ever home to the people of God. In all ages they had desired "a better country, that is, an heavenly," but now the One who had lived on earth those thirty-three years of purity and grace, had endured for their sakes the shameful Cross, and had risen again from the dead, had passed "within the veil." In its love He dwelt, and He had taken their hearts with Him. His home was forever theirs. Before He died, He had assured them, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." They looked for Him, and could be satisfied only with Him. Even if they were called to pass through death, it was only "to be with Christ; which is far better."
And now the heavens were opened, as they had been to the Lord Jesus at His baptism at Jordan. The realms of light disclosed their approval of that which met their gaze on earth, first (for His is ever the pre-eminence) of the Beloved Son and then of the servant who confessed Him so faithfully. Only in Him and in His people can Heaven delight, but its delight is real, pure, and unashamed.
Looking stedfastly into those bright scenes, Stephen saw the glory of God. He had commenced his defense before the council by reminding his hearers that the God of glory had appeared to their father Abraham. This was the true meaning of their history, and it was this that made them a separate people on earth. The gods of the nations were vanity; the God of Abraham was the God of glory. Whenever the children of Abraham had been true to their calling and their heritage, they had rejoiced in His majesty. None of them knew Him better than did Moses. He had seen His glory in the burning bush, in the deliverance from Egypt, and upon Sinai, but still his prayer rose up: "I beseech thee, shew me thy glory" (Exodus 33:18). David spoke of the God of glory (Psalms 29:3) and looked to the day when the everlasting doors should be lifted up that the King of glory might enter in (Psalms 24:7). Moses had come down from the mount with rays of that glory lingering on his face, and even Stephen's judges saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. Gazing into the source of the light that lit his face, Stephen saw the glory that Abraham had seen and, moreover, in the heart of its radiance at the right hand of God he saw "Jesus standing."
Ere the Lord had gone to the throne, He had spoken His sure word of promise, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). "Alway," i.e., "though all the days" -- what could more clearly set forth the perpetual presence? But Stephen was given even more than the token of the presence. He learned its climax, that the One who companied with His saints and with him would bring their path to its triumphant goal with a vision of His face and a welcome to His side. Upon the martyr the vision was bestowed before his eyes closed on scenes here, that he might tell us what waits the gaze of all who die in faith. Surely that face of light was bent down upon him and poured its love upon him, for it was to the Lord Jesus that he addressed his dying words and, confident in Him, he fell asleep.
"Jesus standing." That is not to be read as contradiction of the statement that "He . . . sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). Both positions picture profound truths, and both give aspects of His ascension life which exist concurrently. In relation to His finished work on earth and to the exercise of His sovereignty, He is viewed as seated. In relation to His unfinished work in Heaven, that gracious ministry which He undertakes for us now, He is viewed as standing. He remained "this same Jesus." The glory of the throne had not changed His heart toward His own. As He had ever been to them -- tender, compassionate, understanding, and true, so He was still. As in love He had toiled for them on earth, so in Heaven would He minister to their need in the same love.
With his eyes fixed on Jesus, Stephen bore testimony to that which he saw and named his Lord by that title which Christ's own lips had so often used. "I see... the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." The reference was obviously Messianic, for, as we have noted, it was in accord with the Lord's own words, "the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power." It testified that the despised Jesus was actually the Son of Man of Daniel's vision, who would come with the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13), that He had reached the height of absolute power, and that nought could hinder the fulfillment of his prediction to the council. Stephen's own need was fully met in that he saw Jesus at God's right hand, even as today by faith "we see Jesus . . . crowned with glory and honour." The doom of the leaders of Israel, the guiltiest of the guilty, was sealed in that the martyr saw the Son of Man in that place of power.
III. THE BLESSING -- CHRIST'S FRUIT IN HIS MEMBERS
"Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul" (Acts 7:57-58). Their fury knew no bounds. Driven on by their hatred of the name of Jesus and by the knowledge that they were impotent to mar His glory or frustrate His will, they undertook summary judgment on His confessor. With frenzied cry and utter refusal to hear another word, they laid violent hands on Stephen and cast him out to his death. Denying him even the pretense of justice and of trial, they cut off his life with the cruel stones. It was the death which was decreed by the law of Moses for the blasphemer, it was meted out to one of the noblest of the long line of faith. According to the law, as given in Deuteronomy 17:7, the witnesses were required to be foremost in the execution of the death penalty. They had brought the evidence; they must be first to cast the stones. Not content with falsehood, Stephen's accusers added to their infamy by sustaining their witness in the place of stoning. In those solemn moments wherein they strained their lives with innocent blood, they left their garments in the care of a young man called Saul. It is the first time that we hear of this man, who figures so much on the page of Scripture, but whose story is forever woven with that of Stephen.
"And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting unto his death" (Acts 7:59-8:1). In this passage the word "God" is in italics. There is no object stated for the very "calling upon," and the reference is most naturally to the following words. As Paul showed in his greeting to Corinth -- "with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:2). -- calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus was the mark of the New Testament Christian. His name was honored, as the name of Jehovah in the Old Testament was honored. "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord [Jehovah] shall be saved" (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32). The conviction of the early church was unmistakable, and attested by Stephen, that in the naming of the Lord Jesus they owned Him as Jehovah. That Pharisees, such as Saul, brought up in the strictest monotheism, should come to adore a once-crucified man as being eternally in the Godhead is evidence that to them His credentials of deity were beyond dispute.
Stephen's words recall those spoken last by the Lord upon the Cross. In unshaken trust, the Lord had commended His spirit to the Father; so did the martyr commit his spirit to the Lord. This again was witness to the deity of Jesus. Then kneeling, Stephen "cried with a loud voice." (This expression, in which the energy of the speaker is gathered up, is used of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 27:50.) The Lord had prayed for those that crucified Him: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Imbued with the same spirit of forgiveness that revealed how truly he was in the mind of Christ, Stephen likewise prayed for his murderers. How precious must this have been to the Lord Jesus, and what fruitage for Him in the life of His saint! Thus with eyes and heart alike occupied with his Lord, Stephen "fell asleep." It was not death, but victory. The Lord Jesus had said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death" (John 8:51), and so it was with the martyr. So it is with all who trust Him.
In his vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the fragrance of his character, and in his suffering for His sake, Stephen became the pattern believer of this age. His name (Stephan, i.e., crown [stephanos], or garland of victory) pointed to the heavenly destiny held out to all his brethren, including to the measure of their devotion to Him, the crown of glory and honor. Stephen's interpreter was the man whose conversion was the firstfruits of the divine response to his dying prayer. What was concentrated in the last moments of the one was spread out in the years of experience of the other, so that the latter wrote, "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body"; and again, "So then death worketh in us, but life in you"; and again, "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:10,12,18).
What shall meet our gaze as we thus look to the things "not seen?" First, and supremely, we shall behold the glory of our Lord, His unfading triumphs, His exaltation in manhood at God's right hand, His infinite depths of holiness and of love, and the unutterable wonder of His blessed face. We shall see our Father's home, with its many mansions -- all forever open to the children of His love; we shall see the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" wrought for us by the "light affliction" of this present time. Again, we shall behold "the inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." Then there is the reward which hands once pierced by cruel nails shall bestow upon lonely toilers from the harvest fields of earth. Moreover, we shall feast our gaze upon the joy of unclouded fellowship with Christ and with the redeemed of the ages. Then there is the occupation of the blest, the holy service wherewith "his servants shall serve him."
To see the face which Stephen saw is to be enabled to live a heavenly life amid earthly care. It is ours with him and with Paul to behold "the glory of God in the face of Christ," and soon the joy of faith shall be swallowed up in the joy of seeing Him as He is.
Present with Thee, oh, Lord Jesus,
Some day this rapture I'll know;
Sweeter than aught of earth's visions,
Passing all bliss here below.
Present with Thee, in Thy glory,
Days of my pilgrimage past;
Down at Thy feet I shall worship,
Prostate before Thee at last.
Present with Thee, my Redeemer,
Because my load Thou didst bear;
I shall adoring behold Thee
Glory ineffable wear.
Present with Thee, in Thy likeness,
Clothed in Thy fitness, not mine;
Gladly Thy loveliness telling,
Owning Thy glory divine.
Present with Thee -- not a shadow
Casting its gloom o'er my heart --
Calmly I'll dwell in love's sunshine,
Nor from Thee ever shall part.
Present with Thee, my Beloved,
This Thy desire toward me,
Even that ever and ever
I should be present with Thee.
--H. C. H.--
By Jerry in Jerry BoueyThe Companion Of The Way
09 - The Light Of Evening - Daniel (Daniel 10)
I. THE SETTING -- THE UNBLEMISHED YEARS
The story of Daniel is given to us in Scripture in a series of character studies exquisitely drawn. These begin with a youth standing with three companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, at the crossroads of life, and making choice of the path of the will of God irrespective of earthly loss (chap. 1). The next three scenes show us the interpreter of dreams and of hard sentences standing before the monarchs of Babylon (chaps. 2, 4-5). Whether as a young man before Nebuchadnezzar, unfolding to him "what shall be in the latter days," or in the vigor of settled manhood, telling him of that which will humble his pride, or as an old man pronouncing Belshazzar's doom, Daniel exemplifies the words of the psalmist that "the secret of the LORD is with them that fear him" (Psalms 25:14).
The closing glimpses of Daniel remind us that the righteous "bring forth fruit in old age" (Psalms 92:14). In his early years, he will have no compromise with idolatry; in the ripeness of age he fears not to kneel and make his prayer to the living God alone. In the royal palace Darius the king spends a miserable and sleepless night; in the lion's den Daniel the Hebrew is at rest in the protecting care of God (Chap. 6). Again, he appears as the intercessor, who with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes confesses the sins of his people, seeks the mercies of God for them, and is answered "about the time of the evening oblation" with the visit of Gabriel and the greeting, "Thou art greatly beloved" (chap. 9). Finally, his yearnings for his people are rewarded by the vision which crowns his days, wherein his eyes beheld the glory of the Lord.
Daniel, like Joseph, the earlier revealer of secrets, exhibited a blameless life. Like him, also, he knew the desolation of being torn in youth from the ties of home and of being a prisoner in a strange land. Both men stood scatheless in temptation and attained to high office in a foreign court. They knew the testing of hatred and the subtler testing of high honor, but neither could be reproached with any sin. Nothing was able to turn them from the stedfastness of their ways or rob them of their insight into the purposes of God for the ultimate blessing of their people. Thus they came to the end of the journey, full of days, and full of honor.
As the sun of his life began to set, a greater Sun rose before Daniel's sight. Throughout the events that crowded his memory there had been manifested the power and faithfulness of God. he had walked alone and yet not alone. Behind the varied scenes of his path the Lord had stood, leading His servant on from strength to strength and ever appreciating the constancy and fidelity of his testimony. As the Lord had promised in Isaiah's day, so He was to Daniel. "Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, . . . even to your old age I am he; and... even I will carry, and will deliver you" (Isaiah 46:3-4). Far from failing His aged servant, He drew even closer to him, till His presence was revealed in surpassing splendor. He had given to Daniel many unfoldings of things to come, but to the last of these He added that which excelled them all, the unveiling of His own majesty.
II. THE REVELATION -- SURPASSING GLORY
"In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar; . . . In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled" (Daniel 10:1-3). Daniel had lived till the decree of Cyrus had enabled Zerubbabel and his company to return from Babylon to Jerusalem. God had kept His word by the mouth of Jeremiah; He had stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to make the necessary decree and had stirred the returning exiles to lay the foundation of His house at Jerusalem. But Daniel had been shown that beyond the commandment for the rebuilding of the city there would be troublous times, that Messiah the Prince would come and be cut off, and that the utmost desolation would befall the city. His exercise concerning Israel deepened till he spent three whole weeks in mourning and fasting. He saw the path of sorrow that lay ahead of Israel, and for their sakes he chastened himself before God.
"And in the four and twentieth day of the first month, as I was by the side of the great river, which is Hiddekel; then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: his body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude" (Daniel 10:4-6). In its details the vision bears close likeness to that given to John in Patmos. The golden girdle, the radiant face, the blazing eyes, the feet like unto gleaming brass, and the voice of incomparable fullness tell of the same glorious person in both scenes. In either case, the sight presented was one of surpassing grandeur. That the Lord's presentation of Himself to Daniel in appearance as a man, though in excelling brightness, should remind so much of that to John after His ascension and glorification in actual manhood, shows the underlying unity of all His unveilings of Himself. While some of His appearings in the Old Testament anticipated the lowly grace of the days of His flesh, the appearance vouchsafed to Daniel pointed forward to His revelation to earth in the glory of His kingdom.
The linen garment, in accordance with the frequent usage of Scripture, indicated the purity of all His ways. He is "the Holy One and the Just" (Acts 3:14). The girt loins proclaimed His ministry as the mighty One, the omnipotent Toiler, whose activities are beautiful with the excellence of Deity, even as the girdle with its fine gold. The body like to the beryl, with its amber light, the face with its intense brilliance, and the eyes as lamps of fire, all told of One who is the brightness of God's glory. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5); and that pure light streams forth unchanged and undiminished in the person of the Son. In the presence of that light nothing is hidden; from the gaze of those all-seeing eyes nothing can be concealed. "O LORD," said the psalmist, "thou hast searched me, and known me . . . If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee" (Psalms 139:1,11-12). Deep as was the perplexity of Daniel as he considered his people's welfare, all their way was understood by the Lord. No bewilderment lay upon that omniscient mind. The end was sure. In spite of Israel's failure, their conflict would end in peace, and the night of sorrow, in cloudless day.
"And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision: but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength" (Daniel 10:7-8). Upon the prophet's companions there came such a sense of fear that they trembled and fled. God was in the place, though they knew it not. There had been a day when "the earth shook . . . at the presence of God"; how much more should puny men tremble in such a circumstance? But to Daniel the presence was revealed, and he sank to the ground in utter weakness. All his strength was gone. Nothing was left of the personal vigour, the nobility of manhood, which had characterized him. There was only the corruption, the ruin of our poor race.
"Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground" (Daniel 10:9). So overpowered was he by the vision, and by the voice of the Lord, that he lay prostrate, unable to act and unable to think until strength was ministered to him by the touch of an angel's hand. That voice was more than mortal frame could bear, and Daniel lay insensible on the ground. Nor yet could he know the bliss of eternity and exult in the voice like the voice of a multitude -- the voice of Him in whose majestic utterance would be blended the countless expressions of His heart toward each of His redeemed.
III. THE BLESSING -- THE BELOVED
The love with which the Lord looked on His servant by the river Hiddekel was not less than that with which He would look on him in the better country -- the hungry. So the angel was sent to rouse him from his sleep, and to speak of that true love. To his aroused consciousness there came the words of tender greeting, "Daniel, a man greatly beloved." Such was the mind of heaven; such was the Lord's appraisal of His aged servant. All his path had been watched with unremitting care, all his exercise had been valued with unerring wisdom, and all his years had been compassed with unceasing love. Dear to the Lord was that long life of purity and honor, of witness and devotion. Some time before, in the first year of Darius, Daniel had been saluted as the "greatly beloved" (Daniel 9:23), but now his life must be crowned by this token of divine approval.
Roused by this greeting, Daniel stood trembling, to be told that from the first day of his mourning his words had been heard. They had been words which drew forth the succor of Heaven's throne, and the messenger had been sent to him to answer his heart's longing. When Daniel spoke to the angel of the effect of the vision upon him, he was further strengthened, and the message was repeated and amplified. "O man greatly beloved, fear not: peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong" (Daniel 10:19). As in the case of John in Patmos, the sight of the glory was followed by the words of comfort, "fear not." There was no cloud between the Lord and His faithful servant. For long years they had walked together, and the vision, so overwhelming in itself, was granted, not because of shortcoming on Daniel's part, but because the unseen Friend of the way would give full answer to the desire of Daniel's heart for the welfare of his people. The purposes of God would not fail. The ministry of intercession is in the current of the mind of God, and the prophet's unselfish prayer for the sinful nation brought the approval manifested in the vision. With such an almighty One overruling in the affairs of men, nought would hinder the fulfillment of every promise concerning Israel.
Once more the "man clothed in linen" is before us in this scene by Hiddekel. "And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished" (Daniel 12:7). The portrait of the Lord in this passage is paralleled by that in Revelation 10, when He appears as a mighty angel, yet in such majesty as only the occupant of the heavenly throne could bear. In both passages is declared His solemn oath that to all the sorrow of those dread days of Jacob's trouble there shall be an end. Dark will be the night, but the coming in glory of the King of Israel, the King of Kings, the King in His beauty, will bring the longed-for day.
Daniel's prayer was answered, his work was done, and his path was complete. The record ceases, but without mention of the withdrawing of the presence. Daniel is last seen in the wonder of its revelation. Long since he has left the scenes of his toil, and now he is at home with the Lord. Soon, not in mortal weakness, but robed in the dignity and power of the resurrection body, he shall walk with the Lord and rejoice evermore in communion face to face. The experience vouchsafed to him in his last years shall be his perpetual portion. Forever beloved, he shall gaze without fear on that transcendent face, and listen to the music of that excelling voice.
By Jerry in Jerry BoueyThe Companion Of The Way
08 - Companion In The Fire - Three Hebrews (Daniel 3)
I. THE SETTING -- THE DAUNTLESS THREE
Among the captives taken from Judah to Babylon in the days of Jeconiah were a number of youths of noble birth. The names of four of these are recorded in Scripture with special honor. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah left for all who should follow in the path of faith the lesson that there are no days when it is too dark for God to work and no circumstances in which He cannot sustain those who trust in Him. Life must have been desolate indeed when the gates of Babylon closed upon the weary captives. Involved in the tragedy that had befallen their nation for its sins, yet themselves of blameless character, these Hebrew youths found themselves attached to a court marked by pride, cruelty, and all the defiling influences of idolatry. Even their names were changed, and there were imposed on them new names associated with the worship of the false gods of Babylon. The tide ran swiftly against their spiritual life. Every factor of their environment was calculated to dim the memories of their upbringing and to efface from their hearts their earliest loyalties.
Challenged by the insidious temptation to partake of the king's meat and thus to acquiesce in offering to idols, they did not falter in their allegiance to the God of their fathers, to the One who had said, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me . . . Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them" (Exodus 20:3,5). Preferring loss to defilement, and counting the fear of the Lord more precious than life itself, they resisted the temptation and were at last vindicated in their stand by the overruling care of God. Centuries earlier, He had said to His people, "Them that honour me I will honour" (1 Samuel 2:30). The truth of this faithful word was clearly evidenced in the story of these young men. God gave them such knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom that they won the approval of the king. After the unfolding of the dream of the great image, Daniel was made ruler over the whole province of Babylon. His three friends, now known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, were set over the affairs of the province. They were among the few who could be trusted by God with high positions in the affairs of earth. Proud Babylon is no more, and the scenes of its glory have long since been a desolate waste, but the four exiles who showed such fidelity have honorable place among the great cloud of witnesses by which we are compassed about in the heavenward way.
More than twenty years passed, and the proud yet fertile mind of Nebuchadnezzar conceived a scheme for the unifying of his great empire. Its far-flung provinces lay secure in his dominion, but he sought control not only over the bodies but also over the souls of men. He built an image of gold, set this colossus in the plain of Dura, and ordered all who were prominent in rule throughout his territories to attend the dedication of the image and bow before it in worship (Daniel 3:1-7). Of all forms of tyranny none are more cruel or relentless than those which are found in the religious sphere.
Nebuchadnezzar attempted to enforce the spiritual despotism of a state religion, and allowed no alternatives to obedience save a terrifying death. If all the dignitaries of state prostrated themselves before the image of gold, itself the visible representation of the power and wealth of the kingdom over which he ruled as absolute monarch, then they and all their people would be subject to him in every domain of life -- physical, intellectual, and spiritual. The human personality would be enslaved to the impersonal state, and, worst of all, it would be denied the exercise of that homage of the creature for the Creator which is at once the necessary law of its being and yet the noblest freedom.
Faced with such a situation, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego manifested the same courage which had marked them in earlier days. To them, compromise was impossible. There could be nothing in common between the worship of the living God and the worship of an idol. As in a day still to come, when earth shall know the sway of its last and most awful tyrant, and when the choice will be clear-cut between the worship of God, with the threat of physical death on the one hand, and the worship of the beast and his image (cf. Revelation 14:6-11), so it was for the three Hebrews. The law of God was still true for them. They could not bow to any image. Better to them was a cruel death than such dishonor to their faith, and disloyalty to their God.
Watched relentlessly as the result of the envy of certain Chaldeans, they were accused to Nebuchadnezzar of flouting his decree. To the king's pride it was so incredible that anyone should disobey him that in rage and fury he sent for the fearless three and demanded of them, "Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king" (Daniel 3:13). Then, having renewed his threat of the fiery furnace, he flaunted his impiety in the words, "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (Daniel 3:15).
Similar words had been spoken by another monarch. In the days of Hezekiah, Sennacherib the Assyrian had said, "No god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of mine hand, and out of the hand of my fathers: how much less shall your God deliver you out of mine hand?" (2Ch 32:15). God had heard the prayer of Hezekiah and of Isaiah the prophet, and He had saved His people from their peril. "The angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand" (2 Kings 19:35).
Not by such judgment upon the king, but nevertheless by the intervention of the same One, "the angel of the LORD," did God deliver His servants from the fiery death. First, however, their testimony was given to His power to save, and their faith was tested to the utmost.
"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 3:16-18). Full well they knew that it was not a case that might be made the subject of petition; they knew the man before whom they stood and that without hesitation he would mete out the threatened doom. They knew that they could do nought but refuse his command. Their path had been clear to them throughout the events leading up to that moment of crisis. But they knew also that though Nebuchadnezzar was king of kings (see Daniel 2:37), it was only by the sovereign will of the God of Heaven that he had received the kingdom. The king was powerful, but God was all-powerful.
Their hearts were at rest with a calm which this world could not give. On the one hand, God was certainly able to deliver them; on the other, if He were pleased to call them through death from the toil of earth, they would submit to His perfect will. He had promised, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; . . . when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee" (Isaiah 43:2). No malice of man could hinder the fulfillment of the promise of their God. Upon His presence they relied; He would not fail them, nor forsake them, whether in life or in death. With this confidence, therefore, they said to the king, "He will deliver us out of thine hand."
Filled with fury, till his very face was distorted, Nebuchadnezzar gave vent to his anger by the utterly needless order that the furnace be heated seven times more than usual, an act whose only result was to bring about the destruction of the mighty men who carried out his sentence on the three Hebrews. There is no rage like that which is baffled by the serene constancy of its intended victims. Goaded by his frenzy, the king hastened the matter, and his men paid the price for his folly. The three confessors were bound in their full attire and cast into the midst of the furnace. Every circumstance attendant on their ordeal was made to minister to the exhibition of the power of God; even their garments bore their part in the triumphant witness. Doubtless the instigators of the matter were full of satisfaction at the apparent removal of the Hebrews from their high office, but their joy was short-lived.
II. THE REVELATION -- MORE THAN CONQUERORS
"And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace" (Da 3:23). They were now past all mortal aid. God had permitted this extremity to show that their deliverance was from Him -- and Him alone. Before they were cast into the furnace, it was in Nebuchadnezzar's power to do what he pleased, whether to send them to the fire or to withhold them from it. But once they had passed within the furnace, the proud king could do nothing. He could watch, but was powerless to intervene. He could not even save his own mighty men from the fierceness of the flame. He must learn that the end of human prowess marks but the beginning of divine strength. God is not bound by the limitations of His creatures; their puny resources are as nothing to His infinite greatness.
"Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, 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 the Son of God" (Daniel 3:24-25). Never had the king been so amazed. No wonder of his career, whether of brilliant conquest or of royal achievement, could stir his heart with the emotion which he now betrayed. The fire to which he had condemned the three who had dared to defy him had but destroyed their bonds. They walked at liberty in the flame, as though at home in its embrace. Its terrors had gone, and its blaze enwrapped them as with an atmosphere of glory.
Moreover, they were not alone. With them there walked One whom the startled king described as like in form to the Son of God. Clearly the presence of this One was the secret of their deliverance. The king beheld the transcendent form and the majestic mien which proclaimed Him to be no mortal but a being from Heaven. We would not expect the king to imply by his words such an appreciation of the person of this wondrous visitant as they convey to us. He was but a heathen and acknowledged many supposed deities, even as later in life he spoke to Daniel of "the holy gods" (Daniel 4:9). Not till the restoration of his reason (Daniel 4:34) did he seem to attain to the knowledge of the one most high God. While his words spoken as he gazed into the furnace would be capable on heathen lips of the sense, "the son of God," it is nevertheless possible that in the strong emotion of the moment, as was certainly the case immediately after when he addressed the three Hebrews as "servants of the most high God," he spoke only of their God. But whatever his degrees of perception of these things, his words were overruled to express, in the speech of those who know the one true God, the most sublime fact. It was indeed the Son of God who walked with the three in the fire.
It is entirely in accordance with the promise, "I will be with thee" (Isaiah 43:2), and the consistent teaching of Scripture touching the theophanies to recognize in the One who appeared in the fire the very Son of God, the Deliverer of His people. The circumstances of His appearance with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, illustrate delightfully the lesson of Romans 8:37. "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." Had the three been miraculously preserved in the furnace, yet without any sign of the divine presence, they would certainly have been conquerors. But the surpassing wonder of their experience was not their deliverance, viewed in itself, but rather the companionship of their Lord in the furnace. In the added marvel of this sacred fellowship they were "more than conquerors." So was it in Paul's day. So has it been with all who have known amidst their trials the joy of walking with the Son of God.
What was new in the path of the three was not the fact of the Lord's presence, but rather its manifestation. He had walked with them unseen throughout their years of testimony, and it was this which was the secret of their courage in the face of such dire peril. He had ever been with them to guard and to strengthen. All that the fire could do was to make visible, even to the sight of a heathen king, the presence that was already with them. How often in history have persecutors been compelled to own that their victims had a resource which they could not take from them, an unseen spring of cheer that defied all their hatred and their cruelties!
With the vast majority of the people of God, the Friend and Guide of the long road of life has been real only to the vision of faith. With the mortal eye that have braved every danger, and trusted God in the last breath. Some indeed "quenched the violence of fire," but "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:34-35). Stephen saw his Lord before he was dragged to the place of death and, serene in that heavenly vision, fell asleep under the weight of the cruel stones: others have borne like suffering and have seen the glorious face only when their eyes had closed to this scene. Never, however, has the fact of the divine presence ceased; it has been constant through every vicissitude of life.
III. THE BLESSING -- THE TRIUMPHANT TESTIMONY
"Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them" (Daniel 3:26-27). So complete was the vindication of the stand of the Hebrews that they were saluted of the king before they left the furnace by the title "servants of the most high God." Theirs was a service and a nobility surpassing that of the courtiers who thronged around the king. His prince and governors bowed at his word; the three owned a higher allegiance than that belonging to any earthly potentate. Around them gathered all the great men of Babylon, who marveled to see that the fire had no power either on the persons of the three Hebrews or on their garments. There was not even the smell of fire about them to tell of their ordeal. How often must these same dignitaries have recounted to their associates and to their families in the years that followed the story of this amazing scene, of the three who worshipped a God whom they themselves had not known, and of the mighty power of that great God! Thus the fame of the God of Israel would spread far and wide in a testimony with consequences which cannot be estimated.
"They have no hurt," said Nebuchadnezzar, and his princes saw that not a hair of their head was singed. "I give unto you power . . . over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you," said the Son of God to His disciples (Luke 10:19). How true it is that in the path of the will of God there is nought that can hurt His people! Amid the trials and sorrows of life they walk unscathed, and from their experience in trial and from the companionship of the Lord Jesus they receive eternal good. Only sin can hurt them, marring their fellowship with their Lord, vitiating their capacities for service, and wounding their own souls. However deep the sufferings of His martyrs, not they but their persecutors are hurt. Not for nought does the Lord speak to His tried ones, "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (Revelation 2:11).
"Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, 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 nor worship any god, except their own God . . . there is no other God that can deliver after this sort" (Daniel 3:28-29). Could Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego have foreseen as they made their choice to be true to their God whatever the cost that its sequel would be a doxology from the lips of the greatest of all Gentile monarchs? Could they have known, in those moments when they stood alone in the plain of Dura and all others were bowed in idol worship, that ere many hours were passed it should be an offence, binding upon all people in the empire of Babylon, to speak anything amiss against their God, the God of deliverance? What a tribute it was to their faithful witness and to Him who maketh the wrath of man to praise Him! (Psalms 76:10).
When the records of the sustaining grace of the centuries are all complete, then lonely road and fiery trial shall yield their part to that great song of praise the gladness of which shall never cease. The road will be ended, and the trial long past, but the Lord who walked with His own will company with them forever, and they shall walk with Him not in the flame of trial but in the blaze of His glory.